This wide range of always insightful essays dealing with Torat Eretz Yisrael range from familial relationships to national and international issues, from the most minute details of halachic observance to broad Torah philosophy, from current issues of the day to life in the World to Come. 


HaRav Shlomo Aviner

[HaRav Shlomo Aviner – Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem and Rav of Beit El – writes a weekly column from the Parashah sheet “B’Ahavah U-B’Emunah” of Machon Meir. The essays range from familial relationships to national and international issues, from the most minute details of halachic observance to broad Torah philosophy, from current issues of the day to life in the World to Come. We proudly present a sampling of the myriads of articles. May all those exposed to Rav Aviner’s light be inspired by a love of the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel, the State of Israel and the Torah of Israel.

Mordechai Tzion

In the heart of Jerusalem between the Walls]

© Copyright 5776

All rights reserved.  Parts of this publication may be translated or transmitted for non-business purposes.

The majority of articles where translated by Refael Blumberg and a minority by Mordechai Tzion

To learn more of Rav Aviner’s Torah or subscribe to weekly e-mails:

www.ateret.org.il and www.ravaviner.com

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Table of Contents


Am Yisrael

“Our Camp” – The Jewish People

The Nation of Israel and the Secret of Cholent

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook: “I am building a Nation”

Rav Kook’s Approach Versus Focus on the individual

All for One!

Love the Charedi as Yourself

The Secret to Protecting the Nation of Israel

“He Did Not Make Us Like the Nations of the World”

Do Not Say: Traitor!

The Time has come for Brotherhood

Nerves of Steel


Eretz Yisrael

Why Eretz Yisrael?

If you will it, it is not a dream

Don’t Cut Up the Land of Israel!

There is no Palestinian State Here

Open Letter to an Honest, Upright Member of the Human Race

The War over over Judea and Samaria

The Laws of Uprooting Jewish Settlements

We will be Back in Gush Katif



Jerusalem, if I forget you…

“A Man or Woman Can Force a Spouse to Move to Jerusalem”

“Be Careful not to Climb the Mountain, or Even to Touch its Edge”



To be a Serious Army in Our Land

We’ve Come From Far Off to Fight

Shehechiyanu on Being Drafted into Tzahal

The Weekly “Mi-Sheberach” Prayer for Tzahal Soldiers

Bar Kochba, from Then Until Now

How Many Fine Virtues the Army Has!

Religious Jews in the Israeli Security Apparatus

Did you Raise a Hand Against a Soldier?!

Don’t Hurt Tzahal

The Fighter’s Spirit

I Have Seen Heroes

The Army’s Response Hierarchy


State of Israel

Ode to Religious Zionism

Religious Zionism between Two Worlds

Strengthening the Religious-Zionist Community

Why was Yom Ha-Atzmaut established on the Fifth of Iyar?

Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut

A Political Party of the Entire Jewish People


Torah Learning

Unsuccessful Students

Learning Tanach with Emunah

Relating to Biblical Prophets as Prophets

The Scientific Approach to Learning Tanach

What would Nechama Lebowitz

say about the new approach to learning Tanach?

Time to get Back to “Orot”

Has the Time Come to Learn Mysticism?



The Eternal Halachah…

What would Rav Soloveitchik say about “Creative Halachah”?

Halachic Opportunism

Serving G-d with Joy

In the End, the Two Worlds (Charedim and National Religious) Will Be One

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

Torah or the Law of the Land

The Influence of One who “Only” Learns Torah

I’m Charedi Too

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was Right!

How to Daven without Bothering Others

Tzedakah will Save you From Death

Placing Techelet in One’s Tzitzit

Food for the Satiated or the Hungry?

Tax Evasion


Don’t Copy!

Visiting Kivrei Tzadikim


Proper Character Traits

First Be a Person

The Culture of Leisure

How to Be Happy

Overcoming Jealousy

True Humility

The Little Prince as a Moral Tract

Don’t Live off of Loans


Maran HaRav Kook and Rabbenu HaRav Tzvi Yehudah

One Shepherd or Several?

Our Great Master Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook

The Chief Mistake of Religious Zionism



Who is the Gadol Ha-Dor (leading Rabbi of the generation)?

Honoring the Chief Rabbi of Israel

In Defense of the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal

A Rabbi Can Make A Mistake?!

Revering Torah Scholars

The Torah Scholar’s Ambition

Non-Zionist Rabbis

The Satmar Rebbe is Visiting Israel!

Should Rabbis Intervene in Politics?

Honoring Rabbis at Weddings



Matchmaking Talk

Searching for a Torah Scholar


Emunah – Faith

Disciples of Moshe

We are not “Modern Orthodox”

Who determines what occurs in the World?

The Torah and the Big Bang Theory

Were there Dinosaurs?

U.F.O.’s, Aliens and…Technology

Near-Death Experiences

Does a Person Complete His Mission in Life and then Die?

What is our task on Earth?

Listen to Your Doctor!

Vaccinations are a must!

“Supernatural Power – Is There Such a Thing?”

Mysticism – Indolence – Fraud

Genuine Spiritual Aids

Addiction and Free Choice



When is the Messiah coming?

The Redemption from Egypt and Today’s Redemption

We’ve Made Progress

Has the Vine Flowered?

What do you see when you see a tree in Israel?

Is This the Redemption?

Starts and Stops in Redemption








Am Yisrael

“Our Camp” – The Jewish People


Sometimes people talk with me and use the expression “our camp,” so I respond, “Hold it right  there! Who is ‘our camp’? Our camp is the Jewish People!”  Certainly, within our Nation, different Jews are different from one another. The Jewish People includes all kinds. Yet they all belong to ‘our camp.’

By contrast, the non-Jews are not “our camp”. They, too, were created in G-d’s image, and when we recite the “Aleinu” prayer, we are praying for them as well. But they’re not our camp.  Avraham was called the Hebrew, the “Ivri”, because he, so to speak, stood on one side [ever] of the river, and all the rest of mankind stood on the other. They, too, have righteous people, and the righteous of the nations have a place in the World-to-Come, but even they are not our camp.  And within the Jewish People, there are individuals who do sins, and sometimes there are even wicked people, but they are our camp. If your son does not behave well, he remains your son. Yet your neighbor’s son, even if he behaves well, is not your son.

As was first noted by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, the Hebrew word for Jewish community is “Tzibur”, the letters of which constitute an acronym for Tzadikim [righteous people], Benonim [people in the middle] and Resha’im [evildoers]. Indeed, some Jews are great saints, others are in the middle, and still others are worse. Yet they are all part of our Tzibbur, our camp.

In the Pesach Haggadah, we read how the Torah was addressing four types of sons, wise and wicked, simple, and too ignorant to ask questions. Yet all four are sons, and the Torah addressed all four. All four are our camp.

Moreover, the division into righteous, wicked and in-between is a personal division and not a communal division. A person may wear a Kipah but be wicked – heaven help us – and the opposite is possible as well.

Therefore, one should not divide up the Jewish People into groups and sectors. We already suffered from such divisions during the Destruction of the Second Temple. As the Netziv teaches in his introduction to his “Ha-Emek Davar,” at that time the Jewish People was divided up into groups, and whoever was not like one’s own group was deemed a Saducee or a heretic who had to fought and killed. During the First Temple Period as well, the split became so bad that we had two separate nations.

There was also a division by tribes, with each tribe considering itself a separate country and its own camp. Therefore, when one tribe was attacked, other tribes did not always go into battle to defend it, because that didn’t interest them. Neither did they want marriages between tribes.  You have certainly noticed that today no one knows what tribe he comes from, besides the Kohanim and Levi’im, for whom this bears halachic ramifications. We remember many things about our origins. How can it be that no one remembers what tribe he came from?

The answer is found in Rav Kook’s work “Orot” (page 43). There Rav Kook explained that   G-d made a decision that our tribalism should be forgotten. In the future it will be restored. As is explained at the end of Yechezkiel, our country will once more be divided up into tribes. Presently, however, G-d does not want tribalism, but a single Nation. When we live as one people, in love and brotherhood, peace and friendship, then our tribal divisions will resurface as different shades of a single, great nation.

Rav Kook, in his article “Masa Ha-Machanot” declared his total dissatisfaction with our division into “religious vs. secular” or “Chareidi vs. free-thinker.” These, he said, are “the names of [the pagan deity] Ba’al” – that’s what he called it (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 76).

Rather, we are one people. The proof of this is that even if in the past, as I said, when one tribe was attacked by the enemy, other tribes did not go forth to help them, today, by contrast, when a Jew is attacked, a million Jews go forth to defend him. Neither do they make calculations of who is called religious, secular, right wing or left wing. Chareidi or National Religious. That doesn’t interest them!

Rather, all fight for all. All for one and one for all!

That is a sign that we have overcome our tribalism. This million people comprises the largest youth movement in the Jewish People, larger than Bnei Akiva, Ezra, and Ariel combined. This movement is the I.D.F.. The Israel army is synonymous with unity.

This is our camp! Let’s not start dividing up the Jewish People into “camps”. Rather, let us say,

“Who is like Your people, Israel, one Nation in the Land!” (Divrei Ha-Yamim 117:21).




The Nation of Israel and the Secret of Cholent


Some people worry about the future of the Nation of Israel from various perspectives, and they ask: What’s going to be?

Some say that the strength of the Charedim is increasing due to their high birthrate. Certainly that is a good thing, for these are G-d-fearing people. Yet – so goes the complaint – they have two shortcomings: 1. Many of them don’t go to the army, and even if those who do go do not perform enthusiastically and devotedly in elite units or even in the fixed army.  2. Many of them do not work. As for those who do work, they are not involved in important, creative fields of endeavor.  A situation is created in which the secular learn professions in university and work as engineers and such, whereas the Charedim work as clerks or salespeople. They do not constitute a strong force in our economic creativity. These are two problems that have no solution.

There is another type of people, constituting a considerable segment of the population – the immigrants from Russia. They are another type of Jews. Most of them are irreligious. Our tradition does not interest them. Moreover, four hundred thousand of them are non-Jews. They are intellectual, inquisitive and critical people. They are highly talented, hard working, suspicious and strong, for in Russia either you were suspicious and strong or you perished.  They are powerhouses of doing and building even if they are not at all religious and not Zionists in the historic sense of the word. Straight and simple, they’re just here in Eretz Yisrael, and they’re leaving a strong stamp.

There is another type of people, plain old Joes, jokester youths uninterested in all the things mentioned above. There are hundreds of thousands of such youths roaming the streets by night. They’re a considerable percentage of the population.  When they get married, they straighten out, because their wives tell them to stop their nonsense, but even then, they are not strong participants in building the Nation.

Then there are the people with the knit-Kippot, and they aren’t so successful at taking hold of political power, because they are divided, and don’t manage to unify. Most of the National Religious don’t vote for National Religious parties, and those who do vote for those parties have split themselves between two parties, with each of those two parties splitting into several sub-parties. Each of those parties says that the other parties don’t understand what’s going on. Even the Rabbis don’t succeed in sitting together. Each Rabbi thinks that he has all the truth and all the justice, and that everyone else is mistaken.

In addition to all of this, all the rabbinical posts and rabbinical judges’ posts are being taken over bit by bit by the Charedim. The parties need the religious in the coalitions, and all that the Charedim ask for is money for Yeshivot and rabbinical posts. For the large parties, that’s a small price to pay. What do they care if the Charedim receive the rabbinic postings? And money to Yeshivot is relatively minor. But the National Religious, on the other hand, have political demands, and that is something bothersome.

So, what’s going to be?

The answer is simple. G-d takes all of these people, puts them all in a pressure cooker, locks the lid and makes them all into a sort of Cholent. That is G-d’s secret: Cholent. Cholent is a Jewish wonder. The Talmud long ago asked (Shabbat 119a), “Why does our Shabbat dish have such a pungent fragrance?”

The Jews, being poor, took a dry bone, moldy potatoes, a bit of beans, a little water, a few moldy vegetables, a piece of tasteless meat, and they cooked it together for hours and hours, until what ultimately emerged was Cholent, with its heavenly flavor – the Paradise of poor Jews.

And it’s the same here in the State of Israel.

G-d takes all the different sorts of people and He turns them into a marvelous Nation. He already did this in the iron crucible of Egypt.

Rabbi Zerachiah Ha-Levi, author of “Ba’al Ha-Ma’or” (Ha-Ma’or Ha-Katan, Shabbat 16b on the Rif), wrote: “Some say that making the Shabbat enjoyable by means of Cholent is based on a Rabbinical enactment, and anyone who does not partake of Cholent should be investigated to see if he is a heretic… whereas whoever arranges to cook for the Shabbat, to make it pleasurable to eat well is the true believer who shall merit the end of days.” (See Rama, Orach Chaim 257:8.  Mishnah Berurah #49, who quotes the Ba’al Ha-Maor.) From here comes proof that the redemption will come by way of Cholent. G-d takes all the various elements and builds Himself a marvelous Nation.

Even the four hundred thousand non-Jews who came from Russia will ultimately either undergo legitimate Jewish conversions, or leave. We hope that by dint of the Cholent they will become Jewish. The Jews, themselves, have to be transformed as well, so that they increase Torah learning.

Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook said that the same thing happened in the times of Ezra and Nechemia when there were a lot of substandard Jews, a lot of Jews with non-Jewish wives, a lot of Shabbat violators and a number of people who had sold their own siblings into slavery. Yet in the end it all was rectified, and after hundreds of years the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, those who built up the Oral Law, emerged from those very same Jews (Igerot Ha-Re’eiyah, Part 1 #311.  And see Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, Bereshit, pp. 283-383, who said: G-d has made us into a Cholent, and now the iron crucible is in the Land of Freedom).

The question is: What do G-d fearing Jews contribute to this Cholent?

We contribute “light” to the Cholent. In his work “Orot”, Rav Kook explains that this light is composed of two segments: love and faith. That is our contribution to the Cholent. It may well be that this is the Cholent’s main ingredient, because love and faith are the force that transform the disparate elements into one. That force brings a blessing to the entire Nation. That is why we learn Torah. We learn the love of Israel, which is a very profound science, and we learn faith, which includes the Written Torah, the Oral Torah, and our medieval and later authorities.

And just as the Master-of-the-Universe juggles all those historic processes of the rebuilding of the Land, the establishment of the Jewish State, Israel’s wars, the Israeli economy and more, so too, are our inner struggles divine processes as well. No group can take control over the Nation. Each one has to contribute what he considers to be the most important element.

We contribute love and faith. We lack in our hands all of the forces we need to build up the entire Nation. We are in this respect impoverished. Every group is impoverished and lacks a great deal. Yet all of us together create something marvelous and delicious which, like Cholent, which warms the heart and soul.



Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook: “I am building a Nation”

When our master, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook arrived in Israel, Rabbi David Ha-Cohen, the Nazir, walked all night from Jerusalem to Hevron to greet him, and there he heard a Torah lecture from him. Following the lecture, he said to Rav Kook, “Based on your lecture, your views resemble those of Chabad.” Rav Kook smiled and responded, “I’m building a Nation.”

The Talmud teaches (Sanhedrin 38b), “Each generation and its scholars, each generation and its sages.” G-d’s conduct of each generation is different, and He sends the generation’s spiritual leadership accordingly (Even Shleima 11:9). The Torah encompasses all the generations from start to finish, all the questions and all the situations, and every generation has a unique divine emissary to uncover another part of the Torah hidden away until now, and known only to the most spiritual elite who transcend the generations, who transcend time, subsuming everything with their all-encompassing gaze.

Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin wrote an article entitled, “Rav Kook’s Fundamental Approach to the Kabbalah” [in Hebrew], in which he compares the Kabbalah of the Ari, of the Ba’al Shem Tov, of Chabad [Lubavitch] and of Rav Kook. Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah, said that this article was generally accurate and that it hit the mark, but he added that the Kabbalah of the Vilna Gaon has to be included as well.

Thus, Rav Zeitlin said that the Ari spoke about the divine light in the spiritual worlds, the Ba’al Shem Tov, and in his wake, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe in his book the Tanya, brought that light down into man. Rav Tzvi Yehudah added that the Vilna Gaon uncovered the divine light within the Torah. Finally, Rav Kook uncovered the divine light within the Nation (Sifran Shel Yechidim, page 235).

Obviously, these divine lights are all connected. Certainly, all of these elite figures gazed at the whole picture, but the perspective changes. Imagine several people watching the stars from a tall tower, but with each gazing at them from a different spot in the tower, seeing them from a different perspective (ibid., p. 236). Or, if you like, each of them is seeing them at a different point in time.

Thus, during the past hundred years, an amazing thing has happened: the gathering of the exiles has begun. In the Shemoneh Esreh we pray, “Sound the great shofar for our freedom. Lift up the banner to bring our exiles together,” and it is happening. Someone told me, “When my great, great grandfather was born, there were 12,000 Jews in Israel. When my great grandfather was born, there were 30,000. When my grandfather was born there were 80,000, when my father was born there were 200,000, and when I was born there were 600,000. When my son was born there were two million, and when my grandson was born there were five million!”

Yet the ingathering of the exiles does not just mean a population transfer from one geographic place to another. We are gathering together and becoming a single nation once more. From scattered individuals, from a scattered, divided people, we are once more becoming the people described in Divrei Ha-Yamim 1 17:21 as: “Who is like Your People Israel, a cohesive Nation in the Land.”  Maharal at the start of his work Netzach Yisrael explains that there are three characteristics to a healthy, normal people: their unity, their possessing a common land, and their being independent. In practical terms this translates as their possessing a sovereign state, an army and a government with all its institutions. Slowly, our recognition, understanding and faith that we are a people and that we need to lead the lives of a people is returning to us. For already a hundred years we have been awakening. Yet there are many more Jews who are still sunken in a deep sleep, in the exile as well as in Israel. There are also many religious Jews who have not yet understood what a nation is, but we are progressing. We are being carried along on the wings of an enormous movement, the Zionist movement. Rav Kook said (Orot 38): “In the end of days, a clandestine organization full of potential and yearning, fraught with internal contradictions, replete with light and darkness is calculating how to penetrate the coast for the salvation of Israel.”

Therefore, many religious Jews see the darkness and reject Zionism. By contrast, many secular Jews see the light and identify with it. Rav Kook emerged, saw the light and the darkness together, and he said, “I am building a Nation,” by which he meant that he was magnifying the light in order to banish the darkness. Rav Kook wrote about himself, “I know that G-d sent me to the holy land to revitalize it” (Igrot I, p. 189) – to invest spirit in the national rebirth, or, more precisely, to uncover the soul of the national rebirth. Rav Kook further writes about himself: “I am slave who has been sold to the masses, to toil and bear burdens. I have been sold to G-d’s people, who are starting to strike roots in the land of their inheritance, hoping for redemption.” (ibid., pp. 239, 240). This is an enormous project, a Torah project, what our master Rav Tzvi Yehudah called “the redemptive Torah” (Or Li-Netivati, p. 280), the Torah that teaches us how to construct the redemption of our people based on the word of G-d.

Also to build a single person is an enormous project, but to build a nation is infinitely harder and more complex. Towards that end Rav Kook was sent: “I am building a Nation.” Let us not think that he was not also building the individual Jew. He was involved in that even more. In order for all the individual Jews to be part of the national edifice and not just a collection of isolated individuals, each Jew has to be much more full of Torah and Mishnah, Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, the fear of G-d ad good character, holiness and purity, Mesilat Yesharim and Chovot HaLevavot.

No less than this, the Nation’s rebirth has to be also a rebirth of individuals, such that all should be on a high level. As Rav Kook wrote: “Unless the national rebirth sheds new light on prayer, Torah, Mussar and faith, it will not yet constitute a true rebirth” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, p. 414).

This is the divine mission of Rav Kook – to transform our national rebirth into a true rebirth, and thank G-d, for the past hundred years, it has been growing more and more genuine thanks to the all the light and insight contained in Rav Kook’s writings. Yet we still have a long way ahead of us. We have much more to learn of his writings, and much more to teach, in order to uncover the light stored away in our rebirth, until we will see the complete fulfillment of Rav Kook’s vision [written before there was a State of Israel]: “The [future] Jewish state is the foundation of G-d’s throne in the world, and its entire purpose is to render G-d one and His name one” (Orot, page 160).


Rav Kook’s Approach Versus Focus on the individual


Question: Perhaps, with our generation being so focused on the individual, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s approach, which focused on the good of the group at large, has become outdated? Perhaps he’s no longer so relevant and Chabad or Breslav (which focus more on the betterment of the individual) are better? The fact is that those two groups are winning over the youth.

Answer: Your analysis is correct except for one detail: It applies not just in this generation but throughout all the generations. People have always been more interested in themselves. They’ve always had an exaggerated self-love, and they’ve always had an evil impulse which said, “Me! Me!” I am not against self-love. After all it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). That’s a sign that you’ve got to love yourself, too. Yet I’m talking about exaggerated self-love.

What has changed, however, is that this proclivity has become a central ideal, replacing the ideal of extricating oneself from egocentrism. Indeed, during the past 200-300 years, the individualist bent has been becoming stronger in the West, and we are being dragged along, like a tail, as we proclaim, “I set MYSELF before me always.” We forget that there is only One Being who can truly say “I”, and that is G-d, and we are supposed to respond to Him, “Here we are!”

Obviously, it isn’t so that Rav Kook only focused on the group. Only people who haven’t learned his writings make this claim. Rav Kook was not just interested in the group, and not just interested in the individual, but in the Torah, which is concerned with them both, for each needs the other. Or, more precisely, as Rav Kook’s son, Rav Tzvi Yehudah put it, “the individual, from within the group and for the sake of the group”. See Mesillat Yesharim at the end of Chapter 19.

Individualistic worship of a divinity existed before Avraham. Idolatry is likewise individualistic, and similar to the contemporary language of the New Age, flowing out of the pagan Far East, which makes reference to “the god within me”. Avraham represents the focus on the group. His worship constitutes an enormous step upward. Slowly we ascended from the private altars to the universal Beit Ha-Mikdash. Whoever talks now about individualism in worship is regressing to the primitivism of before Avraham.

The truth is that the Exile involved a focus on the individual as well. Mine is mine and yours is yours. Even its spirituality was private, with people thinking, “My place in Heaven is mine alone (see Rav Kook’s Orot 111). My worship is mine alone. My emotions are mine alone.” Yet that approach represents sickness, not health, a band-aid, not an ideal approach. The Master of the Universe decided that we should be returning to the concern with the aggregate. Out of that concern, we have done many things: building up the Land, the return to Zion, the establishment of a Jewish State, and especially our army, the epitome of concern for the public good. When there is the brotherhood of fighters, the one is ready to die for the other.

We are becoming more and more concerned with the general fate. Some explain our Sages’ utterance that “the son of David will not come until money disappears from pockets” (Sanhedrin 97a) as meaning, “until focus on the individual ceases.” How very fortunate we are that we have come back from the concern for the individual!
How forlorn the western world – and those amongst us who ape it – for being so focused on the individual. Things there are so bad that people don’t get married, let alone stay married. Marriage is likewise man’s main way of extricating himself from focus on the individual.

Indeed, it is seemingly a pleasant thing to be focused on oneself. The ancient Greeks have a legend about a fellow named Narcissus who stared at his reflection in the water, and he was so enchanted by it that he couldn’t take his eyes off it. Ultimately he put down roots and became a flower – the narcissus. Freud created from this an emotional prototype, the narcissist, who finds all his satisfaction from preoccupation with himself. By contrast, our holy Sages told about a boy who came to fill a pitcher of water from a spring. His evil impulse took hold of him and showed him his beautiful hair, seeking to deprive him of the World to Come. He immediately took on the vow of a Nazir so that at the end of the month he would cut all his hair off (Nedarim 9b).

Indeed, focusing on the public good is harder than focusing on one’s own needs, as Rav Kook taught, “True, public-welfare-oriented Torah observance is much harder than individual-focused observance” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, page 174). Yet such is the unique divine service of the Jewish People. Therefore, “a person must constantly extricate himself from his individualistic mindset which fills his whole being, rendering him totally preoccupied with his individual fate. Such is the opposite of the way of G-d, imprinted on the Assembly of Israel…When a person focuses constantly and totally on his own interests and welfare that counts as ‘following the ways of the Amorites’. It is not Jewish, and we are better off viewing it as something forbidden and out of bounds” (Ein Aya, Shabbat 2, 127-128).

“When we were in our Land, and the Temple stood, it was our center, our place of unity, hence private altars were forbidden, even though they could have served as a means of Jews uniting in smaller groups. Yet that desire by a small group would bring separation from the larger center, and the nation’s unity would be nullified. Only from that national unity can G-d’s ultimate will be realized.” (Ein Aya, Berachot 1, 76).




I would like to mention a new-old doctrine: the doctrine of brotherhood. We, the entire Jewish people, are all brothers. So were we created and so were we born.

When we left Egypt, we were sunken at the bottom of the 49th level of impurity (Zohar). Everything that we learned from our father Abraham was almost forgotten (Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah, end of Chapter 1).  Yet a number of things still remained – the main things: we remained brothers; we didn’t change our names, language or dress; and we didn’t speak evil gossip. By the merit of all these we were redeemed.

It is true that Moshe said, “‘Indeed the matter is known!’ (Shemot 2:9) – now I understand why we suffer. It is because of evil gossip. I saved the Jew from the Egyptian who was smiting him, but evil people spread this news, and now I’m in danger” (Rashi). Yet we didn’t all speak evil gossip. And those that did speak evil gossip, either didn’t leave Egypt or dropped out along the way. They simply were not brothers.

In the Pesach Haggadah, the evil son is told, “Had you been there you would not have been redeemed.” How then did the evildoers leave Egypt? The answer is that the evildoer who would not have been redeemed was one who, like the evil son of the Haggadah, has “removed himself from the Jewish People.” If he was an evildoer in many ways, yet remain tied with brotherhood to the Jewish people, he would have left Egypt.

The brotherhood formed in Egypt is rectification for the groundless hatred that broke out between the brothers against Joseph, as well as the arrogance of the sons of Rachel and Leah to the sons of the maidservants. In Egypt, we were all in the same boat. We became brothers. And this rectification appeared in all its glory in the case of Moshe: “He went out to his brothers” (Shemot 2:11). This is the foundation of Israel existing as a people. On the other hand, our sages expounded as follows: “There was an opaque darkness…. People could not see each other” (Shemot 10:22-23). When a person does not see his friend that is the greatest darkness there is. This is the foundation of the Sabbatical year.

Obviously, the First Temple was destroyed because of bloodshed, idolatry and sexual sin. These are terrible, heinous crimes. But was it destroyed because of the Sabbatical year? Could it go that far? Our master, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, explains in his introduction to his book “Shabbat Ha-Aretz” and in his article “Nechamat Yisrael” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah) that the theme of the Sabbatical year is love. We no longer say, “Mine is mine and yours is yours,” but rather, “Mine is yours.” We say, “Take, my brother. The harvest belongs to us all. It is for all of us to eat, and not for sale, and not to be destroyed. It is not even for making medicines. For if we become brothers, we won’t be sick.” The Land is very pleased with this. Then it too participates and yields three times as much progress as usual. Kayin was cursed. G-d said, “When you work the ground, it will no longer give you of its strength” (Bereshit 4:12). Kayin had jeopardized brotherhood. During the Sabbatical year, brotherhood returns, and then the blessing of the Land returns.

In the Mussaf Shemoneh Esreh we say, “Because of our sins who were exiled from our land.” The Second Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred (Yoma 9b). We had jeopardized our brotherhood. Now, brotherhood had returned, and we have returned to our land. Yes, brotherhood has returned! Our nation is full of love! Yes! Obviously, there is a small minority of haters. In every camp there are several haters. Yet that is a negligible minority. If our nation has 50,000 haters, that is just 1%. Yet in all walks of life, people are talking to one another. There is brotherhood.

In every family there are Jews of different types and from different streams – and they love one another and help one another. And in every workplace, there are all sorts of workers, and they work together amicably. And especially in the Army, there is brotherhood. If there were no mutual love between comrades-in-arms, you could close down the army. Love between comrades-in-arms means that a person is ready to be killed for his brother. Is that not groundless love? And we find it not just amongst Israel’s heroes who were decorated for bravery after the last Lebanese war and Israel’s wars that preceded it, but in every fighter.

We are not uniform, but we are united. In our opinions we may be divided, but not divisively so. We can fight for our views, but let us not forget that we are brothers. Let us not say, “Cut the baby in half!” nor, “Let neither you nor I have it.” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah) 20.

The Committee for Finding Flaws in Others is not us. We are not members! The very idea is crazy. It’s devisive. It’s impure. Instead of casting blame – build! Build the Land! Build the nation! Build up brotherhood.



All for One!

Our hearts tremble over the fate of the three dear teenagers who were kidnapped.  The heart of the Nation is trembling.  You learn from here that we are one Nation.  In the Exile we were a scattered and dispersed Nation among the other nations – scattered not only geographically but also spiritually, from one another.  We have now returned to being one Nation.  “And who is like Your Nation Israel one Nation on Earth” (Shmuel 2 7:23).  We no longer say that each of us is on our own.  We all feel the distress of our kidnapped brothers.

We feel and we pray for them.  Some learn Torah to bring about their release, and others light candles, and some do uncomparably more.  These are the soldiers who enter deep into the cities and fields, and who risk their lives.  This is the greatest gift, since there is nothing more precious to a person than his life.

This is our motto: All for one and one for all!  Although this is not a Jewish saying (its source in Latin), we have adopted it for ourselves.  Truthfully, though, it has been our motto from the moment we crossed the Jordan River and swore that every Jew is responsible for one another.  During the Second Temple Period this unraveled, and we reached a point where each person was out for himself.  To our great distress, this was the only way for us to survive.  But towards the end of the Exile Jewish solidarity returned, “All Israel becoming comrades” (Birkat Ha-Chodesh).  Every Jew concerned about every other Jew, everyone working for the sake of one person.  This solidarity was preparation for returning to a state of Klal Yisrael.  We returned to being one Nation.  Three teenagers are kidnapped, and it is not “their” issue in which we help out, rather it is all of our issue, a national issue, a Klal Yisrael issue.

Some pray, some light candles, some learn Torah, some cry.  And above all of them, is one who takes his weapon and his life in his hand for a fellow Jew.  When one Jew is in danger, a million rise up to save him.

“And who is like Your Nation Israel one Nation on Earth”.



Love the Charedi as Yourself


The first reason: Obviously, they too are Jews. Loving your fellow Jew means loving the entire Jewish People and not just those similar to you. You don’t need a Torah source for this. It’s natural. Torah sources serve where the act does not come naturally, but requires in depth analysis and effort.

The second reason: Charedim means Torah: Torah learning, Torah observance, devotion to Torah. When they talk, it’s based on Torah. Even if they err, for example, regarding Zionism, it’s based on Torah. They’re not like the secular, whose starting point is not Torah. So the Charedim are closer to us than are the secular. We and the Charedim share precisely the same goal. Our argument has to do with the means, the path. The secular, however, have a different goal. Obviously, deep in their souls their goal is the same, but they express themselves about a different goal.

Therefore, even though the Charedim oppose Zionism, they still contribute a great deal to it through the vigilance they maintain. One requires a bit of expansive thinking to understand this, but let us avail ourselves of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook’s words to his disciple, Dr. Moshe Zeidel, who had complaints against the Charedim: “Those innocent Charedim, who in the depths of the purity of their hearts opposed Zionism, are the very same people who refined it and removed a large part of its dross, until they brought it, through their negative actions, to such a level as being worthy to dress it in practical, royal attire, rather than the spirit of the House of Israel just dispersing it.” They, for their part, have “a sort of heartfelt protest based on their sensing the great light of the soul” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah 3:156)

Some say that Maran Ha-Rav Kook and Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook loved the secular more than they loved the Charedim. Nonsense! They loved everybody! Rav Tzvi Yehudah said that learning the proper attitude to the secular, whom he defines as “our friends-opponents,” continues: “From here we must learn by a logical process the special value and need of correcting our relationship with parts of our public who are within our camp, and who are equal partners with us in maintaining a vigil on Torah and Mitzvot in the rebirth of Israel and the return to their land. From the nature of those far removed we learn the nature of those close (Le-Netivot Yisrael 2:227).

Therefore, let us not teach the Charedim to love the secular. Let us not teach the Charedim to love the State of Israel or the Israeli army. Rather, let us teach ourselves to love the Charedim.

The third reason: Amongst the Charedim are Torah scholars whom must be related to with reverence and fear. The Talmud in Sanhedrin says that whoever denigrates a Torah scholar is deemed a heretic. The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that it’s like a dome made of stones. If one removes one stone, i.e., if one harms a single Torah scholar, the entire roof falls down. G-d does not forgive those who harm Torah scholars.

Therefore, love your friend as yourself, including the Charedim.

They are classified as your “friend” in every way. As Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote, “The Torah goes ahead and makes a general rule that includes everybody: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This means ‘as yourself,’ without any difference; ‘as yourself, without any differences, without tricks and plots, literally ‘as yourself’”. (Mesillat Yeshaim 11).



The Secret to Protecting the Nation of Israel


Rabbi Eleazar of Mainz (who lived about 800 years ago in Germany), author of the book “Ha-Rokeach,” brought a special protection (segulah) to save Jews from our enemies and any potential danger.  He said that if three hundred Cohanim would recite the “Birkat Cohanim” (priestly blessing) at one time on the Mount of Olives, that would save us from distress.  In our days, as well, G-d save us, Jews are killed by our enemies in wars and by terrorist attacks.  Some people therefore initiated a mass “Birkat Cohanim” on Chol Ha-Moed at the Kotel, since the Mount of Olives is filled with graves and Cohanim are prohibited from going there (This ceremony is still performed to this day).  When Rav Aviner asked our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, about this practice, he answered that it is nice, but he had two comments: one about the form and one about the content.

  1. The Form: An act of Klal Yisrael (the entirety of Israel), like this one, needs to be done through the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and not by individuals taking the initiative in matters relating to Klal Yisrael.
  2. The Content: There is a better way, and even Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, with all of the trembling of holiness which we have towards him, would have agreed that the words of our Sages are more important. Our Sages ask, why didn’t soldiers in the army of Achav, one of the most evil kings of Israel, fall in battle? They answered that it was on account of the love and brotherhood that existed between them.  They did not speak lashon ha-ra (ill about one another).  For example, when Ovadiah hid a hundred prophets is a cave (Melachim 1 18), the matter was not leaked nor revealed.  Similarly, it is written, “Ephraim is connected to idols, leave him alone” (Hoshea 4:17).  Even though the tribe of Ephraim was connected to idols, they were also connected to one another, they were united, and they were therefore forgiven by Hashem.  “Great is peace, since even idol worshippers who have peace between them, the Almighty cannot reign over them (Bereshit Rabbah 38:10 and Yalkut Shimoni Hoshea #520).  In contrast, in the generation of Shaul there was no love or brotherhood between people, but rather lashon ha-ra, and when David hid from Shaul, the other Jews informed on him (Tehillim 54), and they therefore fell in battle (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:1).


This is the tried and true “trick” – the way to protect the Nation of Israel: To increase love among the Nation.  This is a great teaching for us.  We should not grasp at peripheral ways – which when performed for their own sake are great, important and holy, while forgetting about the essence – the love of the Nation.  We should not think that we will heal the split in the Nation by adding a stone of holiness here or there, like the “Birchat Cohanim,” while not paying attention to the fact that the Nation of Israel is ripped to shreds.  The love of Israel – this is the great educational need of the Nation, and also the foundation of the entire Torah.



“He Did Not Make Us Like the Nations of the World”


We must constantly praise the Master of all, day and night, whether He gives us everything or nothing. Yet the truth is that He gives us so much blessing, miraculously or naturally, that even if we wanted to praise Him day and night, our praise would not suffice.

We must praise Him for the air we breathe, for the eyes with which we see, for the sun and the moon, for the flowers and the gardens, for our body and soul.  Yet first and foremost, we must praise G-d for not having made us like the nations of the world, and not having placed us like the families of the earth, for not having designed our destiny to be like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitude. He is the Master of all, but within that “all”, we stand out. We belong to the family of nations, yet within that family we are unique, bearing the souls of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. We are a special family, a marvelous family, an unparalleled family.

We were a family already before the Sinai Revelation, the family of a special Nation, a family eternally beloved. This is the greatest kindness that exists. How fortunate that we are who we are, whether or not we are aware of it.

We see nations – G-d have mercy on them – who are wild men, men on the outside but wild beasts on the inside. Thank G-d He did not make us like them.

We don’t hate them. Every day, in the “Aleinu” prayer, we pray for them, thrice daily: “Perfect the world under the reign of the Almighty, such that all mankind will call upon Your Name, and all the wicked of the earth will be turned to You.”

We don’t hate them. At the end of our prayers, we pray for them that they should all merit to become righteous nations. On that day, G-d will be one and His Name one. Yet in the meantime, there is only us.

Beloved is man, that he was created in G-d’s image, and above him stands Israel, who are called G-d’s children. All flesh are destined to be beloved and upright, and to live in eternal peace.

We are the family of Avraham the Hebrew. The entire world was on one side and he was on the other, and together with that, G-d blessed him. “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Bereshit 12:3).

As far as all the wicked turning to G-d, that will come to pass. It won’t be today or tomorrow, and apparently not the day after tomorrow either, but it will happen, and we shall await it patiently.

We are the disciples of Yehoshua bin Nun, who conquered the Land and settled it. It was he who authored the “Aleinu” prayer, quoted above, which we have recited down through the generations, relating to those same nations who shed our blood and who still continue to do so.

As for us, how good our portion and how pleasant our lot. How fortunate we are to be us!



Do Not Say: Traitor!


Don’t call a leftist a traitor, because if you call him a traitor, then you are a traitor.

Don’t call a leftist a traitor, because he loves the Nation of Israel no less than you, but he has different consideration about what should be the correct path for the Nation, the Land and the State.

Don’t call him a traitor, because he wears the Tzahal uniform, he endangers himself for your sake, is killed for your sake and is buried for your sake with blood stains on his holy olive-colored uniform.

Don’t say: traitor, because you cannot call half the Nation of Israel, more or less, by this name.

Don’t say: traitor, because you hurt the Nation of Israel, you destroy the State of Israel.

I’ll tell you a secret, do you know what he thinks of you?  That you hurt the Nation and destroy the State of Israel.  It is truly unbelievable that he thinks this, it is unbearable and unjust.  I’ll tell you another secret – he thinks your opinion is unbelievable, unbearable and unjust.  This will certainly insult you that he dares not to see things like you – but he is also liable to be insulted by what you think.  Sometimes, a small amount of objectivity is quite helpful in life.

And who is the enemy?  The one who wants to kill you and eradicate the State.  He is the enemy, not the Jew who does not agree with you – he is your brother.

It is possible that he is mistaken.  It is possible that he is confused.  It is possible that he is a “Tinok She-Nishba” (a Jew who did not receive a proper Jewish upbringing and education) because of the foreign winds which blow today – it is almost certain, but he is not a traitor.

Be careful with your temper, if you call him a traitor, perhaps you are the traitor.

Perhaps it is preferable to call him: my brother, my friend.

Perhaps it is preferable to remember that we are one Nation.

Perhaps it is preferable to search for the positive in each person.

Perhaps it is preferable to listen to what he has to say – not through the media, but directly, face-to-face.

You should know, the Nation will continue with all of us together.  The State will continue with all of us together – and you will remain alone outside the camp.

Therefore, don’t say: traitor.



The Time has come for Brotherhood

The time has come for brotherhood,

Between myself and…

My father and mother.

My parents-in-law.

My brothers and sisters.

And between me and myself.

Between religious and irreligious

Ashkenazi and Sephardi

Right wing and Left

Yeshiva-oriented and academic

Employer and employee

Commander and solder

High-brow and laborer,

Chassid and Non-Chassid,

Chareidi and Zionist.

Brotherhood between me and those I love

Me and those I do not

Me and those who love me

Me and those who do not.

Between those far removed

Those intimately close

And those in between.

Brotherhood between Nationalism and Universalism

Peace and war

Mathematics and poetry

Law and legend

Intellectual study and phys-ed

Body and soul

Intellect and nation

Spirituality and the mundane

Between different peoples

Between different nations

Between all mankind

Between man and other creatures

Between everything

It is long since time.

It was time already when Cain killed Abel.

When the First and Second Temples were destroyed

When rightist called leftist “traitor”.

When leftist called rightist “traitor”.

When one group rejected another.

The time arrived.

Long ago.

All the same I say:

Now is the time!

Don’t tell an Ethiopian Jew:

“You’re not Jewish!”

Just because he’s “too dark”.

And don’t tell a Russian Jew:

“You are not Jewish!”

Just because he’s “too white”.

Now is the time!

We returned to our land for this.

Because the time for brotherhood has come.

It’s so sweet!

So wonderful!

Be well

My brother.



Nerves of Steel

In his last year before ascending in high, our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt”l spoke about the same topic every Saturday Night: Moshe. One can certainly talk about Moshe day and night for a thousand years and only scratch the surface of his gargantuan greatness, which reaches to the heavens. Yet Rav Tzvi Yehudah chose to speech specifically about a particular chapter: the Golden Calf.

Following the spiritual climax of the revelation at Sinai, in which the Master of the Universe revealed Himself to the Nation of Israel face to face, Moshe took hold of the Tablets, written by the finger of G-d, in order to bring them down to the people. Yet he was first banished from heaven. G-d said, “Go down, for the people have become corrupt” (Shemot 32:7). G-d was saying: “The people you brought out of Egypt are corrupt and there is nothing to be done with them. The shidduch [match] has unraveled! As for My promise to Avraham about a great nation, that shall be fulfilled through you. With this Nation of Israel, I have no further dealings.” G-d concluded, “I shall destroy them and make you into a great nation” (verse 10).

How did Moshe react to this announcement? First of all, he admitted guilt, saying, “This people has committed a grave sin” (verse 31). He did not respond like a lawyer might, trying to blur the facts. Yet at the same time, he presented a shocking argument to G-d: “Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that You have written” (verse 32). What “book” was he referring to? The World-to-Come (see Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah of “Maran” [our revered teacher] Rav Kook vol. 2, 188-189). Moshe was saying, “I am willing to forego everything, my place in the World-to-Come, for the sake of the Nation of Israel.” Rav Tzvi Yehudah emphasized that here Moshe’s great love for the Nation of Israel was revealed, to the point of “mesirut nefesh”, meaning not just “sacrifice of the body” but “sacrifice of the soul”, of his place in Heaven (Sichot Rabbenu 53, 58).

What had happened here was just terrible. “On the day of his wedding, the day of his rejoicing” (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:11), Moshe was banished from on high. Down below, not only did he discover the people dancing around the Golden Calf, but committing sexual sin and murder (Rashi). The whole thing defies belief! Yet Moshe was ready to sacrifice his soul and to abandon his World-to-Come for the sake of the Nation of Israel.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah would stress again and again that for that you need nerves of steel. Every Saturday Night he would mention Moshe’s nerves of steel. You can view this as a sort of “last will and testament” of our Rabbi. It wasn’t his way to leave behind a will laying out who should receive what inheritance or position, but a last will regarding spiritual matters – yes. He apparently thought that days would come when we would need nerves of steel. And indeed, those days have arrived. The Nation of Israel is not exactly the way we would want. Yet this is our people and we must always stay with them.

With this people, this generation, this country, this army – we are together, without divisiveness, without arrogance, without rejection.   But we need nerves of steel and great patience. It is true that we have harsh criticism regarding many Jews – and they have harsh criticism of us as well. All the same, we must continue on together. Always we must remain together with the Nation of Israel, the Assembly of Israel, the soul of Israel.

And anyway, we know that all of the shortcomings we see in public life do not reflect shortcomings deep down in the soul.

A Christian said to Rabbi Chanina: “Now you are most certainly impure, as the verse says, ‘Israel wore her impurity’ (Eichah 1:9), and the Divine Presence cannot rest amongst you when you are impure” (Rashi). Rabbi Chanina responded, “Come and see what the Torah says about them: ‘He dwells with them amidst their impurity’ (Vayikra 16:16). Even when they are impure, the Divine Presence dwells amongst them” (Yoma 57a).

“Come and see!” This is an expression from the Zohar that appears ten times in the Talmud. It means, “See from within. See with your spiritual sight. Then you will see something clear and simple. You will see all the virtues of Israel, who dwell in Zion, who carry on their backs an entire country, with all its problems. Then you will fall in love with the Nation of Israel once more, in keeping with the Master of the Universe, who “lovingly chooses His Nation Israel” (Morning Prayers) and who “loves His Nation Israel”.(Evening Prayers). G-d loves us always, and chooses us always, and rejoices in us always. And we are His Nation! His Nation!










Eretz Yisrael

Why Eretz Yisrael?


Question: Why is Eretz Yisrael the only thing that interests you people?  You’re fixated on it! Certainly it’s important, but there are other important things: Torah study and Mitzvah observance, education and our country’s social problems.

Answer: Indeed, this claim has provided a ready excuse for complaining over the years, and there are two answers to it:

First, why be inaccurate?  Why mislead and confuse people?  It isn’t true.  We’re involved in Eretz Yisrael, but also in Torah learning and Mitzvah observance and education and social issues.  “Everything G-d said, we will do and obey” (Shemot 24:27).  And precisely because the battlefront is so long, we have to work on ourselves in every one of these spheres, and G-d will come to our aid.

Second of all, are we properly devoted to Eretz Yisrael?  It should only be so!  Surely you can’t suspect Moshe of not being devoted to Torah and Mitzvot, education and society, yet he still begged to enter Eretz Yisrael: “I beseeched G-d at that time saying, ‘Let me pass through and see the good land…’” (Devarim 3:23-25).  G-d finally said to him, “You’ve said enough!” (verse 26).  Don’t ask anymore. “Let people not say, ‘How unfair the Master!  How stubborn and incalcitrant the disciple!” (Rashi).  That shows how vociferously Moshe begged. “Here is one of three places where Moshe told G-d, ‘I won’t relent until You tell me if You’re going to fulfill my request or not” (Rashi, verse 23).  Yet surely Moshe had a reason for doing so.  Eretz Yisrael has profound importance, the very most profound importance of all.  It was only for a matter of such profundity that Moshe begged G-d in this manner.
And Eretz Yisrael involves not just one profound matter, but 252 profound matters.  Ha-Rav Natan Shapiro, the Chief Rabbi of Cracow, born in 1591, was one of the greatest mekubalim [mystics] of Poland in his day.  His entire book “Megaleh Amukot” is devoted to those same 252 arguments used by Moshe to explain why he craved to enter the Land.  He did not invent them all.  Rather, they are taken from the works of Rabbi Menachem Racanati, the “Rokeach,” the Arizal,  Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Pano, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed. (see the work, “Kol HaNevu’a” by Rabbi David HaKohen, “the Nazir”, page 269).  For example, number four is: “If someone possesses the merit from Eretz Yisrael, he can rid the world of its craving for idolatry.”  Also, Eretz Yisrael is a key to “attaining the secret of wisdom… because the air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise.”  Certainly Moshe was full of divine wisdom, yet he still craved to enter Eretz Yisrael to add on more.

Principle 170 is: Eretz Yisrael is the key to fulfilling “The humble shall inherit the Land” (Tehillim 37:11), for the culmination of all character traits is humility.  Certainly Moshe was the most humble man on earth. Even so, he longed to enter the Land to become more so.

Principle 187: “Eretz Yisrael is the key to bringing all the nations under the wings of the Divine Presence.  That’s why Moshe beseeched Hashem.  He was acting for the sake of Heaven, with the intent of helping all mankind to serve G-d.”

Indeed, Eretz Yisrael is a very profound matter.  And may we merit to become more closely attached to Eretz Yisrael and to delve more deeply in the topic of Eretz Yisrael.



If you will it, it is not a dream

Question: Once again a sense of dizziness confounds our leaders, who raise the idea of giving up part of our Land, G-d forbid.  How should we struggle for our Land?

Answer: If we want to cure an illness it is not enough to focus on its external signs, we must understand its cause.  What is the reason for all of this weakness?  Fear.  Fear of enemies both from within and from without.  Fear of all types of problems and difficulties.  If this is the case, what is the medicine?  Strength and courage.  How do we attain strength and courage?  From love of the Land of Israel and understanding the value of the Land.  When we love and understand, we will be ready for great toil and self-sacrifice, and we will not fear anything.  General Yitzchak Sadeh, one of the founders of the Palmach, wrote that a truly courage person is not necessarily someone who abandons his feelings of fear, but an idealistic person who understands the greatness of his mission, and therefore a physically weak person can say, “I am courageous.”  The Rebbe of Gur, the author of “Sefat Emet,” explains at the beginning of Parashat Shelach that the Land of Israel is acquired through desire and toil.  We are not denying that building the whole length of our Land did not involve great toil, but when there is desire, people are ready for any amount of toil.  He writes that the same applies to learning Gemara.  We can add that this is also the case with marriage.

We therefore know the solution: To fill the Nation of Israel with the desire for the Land of Israel.  This desire certainly exists, because without it, there would be nothing here: No building of the Land, no return to Zion, no establishment of the State and no founding of the army.  We should therefore be more precise: We must strengthen the desire of the Nation of Israel for the Land of Israel.

We have already learned this from Yaacov Avinu.  Hashem said to him: “The Land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and your descendants” (Bereshit 28:13).  This is surprising: This is an extremely small area?!  Rashi explains: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, folded up the entire Land of Israel under him. He hinted to him that it would be easily conquered by him like the four amah (six feet) which is the place of a person.”  If a person knows that the Land of Israel is his place, it is easy for him to conquer.  If a person “lies down” on the Land of Israel, i.e. displays self-sacrifice for it, it is easy for him to conquer.  And if “this is the stone upon which he lays his head” (Bereshit 28:18), then it is easy for him to conquer.

Why exactly is the detail of Yaacov Avinu putting the stones there important?  Answer: These stones are the stones of the Land of Israel and they were very dear to him.  At the end of the Kuzari (5, 27), the Jewish spokesman is asked, when will the Redemption arrive?  He answers: “When they yearn for the fundamental yearning, as it says: ‘For Your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her dust”’ (Tehillim 102:14).  The love of the stones by the Nation will bring Redemption.  The Gemara relates that Rabbi Abba would kiss the stones of Acco and Rabbi Chaim bar Gamda would roll in the dirt of the Land of Israel, as it says: “For Your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her dust” (Ketubot 112a-b).  There is something strange in Rashi’s commentary on this Gemara.  He simply copies the verse, without offering an interpretation.  I saw an explanation – I believe in the name of the Vilna Gaon – that those Rabbis who kissed the stones and rolled in the dirt did not do so to fulfill the above-mentioned verse, but because they loved the stones and dirt of our Land in the depths of their souls.  This is the secret: To strengthen love.

Avraham Avinu was told: “Arise, walk in the Land, its length and its breadth, for I am giving it to you” (Bereshit 13:17).  Our Sages explain: “In order that the Land would be easily conquered by his children” (Baba Batra 100a).  The love of the journey makes the conquering easy.  Yitzchak Avinu was told more: Do not only “Arise, walk in the Land,” but “Dwell in the Land…live in the Land” (Bereshit 26:2-3).  And Yaacov Avinu even more so: He laid down on the Land, he clung to the Land.  Even if he had only laid down on four amah he would have been able to spring forth and conquer the entire Land, as is written in the commentary “Da’at Zekenim Mi-Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot”: “‘The Land upon which you are lying’ means that I will give you that upon which you lay, and you will spread out in every direction by yourself and conquer all of your surroundings, as is the case with important horsemen. They give them a little land and they conquer all of the surrounding with their courage.”

If we strengthen the love of the Land of Israel, we will then hold on it with self-sacrifice, and even spread out to the west, east, north and south.  If you will it, it is not a dream.



Don’t Cut Up the Land of Israel!

Question: What is the Torah’s view about the new suggestion of bringing the destroyer right into Jerusalem, by transferring neighborhoods in which Jews do not live to either Jordan or the Palestinians, or other such ideas?

Answer: Obviously this strange and bizarre suggestion is pure nonsense. It is well-known that the Mitzvah of the Land of Israel may be divided into three parts:

  • Living in the Land. Every Jew must live in Israel and not in Babylonia, New York or anywhere else on earth.
  • Settling the Land. The Land must be built, settled, filled with Jews, filled with factories, fields and vineyards. As Ramban wrote: “We must never abandon it to desolation” (Positive Commandment 4 of Ramban’s additions to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot).
  • Occupying the Land. The Torah commands, “You shall clear out the Land” (Bamidbar 33:53); and, “Inherit the Land” (Devarim 4:1). These commands refer to the people taking ownership of the Land. As Ramban said, “We mustn’t leave it in the hands of any other nation” (ibid.). This land must not be left in the hands of any other people, but only our people.

This Mitzvah requires self-sacrifice. Without self-sacrifice it won’t work out. No nation on earth succeeds in holding on to its independence without self-sacrifice, all the more so the Jewish People. Everything we have today in our land has come by way of self-sacrifice: 1) Self-sacrifice to move to Israel, even in face of danger, even traveling through deserts or by ship; 2) Self-sacrifice, down through the generations, to establish settlements in the Land, to establish neighborhoods and to build. Such self-sacrifice was exhibited by all Jews, secular, religious and Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox); 3) The self-sacrifice exhibited by our army in occupying our land.

The rule is this: This entire land has to be under our sovereignty (Ramban, ibid.). There is a place for non-Jews living here, under certain conditions (Ramban, ibid.), just as such conditions exist in every country on earth. Whoever wishes to live in a particular country must certainly fulfill its laws and practices. He must certainly not be involved in the murder of its citizens. There is room for deliberating on which non-Jews should be allowed to live here, in accordance with their religion and nationality, wickedness or faithfulness – yet all this is referring to a private calculation. If an Arab has a house or field, accompanied by proof that it is indeed his, and not just stolen – we won’t take it away from him. (see Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, page 252)

We are talking here about national ownership, in other words, by the State. How strange the argument that in the Jerusalem neighborhoods earmarked for transfer, “Arabs live there and not Jews anyway. What difference does it make if there is non-Jewish rule?” How senseless one must be to make such claims! After all, in every country in the world there are minorities. Obviously, we are not like every country in the world – we must live as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Yet we are not inferior to any other nation, as Maharal states at the beginning of his book Netzach Yisrael. Shall we fail to understand something that every nation on earth understands? For example, shall the French, because they have eight million Arabs or twelve million Arabs, suddenly establish a state for them there?! Every single country on earth has minorities. Obviously, we have to relate to them with human dignity, but that does not give them the right to national sovereignty.

Therefore, this entire idea is a one big deceit and a dangerous blunder. It is hard to understand how people can talk such nonsense, nonsense that no other nation on earth would spout. Find one people on earth ready to establish a state or to hand over to another people part of its territory since foreigners live there. This nonsense, according to the theory of our master Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, stems from the Holocaust (LeNetivot Yisrael 1:94): In the Holocaust, they not only murdered us but also drove us insane, until we lost our self-confidence to bang on the table and say: Eretz Yisrael is ours!

A friend who went on vacation in Alaska told me that he sat by the sea, fishing. During the trip in the light plane that brought them there, someone jokingly asked, “What happens if a bear approaches us?” Yet the group leader didn’t laugh. He answered, “Look it straight in the eye and say to it, ‘Hey bear! This is my place!’ Later on when my friend was fishing he heard a rustling behind him. He turned around and saw a terrifying sight – a bear was threatening him. He had the courage to look it in the eye without blinking and to say, “Hey bear! This is my place!” The bear made a noise, turned around and left.

We have to state clearly: This land is our place. It is all ours. The fact that we disappeared from the Land because we were cruelly exiled by our enemies, and foreigners came and built homes and stole our lands, does not suddenly make it theirs.

Also the claim that all of these non-Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods cost us money is nonsense. We did not establish our country as a business venture. Millions of Jews lost billions. Ask any Jew who dwells in Zion: For you, is the Jewish State just about economics and security? He will be insulted and will respond, “G-d forbid! It’s history! Thank G-d we’ve got an economy and security, but that’s not the only reason we returned to our land. We came back because it is our land. We didn’t wait two thousand years just to give part of it away to foreigners.”

Ben Gurion once asked Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the principle thinkers of the Kibbutz movement: “Is it possible to concede parts of Eretz Yisrael for peace?” and Tabenkin responded, “I have to get advice.” The next day he answered no. Ben Gurion asked him, “May I asked you from whom you got advice?” and Tabenkin responded, “I asked my grandfather who has died and my grandson who is not yet born.”

Let us be strong and courageous for our land.



There is no Palestinian State Here


Question: Since there are people who are raising the idea of  a Palestinian state in portions of Judea and Samaria, what about the possibility of Jewish settlements remaining in that same area?

Answer: That’s an old idea. At one time it was a good. Now it’s bad. In the past, we established settlements under Turkish or British rule, and that brought a blessing. Now that is all behind us, and we live in the State of Israel – not in another country.

As is well-known, the Mitzvah of the Land of Israel is divisible into three parts: 1. There is a Mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael and not somewhere else. That is called the Mitzvah of living in the Land. 2. There is a Mitzvah to settle the Land and to rebuild it. That is called the Mitzvah of settling the Land. 3. There is a Mitzvah that the Land must be under our sovereignty. That is called the Mitzvah of taking possession of the Land (Ramban’s Addenda to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot #4).

Ramban explains that the most essential component is the third part. The first two occur when the Land is already under our sovereignty.

Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna took a very strict view of this Mitzvah. He said that if we are living under foreign rule, we are not fulfilling the Mitzvah of settling the Land. Our living in it has great value, but only as a preparation for fulfilling the Mitzvah (Responsa Yeshu’ot Malko, Yoreh Deah #66). It is true that the great halachic authorities do not hold like him. Rather they say that even under foreign rule we fulfill the Mitzvah of living in the Land. Still, they concede that we lack the Mitzvah of taking possession of the Land, and the Mitzvah of living in the Land itself is therefore not being fulfilled to completion.

Thank G-d, we are already a long way past these situations. We have risen to rebirth and we have an independent state. Now it has to be clear to us, to the Arabs and to the entire world that this is our Land. We have waited 2000 years, and now we are returning to it. We shall never leave it, forever and ever, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.

The Arabs who live in our midst have two options: 1. If they wish to live in their own country under their own sovereignty, they have 22 choices, whose area is 500 times greater than the State of Israel. 2. If they are happy living in our midst, we are ready to show them hospitality under our sovereignty and in our country. Obviously they are obligated to keep our laws, just as all the minorities in the world live according to the laws of various countries. Logically, most of them will choose to live in one of their own 22 countries, but as stated, it’s up to them. In any event, there is certainly no moral or historic justification for them to have one more country at the expense of our tiny one.

In practical terms as well, it would be unthinkable to leave Jewish settlements in Arab territory. We know them. Many of them are murderers, and we have no guarantee that those among them who are not murderers will succeed in preserving our lives. They will keep us in a constant state of water shutdowns, power outages and terror, and very quickly, G-d forbid, not one Jewish home will remain in place. Especially if war breaks out, those settlements will be hostages, and an awful situation will be created.

But we don’t need this analysis at all, because we have already said that in principle, morally, nationally, and historically:  this Land is ours. We have to add that the very asking of the question attests to terrible weakness and horrible confusion. Before there was yet a Jewish state, when this question was raised, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook wrote that such a question is the result of a loss of self-confidence, due to the Holocaust, which made it harder for us to state confidently, “This is our Land” (LeNetivot Yisrael 1:92).

After all, there has been no nation in the world, throughout history, that was ready to give up part of its land. Nations are ready to engage in wars with great self-sacrifice for the sake of liberating the full expanse of their lands. Certainly they are ready to defend it when they already hold it. There is no parallel throughout history of a people fleeing from its land and handing it over to a foreign people!

This is our Land! Even the nations of the world recognized this with the decision of San Remo ninety years ago in 5680. The representatives of the great powers that had achieved victory in the First World War gathered together in Italy to divide up the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This decision included within it the Balfour declaration from 5677 to establish for us a national home, a decision that was accepted then by the League of Nations, and signed on by 51 nations. The Arabs then received an enormous tract of land compared to what we received. Already then Balfour said to them: What are you complaining about? You received an enormous area, and in contrast, the Jews received a tiny niche?!

This was an international decision and there is no authority under international law to change it and exercise a new partition. According to the Balfour declaration, all the Jewish settlements are legal, and not only do the Jews have a right to settle in them, but the nations have a duty to help build them. See Howard Grief’s book, The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law. How fortunate is the human race which in a moment of spiritual elevation admitted that this is our Land forever and ever.

Thus, the solution in relation to Judea and Samaria is very simple, and can be summed up by two words that Moshe, in his time, used with the spies: “Be strong!” (Bamidbar 13:20).

We must be strong! That will allow us already to find solutions to all of our problems, as we have until now.

We have been reborn. We have emerged from the nightmare of the Exile. Let us be strong and march forward.

Be strong and take courage!



Open Letter to an Honest, Upright Member of the Human Race


Dear friend,

I’m writing to you in the name of the People that dwells in Zion, although I have not been appointed to do so. Nonetheless, since I don’t wish to present you with opinions but with simple facts, I don’t need to be appointed. Thus I’m not writing to change your mind, but only to provide you with some facts, because I’m afraid you’re being fed lies about us. All the truths I’m going to tell you can be corroborated in the books on Middle East and World history.


First falsehood: This Land has always been the homeland of the Palestinian People, and was taken from them by us.

This isn’t true! We have lived here from time immemorial, and we were expelled by the Romans. Almost all of the Arabs arrived here just before the War of Independence, when the British intentionally opened up all the dry-land borders to them. We are the only people on Earth for whom this has been a homeland.


Second falsehood: This country was conceived in sin following an aggressive, illegal conquest by the Jews.

I beg to differ. Israel was the result of a British legal obligation and an international agreement following the First World War, which was reconfirmed after the Second World War.


Third falsehood: The Israelis want to destroy the Arab countries in particular, and the whole Muslim world in general.

Not so! The Arabs started each of the wars against us, and not vice versa: the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, the Gaza War, etc. etc. And our army — as its name makes clear, is the I.D.F., the Israel DEFENSE Forces. All of our wars were and are wars of defense.


Fourth falsehood: The Israeli Army mistreats Palestinians.

Also untrue! Our army is exceedingly moral, the most moral on Earth, going beyond the conventional norm. Many of our soldiers have died so innocent civilians would be spared.


Fifth falsehood: The State of Israel oppresses the Arabs in its midst.

Wrong. They have a status unparalleled in any Arab country: the right to vote for the government. They have their own Knesset members and ministers, they can study in University, and become high-ranking judges and officials. Unfortunately, many of them engage in terror, out of a sense of enormous ingratitude, and their brethren do not protest this forcefully.


Sixth falsehood: When there are two states for two peoples, operating in good neighborliness and cooperation, there will be peace in the Middle East.

That is not so. This idea was already raised 80 years ago in 5680, and it’s because of that that we are at war. Already in 5686 we agreed to the establishment of two states and the Arabs refused. It turns out that we made a mistake. The British had already established two states, ours and Jordan. Every time we agreed to such a solution, the result was another war.  It thus turns out that this solution is only good theoretically, not realistically. And this is before we even consider it from a moral standpoint.


Yes, my dear friend, examine the historical facts and you’ll see that with the help of some fanatical brainwashing, victim has been turned into aggressor, justice into injustice, truth into falsehood, and reality into a kind of irrational, hallucinatory insanity.

And in conclusion, I shall allow myself to quote several lines from an old song of ours

from after the War of Independence, called “Our Tiny Land”:


Our tiny Land

It’s my Land, mine!

I love it so!


Our tiny Land

Little mother of mine

You love your son so much.


Our tiny Land

After 2,000 years of exile

I’ve returned to you.

You’re my one and only.

I am wed to you forever!

Live forever, my Land!



The War over over Judea and Samaria


Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook proclaimed before the Jewish People, and before the entire world: “Over Judea and Samaria there will be war”, and “[We will halt its relinquishment] ‘with our bodies’” (Le-Hilchot Tzibbur, p. 214, p. 226).  When he was asked whether he meant civil war, he refused to answer. Afterwards he clarified to the Tzahal Commander-in-Chief that he did not mean civil war, or a war of the settlers against the army.

Here is what he wrote:

“Our devoted Sages instructed the Jewish People in how to wage war against the nations. Let us hope that matters will never come to the Jewish People waging war against their own failed government.”

Thus, what he was referring to was a situation in which the entire Jewish People are at war with their government. He wrote to the Defense Minister, “Over Judea and Samaria there will be an internal war, and when the entire Jewish People rises up against this government, we will obviously side with the entire Jewish People as G-d’s word achieves ascendancy over   G-d’s people and inheritance. We will not take the side of the failed government. The government must serve the people, and not vice versa.”

He further explained to his students that he was not advancing a practical directive but a proclamation of educational value. “I said and I wrote that over Judea and Samaria, Jericho and the Golan, there would be a war. No concessions are imaginable. Such threats, such utterances, such educational messages, must be repeated with regularity, thousands of times, to uproot this corruption, this disease, this weakness, at its source. These lands do not belong to the nations. We did not steal them from the nations. Rather, thank G-d, we have grown, matured, and returned to them. Over Judea and Samaria and the Golan and Jericho there will be a war. We must repeat these threats, these utterances, tomorrow and the day after, relentlessly, in order to express our position with strength and fortitude. We must remind the government and the Jewish People that we must not entertain the least possibility of conceding any part of our Land. We are not the owners of His Land. It belongs to the entire Jewish People. We are the Jews living on it. We are the representatives of the entire Jewish People. We must not betray our Land. We must increase our strength and fortitude to sanctify G-d’s name” (from a tape recording).

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s style of speech was thus meant to emphasize in the sharpest terms that there is a terrible and tragic issue at stake.

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah never gave practical instructions to anyone to go and wage war over Judea and Samaria.



The Laws of Uprooting Jewish Settlements


In the course of the suffering accompanying the Divine process of our Redemption, we are once more encountering this terrible conflict between brothers involving the uprooting of Jewish settlements.  We are not exempt from clarifying it in the light of Torah, which illuminates the proper path for both the individual and the Nation, both in healthy situations as well as in morbid ones.  There are three parties involved here: the government, civilians and soldiers.


  1. The Government

When it comes to long and short-term urban planning, it is certainly the government which must make decisions, but as far as the ideological question of whether a particular location belongs to the Nation of Israel or to another nation, that question transcends governments, for the answer to that question was provided by the Master of the Universe, by the Torah, by Jewish tradition, by history.  Even the government was commanded regarding Eretz Yisrael: “We were commanded not to abandon it to any other nation, or to desolation” (Ramban, (Additions to Sefer Ha-Mitzvot of the Rambam, positive Mitzvah #4).  This command transcends the government.  Quite the contrary, the government draws its strength and authority from it.  Uprooting a Jewish community is a terrible crime with no parallel throughout Jewish or world history.  All the more so that establishing a foreign state in the very midst of our own country is a national crime which surpasses all the bounds of reason and ethics.   Likewise, the illustrious Rabbis who head the “Rabbinic Union for the People and Land of Israel” recently issued a proclamation absolutely rejecting the establishment of a foreign state within Judea and Samaria, or otherwise abandoning part of Eretz Yisrael to foreigners.  Let us hope that our government will speedily free itself of the present agreement, returning to the path of truth and valor.


  1. Civilians

Every Jew has to struggle to nullify these terrible decrees.  The entire nation must rise as one man with one heart and struggle against this dysfunctional government that is leading us down the path of destruction.  Obviously, as with any other Mitzvah, this must not be performed by means of a sin.  Before the founding of the State, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, established red lines as far as political struggles between us: No violence, no insults, no hatred (“Et Achai Anochi Mevakesh” in Li-Netivot Yisrael, vol. 1).   Likewise, in the struggles over the completeness of the Land, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda never instructed us to use violence, to insult or to hate anyone.  Therefore, please do not insult policemen or soldiers, let alone their officers.  When a soldier takes hold of your hand, don’t use physical force to resist.  Don’t hold on to boulders.  You might get hurt, or the soldier might get hurt.  And don’t play freeze-tag with the soldiers either.   The evacuation of a Jewish settlement is a terrible desecration of G-d’s Name.  Don’t make it worse before the television cameras of Israel and the whole world, which will show Jewish soldiers dragging Jews out of a Jewish settlement.  If you force a soldier to drag you, don’t yell: “Why are you hurting me?”  Don’t hurt his heart!  When the Jewish Community of Hevron was just starting out, some of our group danced with an Israeli flag at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and soldiers ordered them to stop.  When they didn’t listen, the soldiers grabbed at the flag, some pulling in one direction and others pulling in the other, until the flag got ripped.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda, responded: “What you did was more treif than pig.  You put our friends, the soldiers, in an unpleasant situation in order to advance the cause.”

We see for ourselves that many soldiers feel horrible at being asked to evacuate outposts. Many themselves live in settlements and outposts.  One must also be very careful of provocateurs who let their mouths spill out hatred and incitement to evil, but then report to the police what they saw around them.  Don’t send children.  It is hard for them to digest simultaneously a love of the Land and the Nation of Israel, with a love of the army.

Remember this: Our Rabbi stood at the head of the war over Judea and Samaria and loudly proclaimed: “Over Judea and Samaria there will be a war!” “Over our dead bodies!”  Yet he never, never instructed anyone to use force against a soldier, a policeman, or even to insult them.

Whoever has learned Halachah knows the major principle: “We do not learn practical law either from abstract study alone, or from hearing isolated cases alone.  Rather, we must learn it from a combination of abstract study with its practical applications.  Once someone has asked questions and received such practical guidance, he can go and act accordingly” (Baba Batra 136b).   The utterance that “there will be a war over Judea and Samaria” is in the realm of “abstract study.”  It may be profound and holy and sublime and powerful, but it is not practical Halachah.  Our Rabbi rejected anything that would create a rift amongst the Nation, and he said, “I do not want a civil war.”

The halachic conclusion of the illustrious heads of the “Rabbinic Union for the People and Land of Israel” was as follows: “To behave with great caution; to avoid all physical or verbal violence against our soldier brethren… and let it be said to the credit of the public that all

of them but rare exceptions are following the guidance of our Rabbis.”


  1. Soldiers

Soldiers as well, as part of the Nation of Israel, must struggle devotedly to keep our Land intact, all the more so if a soldier is a high-ranking officer with an influence on the workings of the army and the government.  Yet even he mustn’t fulfill a Mitzvah by means of a sin.  To cause the disintegration of the army is a grave sin.  Our army works on the basis of unity – one for all and all for one.  If the army disintegrates, it is no army, and that places the Nation in danger.  The army is not rightist or leftist, middle-of-the-road or any other category. Otherwise, the Nation would be in danger.  The country and the Jewish State would be in danger.   The army is where the aggregate soul of the Jewish People is being renewed in all its glory.  Driving a knife into that is the opposite of the whole process of our rebirth.

Remember this! Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda, stood at the head of all the ranks of settlers in Judea and Samaria, yet no soldier ever heard from him the words: “Refuse orders.”  The soldier does not become partner in a sin, emissary to perform a sin or collaborator in a sin. The government’s sin was already performed and is now nothing but water over the bridge. Our Rabbi wrote numerous flyers against abandoning parts of Eretz Yisrael, yet he never wrote: “Refuse orders!”

“Many are the thoughts in a man’s heart, yet it is G-d’s counsel that will endure” (Mishlei 19:21).  They keep presenting the same program, each time by a different name.  We overcame 242, Gunnar Jarring, 338, Kissinger, the Geneva Pact, the Autonomy Agreement, the Reagan Program, the Shultz Initiative, the London Accord, Madrid, the Biltmore talks, James Baker, Oslo I, the Mitchell Report, Oslo II, the Sharm a-Sheikh Pact, the Camp David Summit, the Taba Talks, Clinton, George Tennet, General Zinni and the Saudi Plan.

We will overcome!



We will be Back in Gush Katif


Gush Katif is an important way-station in the course of our Redemption. It started as a place full of light and joy and building and creation. Then it was one of breakdown and destruction, darkness and betrayal. Yet it was still a way-station. By the same token, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook counted even the heinous episode of the Altalena, of brother killing brother, amongst the way-stations of the Redemption. The cure is to open up the emergency store houses of love for our fellow Jew in order to melt the hatred (Mi-Maamakim, Li-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1 p. 128).  And that’s what happened at the Altalena: Those who were hurt and wounded maintained their restraint and prevented a civil war.

And at Gush Katif, as well, a large population behaved with restraint, and by such means a terrible war between Jews was prevented. This great merit is connected to the other sources of goodness: Self-sacrifice for the rebuilding of the Land as emissaries of the entire Nation under difficult economic, agricultural and security conditions. Thanks to G-d’s mercy, the Land responded and generously provided its bounty; and its people lived lives of Torah and labor, lives of kind deeds – to those around us and to others, and there was great unity between different sorts of people and great faith.

Indeed, the test of faith comes in times of crises, as is explained in Mesilat Yesharim (Chapter 19) regarding love of G-d.  Here, the righteous of Gush Katif are passing their test. They don’t spend their time heaping calumny on those who didn’t join them in their struggle. They don’t recite, day and night: “We won’t forget.” They are not stuck in the past.  Rather, they look ahead to the future. As Rambam wrote in one of his letters: A person should look inward at himself and not outward at others.

Yes, the most important thing is not what was but what will be: How can we return to Gush Katif? How can another, similar destruction be prevented from occurring in Judea and Samaria?  And yes!  From then until today a debate has raged among lovers of Eretz Yisrael. Some say that only the language of force works, and that had we exerted enough force, as, for example, the Charedim do, or – not to be compared – the Arabs, we could have saved our beloved Gush Katif.  Others say that force only works with minor matters, but not with such politically and militarily crucial issues as this.  Rather, there is only one way for Judea, Samaria and Gaza to remain ours: For the Nation to want it!

The reality proves that the second approach is the right one. Whoever looks at Jewish history with open eyes, starting with the awakening of the return to Zion during the past 150 years, will see that nothing happened through the use of threats or force, but because people wanted it.  Our wonderful Land was rebuilt – because they wanted it. In the return to Zion, whoever wanted to come, came. In the War of Independence, only volunteers enlisted. In all of Israel’s wars, only those who believed in it fought devotedly. In the whole settlement program in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, only those who wanted to settle, came and settled. Also with all the Torah learning which has so increased in our Land, nobody learns Torah unless he wants to. Quite the contrary, using force pushes people away.  As we said, the largest issues depend on will, since they are bound up with suffering. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, “G-d gave three gifts to His Nation, and they come about only through suffering, and they are, Torah, the World-to-Come and Eretz Yisrael” (Berachot 5a).  They all require self-sacrifice, and one cannot force self-sacrifice.  Such was the approach of the righteous of Gush Katif, that it is impossible to coerce.  Marriage, as well, cannot be coerced. You cannot command love, and Eretz Yisrael is likened to marriage (see Yeshayahu 62:4-5).  According to the Sefat Emet at the beginning of Parashat Shelach, Eretz Yisrael is likened to Talmud study.  That, too, is hard, therefore it depends on desire and will: “Eretz Yisrael contains the aspect of the Oral Torah, that a person must attain it by way of his own toil.  Hence, conquering Eretz Yisrael depends on the will of the Jews themselves…  Therefore, when the Jews refused the Land, they could no longer enter it.”  Likewise, Rabbi Yosef Karo in his book, “Maggid Mesharim,” explained that the goal of sending out the spies, who were Torah scholars, was to arouse their desire for Eretz Yisrael (Parashat Shelach).  Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna wrote the same thing: “Now that we have seen the great repentance [for Eretz Yisrael], among the people of lesser worth, amongst the medium level people and amongst the upright of heart, it is almost certain that the spirit of Redemption is shining forth” (Shut Yeshuot Malko, Yoreh Deah #66).  And Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi similarly wrote that the redemption will come when the Jews long for Jerusalem with the very greatest desire (from the end of “the Kuzari”).

True, there is a theory in history called “Historic Materialism,” that what determines history is political or economic facts on the ground, as in the writings of Marx or Engels.  Yet the main approach is “Historic Idealism,” that what determines history are beliefs and opinions and ideas, as in Hegel, and as in Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s famous article, “The Course of Ideas in Israel” (Orot).  Therefore, we have to multiply the number of Jews who want the full extent of the Land. The more they increase, the better off our Nation will be. Indeed, in Gush Katif, as I said, there were a lot of righteous people of different stripes, but the entire Jewish People were not AT Gush Katif, nor were they WITH Gush Katif.  The cure is the knowledge and awareness that this is our Land, as our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, wrote in his famous placard “Lema’an Da’at” [In order that they should know]: “This entire Land is ours… hence once and for all, these matters are clear and absolute, that there are no ‘territories’ or ‘[Palestinian] Arabs’ or ‘Arab Lands’.  Rather, it is all Jewish lands, our eternal, ancestral inheritance” (quoted in Le-Hilchot Tzibbur).

And then, even to Gush Katif, we will return.  For a long time, already, Gush Katif has been destroyed and gone, but that same faith of Gush Katif is hovering over the world, flittering around among people, causing sorrow and sadness, joy and hope.  It is penetrating the hearts and minds of the simple people, of profound thinkers, of men and of women, of young boys and girls, without people noticing it.  That faith is beating in their hearts, without their knowing where that fortitude, that sweetness, is coming from.  It is that faith which will save all of Judea and Samaria and Gaza, and it is that which will bring us home to Gush Katif.




Jerusalem, if I forget you…

Down through the generations we swore, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you; if I do not set Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Tehillim 137:5-6).  In the Exile, this vow was the focus of all our yearnings and emotions.  It was what kept us going there.  We withstood all the terrible suffering because we knew and we believed: Next year in Jerusalem.

Now the time has come for action.  Through Hashem’s kindness, we have returned to Jerusalem. It is all ours, and we must settle the entire walled city with Jews and Jewishness. Obviously, we must not do this at the expense of all the rest of the Land of Israel, G-d forbid, as though Jerusalem were part of the consensus and none of the rest of it is.  All of Judea and Samaria is part of the consensus – the consensus of Hashem.  One time, the students of our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, informed him that there was thought of transferring the Old City of Jerusalem to a foreign power.  He responded, “And what about the Golan Heights?”  They thought that they had been misheard, and they repeated themselves: “Master! We said ‘Jerusalem’!”  Yet he insisted, “And what about the Golan Heights?”  The same thing happened a third time.  They were disappointed.  Yet Rav Tzvi Yehudah saw everything as one unit, and he taught us that the Mishnah (Keilim, chapter 1) which states that “Jerusalem is HOLIER THAN all the rest of Land of Israel” should really be translated as “Jerusalem DERIVES ITS HOLINESS FROM all the rest of the Land of Israel.”  Through the rebuilding of all Israel, Jerusalem shall be rebuilt.

We need go no further than our Sages’ words that Avraham’s covenant with Avimelech [in which he conceded part of the Holy Land to a non-Jewish king] stood as an obstacle to King David’s entrance into Jerusalem.  In other words, the “Disengagement” of those days hurt Jerusalem, our holy city (Shmuel 2 5:6-9.  See Rashi and Ralbag there and Pirkei D-Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 36).  Indeed, already back then, liberating Jerusalem was a complicated, involved matter.  This is not surprising, because the greater something is, the more complicated it is.  In our own times as well, during the War of Independence, the enormous efforts to liberate our holy city failed.  Finally in the Six-Day War, we returned home.  Yet that is not enough.  It cannot be that the vast majority of the heart of our country will be populated by non-Jews.  We have to renew the Jewish presence in Walled Jerusalem.  Were we fortunate enough, our government would have taken this task upon itself from start to finish.  Yet we were not quite so fortunate, so the task falls not just on the community but also on the individual.

When our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah, was asked about the well-known complaint that the “Nachem” prayer of Tisha Be-Av [which is recited in the Shemoneh Esri in the prayer for rebuilding Jerusalem] is not suited to the reality of our times, he would answer that the Old City is still “despised and desolate through the loss of her inhabitants.”  It is impossible to go to the Old City and to see the rubble covering the synagogue ruins without bursting out in tears.  When they told him that the Jewish presence in the heart of Jerusalem was being renewed, an enormous smile lit up his face. When they enumerated for him the names of the streets in the Old City, he said that they needn’t bother – all of those places, where he had studied in his youth, were etched in his memory.  Indeed, our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah, studied in the Yeshivat Torat Chaim where Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim is presently located.  A miracle happened to that building when the Old City fell into the enemy’s hands during the War of Independence.  The Arabs broke into all the Jewish homes and destroyed, pillaged and looted all the synagogues.  Only this yeshiva survived because the non-Jew who lived below, one of the righteous gentiles of the world, protected it for twenty years.  When we returned, he handed the keys over to the Old City’s governor, Chaim Herzog, who later became President of Israel. Chaim Herzog asked him, “How did you guard over this place for so many long years?” and he answered, “I didn’t guard it. It guarded me!”  In one of his first visits to the liberated city, Rav Tzvi Yehudah entered the yeshiva.  Everything was as it had been – it was only covered over with a thick layer of gray dust.

Thank G-d, the Torah is coming home. Once more, the voice of Torah is heard in the yeshiva. Once more young and old are walking around – with an armed guard – in the streets of Jerusalem.  Yet Jerusalem was never partitioned amongst the tribes (Megillah 26a).  Rather, it was built through the merit of all the tribes (Midrash Tehillim 122).   It is the city that is “joins all together” (Tehillim 122:3); the city that makes all of Israel friends (Jerusalem Talmud Chagigah 3:6).  Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish People.  Jews from all over Israel and from all over the world, from all parties, all streams and all opinions are partners in the rebuilding of the heart of the universe. Indeed, Jerusalem is the heart of Israel (Tikunei Zohar 21 and Biur Ha-Gra 56).



“A Man or Woman Can Force a Spouse to Move to Jerusalem”


“A man or woman can force a spouse to move to Jerusalem” – such is the ruling when one spouse wants to live in Jerusalem.  He or she has the upper hand (Ketubot 110b). Jerusalem is superior to all else, not in the sense of aloofness and arrogance, but in the sense of being the spiritual pinnacle of Eretz Yisrael.

After all, we have to ask: We’ve heard over and over again about the Mitzvah of settling the Land, but where in the Torah is there a Mitzvah of settling Jerusalem? We have to answer: True, there is no Mitzvah of settling Jerusalem per se, but since it is the spiritual pinnacle of the entire land, the Mitzvah of settling the Land is fulfilled there all the more. Scripture states, “Hashem loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Yaakov” (Tehillim 87:2). Obviously, this is referring to all of Jerusalem, including the new neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. Yet it is clear that the main thing is the Old City, Jerusalem between the walls.

And if we are relating to Jerusalem in terms of the Mitzvah applying to the entire land, then we have to apply to Jerusalem all three aspects of that Mitzvah. It is well known that the Mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael can be divided into three parts: 1) moving to the Land, 2) settling the Land “so as not to abandon it to desolation” and 3) sovereignty over the Land – conquering and liberating the Land (“we mustn’t abandon it to any other nation” – Ramban’s remarks on Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, Addendum 4).

Here is the place to talk about settlement and conquest. Through G-d’s kindness, we have merited conquest. Yet as we all know, it is not enough to conquer. You have to hold on to what you conquered. And how does one do that? Through settlement. Our sages say regarding the verse, “Clear out the land and live in it” (Bemidbar 33:53) that it is by virtue of our clearing it out, that we will merit to live in it (see Rashi). Yet by the same token, it is by virtue of our living in it that we can succeed in clearing it out. The two are interdependent.

My words apply not only to Jerusalem between the walls but to the entire length and breadth of the Land, in which we are commanded to settle and to take hold everywhere, even if that is hard in our day. Yet in our ancient holy city, it is all that much harder. It used to be said that to settle one Jewish home in the Old City is as hard as establishing an entire settlement. Indeed, the Old City is like a human heart, both in its size and in its complexity.

Obviously, even to establish Jewish factories there is a precious deed, but the main thing is to establish, facing the site of our Temple, factories of Torah and the fear of G-d, of good character and the love of Israel. And in response to the misdeeds of the past, we must strengthen our hold on Jerusalem to make it “a city of unity” (Tehillim 122:3) – a city that unites Celestial Jerusalem with Terrestrial Jerusalem. Let us be strong and of good courage in rebuilding our holy city, and the entire length and breadth of our Land.




“Be Careful not to Climb the Mountain, or Even to Touch its Edge” (Shemot 19:12)

The Temple Mount constitutes an unsolvable halachic problem.  One is not allowed to enter the site of the Temple, and whoever enters there incurs “Karet” [divine “excommunication”], even today when the Temple stands in ruins.  We do not know where the Temple is located on the Temple Mount.  Much research has been written, many sketches have been drawn, with numerous measurements taken.  That itself is the source of the problem: If everything was so certain, it would be enough to make one measurement. Occasionally a new researcher emerges and nullifies all the previous calculations.  The situation has not changed in a hundred years, when the great rabbis of Israel and of Jerusalem ruled that one must not go beyond the wall. Everything is still veiled in doubt.

Already in the past when the Jews returned to build the Second Temple, a prophet was needed to determine the location of the altar. The truth has to be stated, that all this measuring was displeasing to Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, and when they would bring him a brochure with such measurements, he would shunt it aside, hiding it under a pile of books. He classified making such calculations as “spitting on the Temple Mount” (Sichot Rabbenu 21, se’if 9).  He also mentioned that the Mitzvah of Temple reverence does not just apply at the site of the Temple itself but on the entire Temple Mount (Sichot Rabbenu, ibid.).  After the Six Day War the great rabbis of Israel announced that it was forbidden to ascend onto the Temple Mount. Our master Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and his son Rav Tzvi Yehudah forbade ascent.  The great rabbis before that forbade ascent.  The Chief Rabbis of Israel forbade ascent (including Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren in practical terms – see “Ma’alin BaKodesh”, Av 5763, page 149); and including Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira – and we are not greater sages than they, nor greater saints nor greater Zionists.

After the Six Day War, the Chief Rabbinate deliberated on the matter, and a proposal was raised that they would not decide but would leave it up to each rabbi vis-à-vis his own community. Yet that proposal was rejected. The Temple Mount is not the private mountain of any particular community but a mountain belonging to the entire Jewish People, and those in charge of deciding are the Chief Rabbinate.

In conclusion, not only is there no Mitzvah amongst the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah commanding us to ascend the Temple Mount, but there is a prohibition, and you cannot turn a prohibition into a Mitzvah.

As far as the Arabs who go up there, that is not our responsibility. If they wish to be living fulfillment of “Any non-Levite who comes near shall die” (Bamidbar 9:51), that is their affair.  Moreover, if halachically it is impossible to go there we understand that such is G-d’s will. We have no prophets who can inform us of G-d’s will. Yet also delay can attest to G-d’s will, whether what delays us is a practical constraint or derives from halachah, what is known as “a constraint with an inner motive”.

It is yet a long way to the Temple Mount. We have a lot of Mitzvot to do, a lot of kind deeds, a lot of Torah to learn, a lot of the Land to build, a lot of honor to show Torah scholars, a lot of love to show our fellow Jew, a lot teaching to do, a lot of solutions to find for the unemployed and for a lot of poor people, and for a lot of hungry people…

One might say: We are not ascending the Temple Mount as a Mitzvah nor in search of holiness, but as part of conquering the Land of Israel.” My response to this is that there are all sorts of ways to conquer something. This is not the way to conquer the Temple Mount. The rest of the Land of Israel is to be conquered by the pioneer with his self-sacrifice and by the soldier with his weapon and by the settler with his faith – but the Temple Mount has to be conquered differently – by causing the Divine Presence to come to rest. Sometimes not everything can be approached the same way. Sometimes there are differences. See what our great master Rambam wrote in Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechirah (6:6), that the holiness of the Land of Israel is established through conquest, whereas the holiness of the site of the Temple by way of the Divine Presence. And how do we cause the Divine Presence to come to rest? Through Torah and Mitzvot, through kindness and love. We say in our prayers, “G-d builds Jerusalem” (Shemoneh Esreh), and “Jerusalem” is referring to the Temple. Yet how does G-d “build” it? We don’t see anything happening right now. Surely we should instead say, “He WILL build it”?

Rather, we do not see because we have the eyes of mortal man. The commentaries explained that every Mitzvah of every Jew throughout the world and throughout the generations builds Jerusalem, and when a particular quantity is achieved, then the Temple will actually be constructed. Particularly important is groundless love, as in Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s famous words that the Third Temple will be built through groundless love (Orot Ha-Kodesh3I:324).

Even King David, when he wished to build the Temple, was told by G-d that the time had not arrived. G-d told him: Now is the time of wars. Now is the time of building up the kingdom. The time for building the Temple will come later – by way of your son Solomon.

The halachic delay tells us that the time has not yet arrived. We have a lot of work ahead of us. When the Six Day War ended and Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s class for his greatest students and scholars recommenced, he humbly asked, “What should we learn now?” One student suggested, “Perhaps the laws of the Temple?…” Our master warmly grasped that student’s hand and said to him, “Before we learn that we have a lot more to learn about the laws of kings and their wars.”

Yet a longing for the Temple and the Temple Mount has existed throughout history, and every prayer ends: “May it be G-d’s will that the Temple should be rebuilt speedily in our day.” From this fierce longing we derive strength and valor to add yet one more Mitzvah, more Torah learning, more kindness and more holiness. Through all of them the Temple will be rebuilt.














To be a Serious Army in Our Land


  1. To remain in the exile and to imagine that we will not be hurt by assimilation and pogroms constitutes silliness and irresponsibility. I am not saying this to make an accusation, but only to express sorrow.


Yet to return to our land and to rebuild it, to establish our state, economy and army — that constitutes taking a serious, responsible approach.


  1. To sit complacently in our land and to imagine that we no longer have enemies, that we are living in a New Middle East in which there is no more war, only a few guerrila forces, and that in exchange for conceding a third or two thirds of our land, our neighbors will make peace with us, that we have almost no need of reserve duty, that we have almost no need of emergency warehouses — that constitutes irresponsibility and worse. I am not trying to cast blame, only to arouse the public.


Yet to dispel illusions, to understand with a realistic, courageous perspective that we still have stubborn enemies, that the appeasing outlook of Chamberlain who said, “Peace, and no more war,” is a mistake that led to the Second World War, to realize that Churchill answered him, “Your kind of peace is followed by war, and my war will be followed by peace” — that is the serious spirit of the human race.


  1. To conceive a new doctrine, that against terrorists you needn’t use all your weaponry, bombs and tanks, but should be gentle; to think that certainly you shouldn’t harm those arbitrarily defined as “innocent,” for you have to be concerned about their welfare, and even targeted killings of terrorists aren’t nice because it isn’t good and proper to punish a person without first trying him in court – to think all this and thereby to lead our loyal soldiers, fighting like lions, to their deaths, and to evacuate from their homes a million and a half faithful citizens — that constitutes silliness, an academic ivory tower on some other planet. My purpose is not to attack, but only to illuminate.


Yet a strong army that is always ready to smite the Arab wolves who come to annihilate us, an army that advocates “total war” in order to save us and our wives and children — that is seriousness. That is responsibility. That is sanity.


  1. To foster a national fantasy of transforming our army into an effeminate army, a maternal army, an army in which no one is endangered, an army in which one neither kills nor is killed, a luft-army, a show-case army, an army of peace, a shlemiel army — is self-delusion. It is silly. I am not trying to accuse, only to improve.


Yet to recognize that we emerged from our exile and our lowliness of spirit, that we were saved from some sort of bizarre masochism — that is morality, that is naturalness, that is healthiness! To absorb from the spirit of the university, science and technology, economics and organization, yet to draw our spiritual values and worldview from the depths of the life of our people rising to rebirth — that is a proper, serious perspective on reality. To realize, with pain and fortitude, that armies and wars involve killing and being killed, that when we are not ready to be killed, quite the contrary, even more are killed, and when we ready to be killed, quite the contrary, much blood is spared; to know that it is impossible to easily heal what was broken and to say, “All is well” — that is seriousness. That constitutes genuine leadership which contains a vision for which we are ready to pay a price.



We’ve Come From Far Off to Fight

We’ve come from far off, from all the exiles, from all the countries, from all the destructions, from all the suffering.

We’ve come to our army, and we shall love it, for it is ours. We left home, we left a wife, parents, children, friends. Yet in our hearts is a flame that cannot be snuffed out. We’re not afraid of anything, from hunger, or from the enemy. We’ll all go home, proud and happy that we defended our people; that we defended our land. We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Our enemies are sworn to annihilate us all, but thanks to our soldiers they fail miserably. How truly fortunate we are! The main thing is that we should remain united. Then we won’t fear our enemies. And if they attack us, we’ll show them what for! Our enemies are sworn to liquidate us, but they don’t know our strength. Now they are mortified, humiliated, and in flight. Cowards!

The battle command has gone forth! We don’t like wars! We don’t like battles! Yet when our enemies aim their weapons at us, we’ve got to go into battle, and we’ve got to win. Tremble before us, despicable enemies! Soon you shall pay the price of blood and tears! For we shall fight on behalf of our living brethren, and on behalf of those who have fallen.

Whoever falls so that his people live on – is alive! We shall avenge your blood and liquidate your murderers.

When we bring peace and freedom to our Nation, you will be with us.
When a brother falls and disappears into the shadows, another brother rises up in his place out of the shadows. Some people remain at home, sleeping in their beds, but we go into battle, for your sakes, for our own sakes.

Fallen brethren! We offer you a hand, in the name of our people and our country. We are proud thanks to you. Our hearts get excited when we remember you. We direct our steps according to yours. We claim victory by virtue of your efforts.
We don’t demand much, just life. Not the enemies’ artillery, not the terrorists’ bullets. Just life.

And when we return home after our enemies fall, after our murderers are smitten, we’ll come back tired and scarred, but better, gentler, kinder, more serious, more faithful, and more loving.



Shehechiyanu on Being Drafted into Tzahal

Question: When a person is drafted to serve in Tzahal, and is exceedingly joyful, is he obligated or permitted to recite the blessing Shehechiyanu (which is recited at a joyous occasion)?

Answer: The Gemara in Berachot (37b) and Menachot (75b) states that if one is standing in Jerusalem in the Temple and offers menachot (meal-offerings), he recites Shehechiyanu.  Rashi explained that this refers to an experienced cohain who has not offered this sacrifice for a substantial period of time. Tosafot wrote that this refers to a cohain who serves in the Temple only twice a year, and therefore performs this Mitzvah at specific times.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Temidim U-Musafim 7:18), however, is convinced that the same passage is talking about a cohain who has yet to offer such a sacrifice in the Temple and Shehechiyanu is thus recited on a Mitzvah that is performed for the first time.  Similarly, the Rokeach (#371) maintained that any Mitzvah performed for the first time is accompanied with a Shehechiyanu.  While there are some who disagree with the Rambam and Rokeach, the Rama in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 28:2) ruled that one recites Shehechiyanu when one fulfills the Mitzvah of covering the blood of a sacrifice for the first time, and the Yavetz (in his siddur) ruled that it should be said when lighting the Chanukah menorah for the first time.

When the Gerrer Rebbe (Ha-Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter known as the Imrei Emet) visited Israel, he purchased wheat for Pesach for Shemurah Matzah, and merited fulfilling the Mitzvah of separating Terumah and Ma’aser (different types of tithes).  Maran Ha-Rav Kook, who at the time was Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, pointed out to him that since this was the first time he was fulfilling this Mitzvah, he should recite Shehechiyanu.  He further reasoned that the joy of coming to Eretz Yisrael adds to the joy of fulfilling this Mitzvah for the first time, making it certain that he can recite Shehechiyanu.  After a discussion, the Gerrer Rebbe followed Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s instruction and recited Shehechiyanu, since Ha-Rav Kook was the “the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim” and the leading authority on the Laws regarding the Land of Israel (“Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah” pp. 117-119, “Moadei Ha-Re’eiyah” pp.215-217 and “Likutei Ha-Re’eiyah” vol. 2, p. 140).  In Shut Orach Mishpat (pp. 268-269), our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, discussed his father’s ruling, and enumerated the many authorities who hold that Shehechiyanu is recited the first time a Mitzvah is performed.  Thus, the great Mitzvah of being draft into Tzahal, which protects the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, is certainly worthy of a Shehechiyanu.

Furthermore, the Tosafot (Sukkah 46a) wrote that when a person fulfills a Mitzvah which has an aspect of “simcha – joy,” he recites Shechehiyanu (the Tur, Orach Chaim 223, also brings this ruling).  The Rambam (Hilkhot Berachot 11:9) limited this to dwelling in the sukkah, lifting the lulav, reading the megillah and lighting the Chanukhah menorah since these are Mitzvot which are performed periodically.  But Rav David Abudraham (Hilchot Berachot, sha’ar 3) disagreed with the Rambam and wrote, in the name of the Geonim, that one recites Shehechiyanu for any Mitzvah that contains both joy and a physical benefit.  And we see this idea in the Tosefta that Shehechiyanu is recited by one who separates Terumot and Ma’asrot (different types of tithes) since he is joyful over gathering the fruits (Berachot, chap.7 and see Talmudic Encyclopedia vol. 4, p. 442 note 131), as does one who celebrates on Purim and Chanukah since there is the joy of salvation, one who lifts up the Lulav since there is joy and a physical benefit from its pleasant smell, and one who blows the shofar since our remembrance ascends before Hashem.  Similarly, in our case, there is great joy since we have a country, independence and an army to protect our people and our Land.

Rav Chaim Palagi (19th-20th c., Izmir, Shut Lev Chaim vol. 3, #33) was asked whether one should recite Shehechiyanu upon making aliyah, and he concluded that one should not recite the blessing for two reasons: we do not recite a blessing over a Mitzvah which is not performed at specific times and one only recites this blessing when there is joy.  However Jews in the Land of Israel are overcome with grief even more so than outside of Israel.  For example, when they pray musaf [on holidays] at the Kotel and say, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land,” they burst out weeping.  But this reason no longer applies in a rebuilt and flourishing Israel, a reunited city of Yerushalayim, and with the Kotel and Temple Mount under Jewish sovereignty.  Moreover, the first reason (as we saw) is a dispute. Therefore, Rav Mordechai Fogelman, former Rav in Kiryat Motzkin, Haifa (Shut Beit Mordechai, siman #28) ruled that one should recite Shehechiyanu upon making aliyah, and similarly (ibid. siman 23), the first time one visits the Kotel after its liberation. This is also true in our case of being drafted into Tzahal.

Further proof can be brought from the fact that Shehechiyanu is recited over new clothes, and the soldiers, after being drafted, receive their Tzahal uniforms. While most of the clothing is lent to the soldier, there are some which are given permanently, such as towels, shoes and, sometimes, extra uniforms.  While these are given solely for military use, they are under the ownership of the soldier.  Even though towels and shoes are not especially important (and would therefore not merit the blessing of Shehechiyanu for new clothing), one could say that the fact that they are part of a Tzahal uniform gives them importance.  Also, perhaps they are considered important since they are given to the soldier for a lengthy period of time.  A similar idea is seen in the halachah that one who rents are apartment in the Land of Israel is required to affix a mezuzah immediately because of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael – settling the Land of Israel (Menachot 44a – unlike in exile where one has thirty days to affix it when renting) (this does not follow Rashi’s explanation).  Similarly, in the Pesachim (105a), the students of Rav were eating a meal on Friday afternoon and they asked Rav Hamnuna Saba to check whether nightfall had come.  If it had, they would recite Bircat Ha-Mazon, remove the tables (to indicate the change from the weekday to Shabbat), and recite Kiddush in order to start the Shabbat meal.  Rav Hamnuna Saba replied that there was no need to check if nightfall had come, because the very onset of Shabbat makes the meal designated for Shabbat (and nothing need be done).  The Rashbam explained that because of delight of eating on Shabbat, even a light meal is designated for Shabbat (See Beitzah 34b in which this same idea is used in designating foods for tithing on Shabbat).  Thus, the importance of Shabbat can transform the temporary nature to something of permanence, i.e. a snack being considered a full meal.  The importance of serving in Tzahal can therefore transform the temporary lending of a Tzahal uniform into a more permanent possession.

Finally, the Bach (Orach Chaim #29) wrote that there is a major difference between the blessing of Shehechiyanu and all others blessings: since the Shehechiyanu is recited over joy, one does not violate taking Hashem’s name in vain by reciting it, even in a case where it is not certain that it should be recited.  And even though there are those who disagree (Pri Megadim, chap. 225), it is possible to rely on the Bach’s opinion.

Therefore, a soldier who is drafted into Tzahal, and receives a uniform, and is exceedingly joyful is permitted to recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu.



The Weekly “Mi-Sheberach” Prayer for Tzahal Soldiers


May He who blessed our ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov: They were our ancestors and we follow in their path. They were holy, and, simultaneously, they were fighters. Avraham fought against the four kings, and Yaakov fought “with his sword and bow” (Bereshit 48:22, regarding the battle for Shechem).

The same goes for Moshe and Yehoshua Bin Nun, Otniel ben Kenaz and King David. They were not just soldiers from the ranks, but army generals. When a war is imperative to our survival, it is a war of G-d (Orot 14).


Also bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces: For they are performing a great Mitzvah, a three-fold Mitzvah of the Torah incorporating: 1. Defense of the Nation.  2. Defense of the Land.  3. The sanctification of G-d’s Name. When we are being beaten and murdered, robbed and raped, it is a desecration of G-d’s name. And when we fiercely respond to our enemies it is a sanctification of G-d’s name (Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Le-Nitivot Yisrael 1:118). Essentially, when a

person does a Mitzvah he declares G-d’s oneness, and when he does so, G-d causes holiness and even blessing to envelop that person. When Yaakov was preparing for war with Esav, he traversed the “Yabok Crossing” (Bereshit 32:23). Yabok stands for Yichud [declaring oneness], Berachah [blessing] and Kedushah [holiness].


The Israel Defense Forces: The I.D.F. is not an occupation force. Our intent is not to plunder foreign lands, but to defend our own Nation and Land. We are an army of defense. That is our essence. Ours is a Milchemet Mitzvah according to all opinions, a moral, compulsory war.


Who stand guard over our land: How fortunate we are that through G-d’s grace we received our Land, but we must protect it day and night, and not fall asleep while at watch. Rashi comments on the words, “May your doorbolts be iron and copper” (Devarim 33:25), “This refers to the entire Jewish People, whose warriors would sit in the border towns closing them off from enemy attack, as though those towns were locked with iron and brass locks and bolts.” Sure enough, we have 350 million enemies all around us, and they are assisted by some billion Moslems and some billion Christians, plus several more million Arabs helping them from within. The Guardian of Israel, and His faithful emissaries, will neither rest nor sleep.


And over the cities of our G-d: This Land is the Land of G-d. It is the holy Land. It is the Land of holiness. It is “the Land which G-d keeps His eyes on from the start of the year to the end of the year” (Devarim 11:12). It is the Land in which G-d is returning His Divine presence to Tzion. Every people sacrifices its life for its Land, all the more so we for our holy Land.


From Lebanon to the Egyptian Desert, and from the Great Sea to the wilderness: We are commanded regarding this entire Land not to abandon any part of it to any other nation (Ramban’s Addendum 4 to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot).


Wherever they are, on the land on the sea or in the air: This is a holy army. This is a beloved army.  This is an army full of love for Israel, one which sacrifices its life for the sake of Israel. This is an army full of friendship and camaraderie and unity. This is an army in which every soldier is infused with a new spirit, a spirit of self-abnegation for the sake of the Jewish People. This is an army in which it is both a supreme duty and a lofty privilege to participate.


G-d will leave our enemies who rise up against us smitten before them: Our enemies are the enemies of G-d. “When the ark was to set out, Moshs would say, ‘Advance, Hashem! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!” (Bamidbar 10:35).


Your enemies: “These are the enemies of Israel, for whoever hates Israel hates the One whose word brought the world into being” (Rashi).


G-d will preserve and rescue our soldiers from all trouble and suffering and from every plague and

illness: “When the soldier enters into battle, he should rely upon the Hope of Israel, its Deliverer in times of trouble. And he should be aware that he is fighting for the sake of G-d’s Oneness. He should take his life in his hands and have no fear… Whoever fights with all his heart and without fear, with the sole intention of sanctifying G-d’s name, can rest assured that he will not be hurt and no harm will befall him, and he will go on to produce a fine Jewish home. G-d will bring him and his children everlasting merit, and he will merit the World-to-Come. As it says (Shmuel 1 25:28-29), ‘For G-d will grant my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting G-d’s battles, and no wrong is ever to be found in you… The life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in G-d’s care’” (Rambam Hilchot Melachim U-milchamot 7:15).


And he will bestow blessing and success upon all their endeavors: “I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore.  Your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes” (Bereshit 22:7).


He will drive our enemies down under them and He will crown them with the crown of salvation and victory: “If he saves people sentenced to die, he brings merit to his soul as though he has fulfilled the entire Torah, for our sages said, ‘If someone saves the life of a single Jew it is as though he has saved an entire world’ (Sanhedrin 36a). Of such people they said, ‘Even the most worthless Jews are as full of Mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds’ (Berachot 27a). Many Jews leave an outward impression of being empty vessels, but they possess this Mitzvah of saving a Jew, thereby surpassing the greatest Rabbis of Israel” (Pele Yo’etz, Erech: Hatzala). How much more so this is true of someone who saves many Jews.


For it is Hashem your G-d who goes before you to fight for you with your enemies, to save you: “Hashem of hosts is Hashem, the G-d of Israel, and the hosts of Israel are the hosts of G-d” (Orot 24), “Who is that uncircumcised Philistine that he dares defy the ranks of the Living G-d?” (Shmuel 1 17:26); “I come against you in the Name of Hashem of hosts, the G-d of the ranks of Israel, whom you have defied” (ibid., v. 45). “When you take the field against your enemies… Have no fear of them, for Hashem your G-d, who brought you from the Land of Egypt, is with you… Hear, O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them. For it is Hashem your G-d who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory” (Devarim 20:1-4).



Bar Kochba, from Then Until Now

Between Pesach and Shavuot, we decrease our joy slightly, because according to tradition, twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died at that time. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest scholars of his generation, and simultaneously he supported the national rebellion of Bar-Kochba. Rambam writes:
“Rabbi Akiva was a great sage of the Mishna, and he was the armor bearer of Bar-Kochba, the king. Rabbi Akiva would say of him that he was the Messianic king. He and all the sages of his generation envisioned him being the Messianic king” (Hilchot Melachim 11:3). True, it turned out in the end that he was not the Messiah, yet we have to understand that there was no mistake here. Rabbi Akiva envisioned the POSSIBILITY of his being the Messiah. Rambam codified as law that if a Jewish king emerges, immersed in Torah and Mitzvot, and he rules the people according to the Torah and fights G-d’s battles, he should be related to as the Messianic king. If he succeeds in everything, it will become clear that he is the Messiah for certain. Otherwise, he will turn out to have been a king of Israel who did the best he could (ibid.).
Rambam also proves from the support of Bar-Kochba given by Rabbi Akiva and the sages that we needn’t require the Messiah to perform miracles. Rather, he can operate by non-miraculous means, such as through wars. That same Rabbi Akiva was a spiritual giant in his generation, but at the same time he was a militarist on behalf of the Jewish People, and he saw no contradiction between the two. In the same way, the Hasmoneans were both holy men and warriors.

In his day, Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote that we are certain that when Rabbi Akiva in his time encouraged support for every vision of Jewish national liberation, he was expressing a doctrine of truth. Precisely from the fact that the attempt failed at that time and the Jewish People fell from the standpoint of their national freedom, we know that the time for this vision will come, and that time is approaching now, and Israel will not suffer again. Not in vain did Israel fight the battle for their survival. (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 202-203).

And indeed, our Jewish State arose and it stands strong. Here we are safe both spiritually and physically.   True, we have enemies around us, but psychologists have determined, contrary to the prevalent view, that the Israeli citizen leads a safe life and relies on our country and our army. Quite the contrary, the security threat strengthens our national cohesiveness, as well as the sense of safety of the people dwelling in Zion.  Indeed, the most important thing for us to preserve faithfully is our brotherhood and unity.

When French-Jewish historian and writer Andre Maurois (nee Emile Herzog), who died a hundred years ago, was asked to what extent it was possible to allow political quarreling in a democratic regime, he responded:  “The heads of our political parties may be compared to rival officers in charge of a large ship. As a passenger on that ship, I can allow them, at most, to hate one another, but under no circumstances will I consent to their hatred causing the ship to sink.”

Thank G-d, generally speaking there is a lot of love in our nation, yet we mustn’t fall asleep at the watch.   Obviously, our army is strong, but at the same time, contrary to what all the libelers and anti-Semites among the nations say, it is a moral army.

There’s a story about the recent Gaza Campaign that the soldiers of one of the reserve battalions found amongst one enemy force a very large sum of money. When the battalion commander heard about it, he moved his operations room there so that no one would mistakenly take the money.

Let us take this opportunity to mention another story about a unit that entered a home, and found cartons of fruit clearly marked as being headed for the “mehadrin” Shemittah market. In that same home, Kassam missiles were found. Obviously, orders were given to immediately destroy that house and the adjacent hothouses. It thus turns out that those who had claimed that buying fruit from the Arabs of Gaza was indirectly supporting the bombing of Israel were mistaken. It was DIRECTLY supporting it.  The main point is that fear of the Jews befell those terrorists. We encountered almost no resistance. Rather, those murderers fled to hiding places like hospitals. Obviously, the role of the Jewish army chaplain changed dramatically. No longer was he just an army chaplain dealing with the religious needs of the soldier as an individual. Rather, he also worried about that soldier’s functioning as a soldier, and about the success of the fighting. He was not just a partner in the education corps. Indeed, the Chief Chaplain of the I.D.F. wrought a change in this realm. He, himself, was a high-ranking military officer, and he brought in fighting army chaplains who were together with the fighters and strengthened the fighting spirit. He likewise founded, within the army chaplaincy, a department for strengthening the fighting spirit.

Therefore, if Bar-Kochba heard that in our day there are people who are disappointed with the country, and who say that we have to nullify Israel Independence Day or the prayer for the Jewish State’s Welfare, or that we have to change it, he would not understand what he was hearing.



How Many Fine Virtues the Army Has!


The ideal is, “They shall beat swords into ploughshares,” but in the meantime, it is G-d’s will that there should be wars, here in Israel and throughout the world. And if this be the will of G-d, Who “is master of wars and causes salvation to flourish” [Morning Prayers], then a blessing shall derive from this as well. True, that blessing derives through suffering, but it is a blessing for all – Charedim, religious and secular. “For G-d is good to all, and His mercy is over all his works” (Tehilim 145:9). And indeed, how many fine virtues our army has!

  1. The Mitzvah of saving lives. It is a great Mitzvah to save someone who is in danger. “Do not stand by when your friend’s life is in danger” (Vayikra 19:16, Sanhedrin 73a, Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeah U-Shemirat Nefesh Chapter 1). It is also a great Mitzvah to endanger oneself to save someone who is in possible danger (Hagahot Maimoniyot and Kesef Mishneh), all the more so for the sake of the Jewish People as a whole.
  2. Protecting the Land of Israel. The Mitzvah of settling the Land is equal in weight to all the other Mitzvot of the Torah combined. We were commanded to conquer the Land and not to leave it in the hands of any other nation (Ramban’s fourth footnote on Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot).
  3. Sanctifying G-d’s name. “I shall be sanctified amongst the People of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). When the nations smite and wound us, pillage and rape us, exile and murder us, it is a profanation of G-d’s name, for we are G-d’s people. Yet when we defend ourselves, smiting our enemies fiercely, we sanctify G-d’s name (see Yechezel 28).
  4. Holiness. Mitzvot hallow a person. As our sages said, “Blessed are You, O G-d… who has sanctified us through His Mitzvot.” Obviously, not everyone who does one Mitzvah thereby turns into a Kadosh, a saint as defined in Mesilat Yesharim, yet every Mitzvah increases holiness, all the more so such a great Mitzvah as saving the Jewish People and sanctifying G-d’s name. Many of the Charedi newsmen and politicians are intentional liars, unfortunately no better than those in other camps. They say that the secular want to draft the Charedim in order to make them secular. This is a bold lie that does not deserve to be dignified by a response.

Unfortunately, every Gadol, every Torah luminary, has his Gehazi, and even several Gehazis. Every Charedi camp claims that the Gedolim of the other Charedi camps have Gehazis who deceive them, and that they also deceive a large portion of the public, who are naïve. They lie to their Gedolim and they lie in the name of their Gedolim, they incite and corrupt and cause divisiveness, as do a great many of the newsmen and politicians in the rest of the Nation.

In the Nachal Charedi and in the Charedi Army unit “Shachar” there are no female soldiers, and the Kashrut there is on the highest level.  The standards here are even higher than inductees adhere to in their private lives. The Army meets the needs of the Charedim on every issue, and keeps its promises, even without an agreement in writing.

  1. Becoming stronger in Torah. People become stronger in Torah in the army. True, there are some who deteriorate in the army, but that is due to their low level of commitment before they arrive there. The fact is, however, that most yeshiva dropouts become religiously stronger in the Nachal Charedi. Unfortunately, the “Yeshivot for strengthening people” have almost no success in strengthening anyone religiously. That is not the case with the Nachal Charedi. Thank G-d, the relationship between the Nachal Charedi and the Charedi public is improving.
  2. Good character. Responsibility, seriousness, helpfulness, determination, steadfastness. In a word, army service turns you into a “Mentch”, a decent human being. And the more combat-oriented the unit is, the more it builds the soldier’s character. This is what I meant when I said that in any case, the army also infuses the soldier with blessing and holiness. The army is not just a duty. It is a privilege. It is painful to see how much those Charedim who do not go to the army lose out. Certainly the Torah is our life, but good character is our life as well.
  3. Torah for the sake of heaven. One has to learn Torah sincerely, and not just go through the motions to evade army service. Rambam said (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10): “It is forbidden to benefit from Torah learning in this world. Our Sages said, ‘If someone benefits from Torah learning, it removes him from this world.’ They further commanded us, ‘Make it not into a crown for self-aggrandizement, nor an ax with which to chop.'” Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yechezkel Abramsky said that if someone does not learn and does not enlist, the laws of the “Rodef” [assailant] apply to him. In other words, he is considered to be endangering all the others who learn Torah sincerely.
  4. Learning a trade. In the Nachal Charedi, soldiers learn a trade during the third year, and the same is true with the Charedi “Shachar” program.

The army likewise saves people from poverty. Poverty is a terrible thing that causes religious and moral deterioration. It poses a grave danger which cannot be circumvented through spiritual shortcuts or superstitions. Poverty deprives a man of his senses and of a knowledge of his Creator. What man’s intellect does not do, not even the intellect of Torah, necessity will accomplish. Yet how much better is it for one to plan on his own to learn a profession in the army.

  1. Gratitude. We must show our gratitude to the soldiers. Ingratitude is a terrible thing. See Chovot HaLevavot. We must say the “Mi Sheberach” blessing for soldiers presently serving, as well as the Yizkor for the soldiers who have fallen in battle. And one has to enlist himself. One should not say, “Anyway there are too many soldiers, so I’m superfluous.” That isn’t true. There’s no unemployment in the army aside from the “functional unemployment” of any gigantic system. There is a shortage of soldiers required to bear the security burden. It is therefore ethical for everyone to join up.
  2. Loving One’s Fellow Jews. In the army, everyone gets to know one another and everyone admires one another. Otherwise, we are in danger of becoming two peoples who are entirely alienated from each other, each group viewing the other as having horns. In the army, they can get to know one another. The Charedim will see the good traits of the secular, their values and ideals, and they will cease their systematic defamation which desecrates G-d’s name and causes the secular to respond in kind. It is a mistake to think that the Torah will be strengthened by our blackening the name of the secular. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, “If you want to grow taller, don’t dig a pit for your fellow man. Instead, build him a mountain.” Such an approach will lead the secular, as well, to see that the Charedim are very fine people, that they provide a healthy, natural foundation for the Jewish People, and that ultimately, everyone is going to have to be Charedi. This will end the false, mutual estrangement between the secular and Charedi worlds. If you repeat a falsehood enough times, it becomes the truth. It is true thst every group has people who are not normal. Yet they represent a minuscule minority. The exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

A story is told of a Polish landowner who got drunk in a tavern and came to an agreement with another landowner that the following week each one would bring his bear and the bears would fight each other. When the first landowner returned to his estate and sobered up, he remembered that he did not own a bear, so he summoned a Jew to go to the marketplace, buy a bear skin, and disguise himself with it so that he could pretend to be the bear. The Jew begged him not to make him do this, arguing that it represented a death sentence for him, yet the landowner insisted, threatening the Jew that he would expel his family. On the appointed day, the Jew stood in the bear suit trembling with fear before a frightening bear, freezing in place. Yet the crowd of gamblers pushed him towards the awesome creature. Understanding that his last moments had come, he cried out, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d…”  Much to his amazement, the other bear completed the passage, “Hashem is One!” No one is really a bear. Everyone is amicable. “Who are like Your people Israel, one Nation in the Land!” (Shmuel 2 7:23).



Religious Jews in the Israeli Security Apparatus

Question: What is Ha-Rav’s opinion about the fact that the heads of the Israeli Police, the Shabak (Israeli internal security service) and the Mossad (foreign intelligence service) are all religious?  It’s like a dream come true!

Answer: The question itself shows that we are still suffering from the terrible disease caused by our exile: sectarianism.  And in the words of our Sages: Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred.

The very cause of our national destruction was baseless hatred, i.e. the claim that only one group contains all of the truth, all of the righteousness and all of the integrity, while all other groups are rotten, wanting and wrong.  Or in the words of the philosopher Kant: There is “us” and there is “them”.    Or in words of the philosopher Sartre: “The other is Gehinom”.  It is a national obligation to wage war with all of our means against sectarianism and the idea of raising our group’s flag over another’s.

Maran Ha-Rav Kook described this phenomenon with great pain in his article “Masa Ha-Machanot” (The Journey of the Camps), in relation to the religious and secular, and called for all to remember that we are one Nation (Maamrei Ha-Re’eiyah), “Who is like you, Israel, one Nation in the Land”.

We must cease this cursed behavior of relating to a person not according to who he truly is but rather according to the group with which he is affliated.

Regarding the statement: “It is like a dream come true”, what dream?  The dream that only the religious are in charge of everything?  This is a horrible dream.  The Messiah has not yet come.

But if the dream is that the religious become involved in all parts of the State and take on responsibility – this is truly a great dream.

We will therefore end on an optimistic and joyous note.  We will point out that the choice of these three individuals proves that two ideas are lies.

  1. The First Lie: The religious do not take upon themselves national responsibility. This is not true. Many important appointments have been made, not based on any political pressure, but rather on personal abilities and great self-sacrifice.  Ben Gurion once said: “Where are you, the religious, in the military cemeteries?”  When he said it, it was not correct. And all the more so today.
  2. The Second Lie: The religious are blocked from being promoted in the security apparatus. This is not true. After all, since these three individuals were deemed fit for the position, what they wear on their head did not bother anyone.

The message of the story: We are one Nation.  What binds us together is greater than what separates us.


Did you Raise a Hand Against a Soldier?!

At the beginning of the settlement enterprise, the settlers encountered opposition from the army, and they set up several tents, bringing themselves into conflict with the army. Our rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook called on all of them to return from the tents. Prominent rabbis and professors sat in the Rav’s home, and expressed a unanimous opinion that they had to go back there.  Then Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s voice thundered: “Did anybody raise a hand against a soldier?” and everyone remained silent. They were frightened, and they did not respond. Rav Tzvi Yehuda repeated in a thunderous voice: “Did anybody raise a hand?” Once more, everyone remained silent. Still Rav Tzvi Yehuda did not relent, and he shouted, “Did you raise a hand against a soldier?” Then they admitted that they had, in fact, and Rav Tzvi Yehuda replied, “In that case, stay here. Don’t go back there.”   Rav Tzvi Yehuda did not let them go back there. Only after he had spoken to them on this topic at length, and they had committed themselves not to hit a soldier, did he approve their returning, and he then spoke very positively about the settlement drive and about the need to arouse the healthy forces everywhere (I heard this story from Rabbi Ya’akov Levanon, and it may well be that I don’t recall all the details well).

Obviously, the truth must be stated that one is not just forbidden to hit soldiers, but to strike any Jew, and Rav Tzvi Yehuda made that point before the State’s establishment in his article, “I Am Seeking My Brethren” [Hebrew], where he lays out rules of behavior for public struggles: No hitting, no degradations, no hatred (Le-Netivot Yisrael 1:106).  This is an accepted halachic principle: One does not perform a Mitzvah by way of a sin. One does not perform a Mitzvah that brings a sin along with it.  If it is possible to do the Mitzvah without a sin, then we remained obligated to do it.  Yet if it is impossible, then such performance of the Mitzvah is not what G-d commanded us to do.  The Jerusalem Talmud brings a parable of a person who brings to the king as a gift an object that he himself had stolen from the king (Perek Lulav HaGazul).

Woe to the person whose defender becomes his prosecutor (see Mesillat Yesharim at the beginning of Chapter 11 about those who fulfill Mitzvot with the help of theft).  As stated, we have to avoid not just striking our fellow man, but also speaking or thinking evil of him. There’s a well-known saying in Hebrew: “What begins with thought, continues with speech, and ends up with deeds.”   All the preceding applies regarding every Jew, let alone regarding soldiers.  Don’t forget that this soldier endangers his life for you, and you lift a hand against him?!  99% of his time he is defending our people and our Land.   He is defending the great sanctification of G-d’s name.  Yet sometimes he is forced, against his will, to do things that are enormously hard for him, and his heart cries within him.  And you dare lift a hand against him?!   You’ve forgotten the main point.  You’ve forgotten that the backbone of the entire enterprise of rebuilding the Land, of the return to Zion, of establishing the State, of Israel’s wars and settlement drives – is the love of Israel, the unity of Israel.  That is what we need the most – to be friends.



Don’t Hurt Tzahal


How fortunate we are to have risen to rebirth and to have an army! In the past we were in the exile, a single lamb amongst seventy wolves, with the nations relentlessly attacking us. Now, thank G-d, we can defend ourselves.

Thank G-d, we’ve got an army.

It is forbidden for us to hurt that army. Quite the contrary, we have to strengthen it every way possible. We have to exemplify self-sacrifice. This includes self-sacrifice in the army itself. The army is built on that trait. Soldiers sacrifice their lives. There is also the self-sacrifice involved in going to the army – something that isn’t easy for everyone, both because of the physical effort required, and because the army doesn’t always operate in accordance with the thoughts and opinions of every individual (it being the army of the entire Nation). In our Nation, there are things that don’t always operate as each person might wish. Yet that is no reason to boycott it. If the army does not behave the way I want as far as expulsion from Jewish towns, or as far as women singing, that’s no reason to be angry at it, for the result of that will be our Nation’s destruction.

We mustn’t forget that surrounding us are three hundred million Arabs who want to annihilate us, and they have another one or two billion helpers. It’s a matter of life and death. Even in our midst, some of the Arabs are our enemies. We mustn’t forget that the Tzahal constitutions the Nation’s salvation.

It also constitutes the salvation of the Land: the return to Zion, the rebuilding of the Land, the establishment of the State, and the Nation’s rebirth in its Land.

Tzahal also constitutes salvation through the Nation’s sanctifying G-d’s Name.

When we are smitten by the nations it is a profanation of G-d’s Name, and when we are strong it is a sanctification of G-d’s Name.

Therefore, we’ve got to leave the army out of the arguments within the Nation. The army is a place where we unite for the sake of saving the Nation and the Land, and for the sake of sanctifying G-d’s Name. Within the Nation there are arguments, and as far as that too we have to be brave and increase our love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. Yet the army must remain outside of the controversies.

In the army we must remain totally united. We mustn’t use it as a punching bag to advance our own agendas and our own cultural and nationalist ideals. Our lives are in danger, and when a person’s life is in danger, it’s not the time to check how religious his physician is.

We should just be happy that he rescues us.

Of course, we can try to improve the army’s spiritual level. Everyone should try to make the army suit his own outlook. That’s natural. Yet it should all be done out of love and brotherhood, peace and friendship, and not with threats, saying, “Either the army is my cup of tea or I’m boycotting it!”

Rather, first and foremost, everyone should enlist in the army – religious, secular, Charedim, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Ethiopians, Yemenites, right-wingers and left-wingers. Everyone should go. Afterwards, if problems arise, we’ll solve them: with love and brotherhood, peace and friendship.




The Fighter’s Spirit

  1. The fighter’s first trait is not to fear. As Rambam wrote at the end of Chapter 7 of Hilchot Melachim, this is in line with Devarim 20:3: “Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic.”

One might ask: Do people really have control over their fear? Surely it enters one without knocking. Yet this is a question that one can ask about all the Mitzvot associated with the heart and the emotions: Don’t hate, love your neighbor as yourself, don’t covet. People say, “That’s how I am. I have no control,” but the fact is that while it is true that we do not control our emotions, everyone but the emotionally ill do have control over their thinking.
It’s true that for most people, thoughts jump into their heads, but here one’s free will appears and asks whether to accept those thoughts or to send them far away.

Regarding those Mitzvot of the heart and emotions, one is obligated to think about things that strengthen good emotions, and one is forbidden to think about things that strengthen negative emotions.

Therefore, in war, Rambam wrote, a person should not start to alarm himself regarding what is liable to happen to him and what his family will then do. And if such thoughts surface, one should get rid of them. It is the same regarding all forbidden thoughts. There were great Torah luminaries who when forbidden thoughts surfaced, would cry out, “Get out of here!” Obviously, they didn’t do this in a loud voice in the presence of others. Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovera, would study Torah all night, and when forbidden thoughts surfaced, he would burn them employing the Ineffable Name. Obviously, we are not on that level. Another great rabbi would pass his hands over his forehead to help him draw his evil thoughts out.

One especially should not exaggerate the dangers facing the army. An officer from an elite unit told me: “In my life, I have seen death three times before my eyes… in car accidents.” Unfortunately car accidents kill countless more Jews than all the terror and all the wars of Israel. Still, nobody avoids traveling by car, or even walking on foot, considering that a third of the people killed in car accidents are pedestrian. This gives us a comparative yardstick. General Yitzhak Sadeh, founder of the Palmach, said, “A heroic person is not someone who doesn’t fear. Many heroes fear, but they overcome it knowing that they are on the right course.”

Likewise, many fearless people are not heroic. For example, reckless drivers lack fear, but that does not make them heroic. There are war heroes who have fear. The emotion of fear enters, and they expel it from themselves. The main thing, according to Rambam, is not to alarm yourself. Likewise, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, “Do not fear at all,” and the word he used for fear was not “lefached” but “lehit’pached”, which means causing fear to oneself. Avoiding destructive thoughts is right in all situations. For example, one certainly should repent, but one should not engage in excessive self-examination, which is liable to convince a person that he lacks worth. A person has control over this kind of thinking.

A disciple once went to visit his Rebbe. He knocked on the door but his Rebbe did not answer. He only peaked at him through the window. The disciple slept outside and in the morning he entered his Rebbe’s home and asked him, “Evil thoughts pursue me and I cannot succeed in overcoming them.” His Rebbe responded, “I have already answered you. A man lets whomever he wants into his home.

  1. The fighter’s second characteristic is brotherhood. Without brotherhood between fighters you could close down all the armies on earth. All for one and one for all! That is the unofficial State slogan of Switzerland. There were floods and suffering there, and they raised funds for aid with the help of that solidarity slogan. The phrase originated with Alexander Dumas, whose “Three Musketeers” knew they could always count on one another through fire and water.

Obviously, outside the army as well you need brotherhood, in work and in life, and especially between husband and wife. Unfortunately, a large portion of couples are not good friends.

Thank G-d, in the army there is brotherhood, esprit de guerre, between comrades-in-arms. The Torah states, “When Moshe was grown, he began to go out to his own people…. One day he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews… he killed the Egyptian” (Shemot 2:11-12). He knew that all the police forces of Egypt would pursue him, but he realized that brotherhood is the foundation of all else.

In every nation, the foundation of all is brotherhood. The official slogan of France is “Liberty, equality, fraternity.”   Yet in France, it’s not put into practice. Here in Israel, it is. By the way, this is also a major reason for not drafting girls. The presence of girls in combat units causes mixed feelings, confusing and corrupting that same brotherhood.

And how does one achieve brotherhood? By not thinking thoughts that might ruin the brotherhood, but only thoughts that strengthen it. One should think, “My fellow soldier is similar to me. He is a good person.” Judge people by the majority of their deeds.

  1. The third element is responsibility. You’ve got a mission to fulfill! People are relying on you! Even when you’re alone, you’ve got to follow the rules, and even if you’re just guarding the camp gate. The rules can include: Don’t fall asleep. Don’t listen to the radio. Don’t pray. Don’t eat. Don’t sit down. The guard bears responsibility. A guard once fell asleep and the enemy came in. At his trial he argued, “Thousands of times I guarded properly, and this just happened to me one time.” They answered him, “All those thousands of times were for this one time.”

Some Rabbis were arguing about whether a guard is exempt from prayer. One Rabbi argued, “He’s exempt, because one who is busy with one Mitzvah is exempt from another.” Another Rabbi said, “He’s forbidden to pray. In the army one learns to be responsible so that you’ll be able to rely on him even if he fulfills a lowly role. Yet no task in the army is lowly. Everything is important.”

There’s the famous poem, “All because of a nail”. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost.

One has to be serious. This is a lesson for one’s entire life, like courage and brotherhood.
4. Another element is will. Some people lack will. Nothing interests them. Things have happened to them that they have broken their zest for life. You can’t blame such people, but they have to realize that their will to live can be rebuilt. How? Gradually. For a small mission, you need a small will in order to achieve success. Then, you slowly increase the challenges until the will becomes stronger. One does not receive a will to act as a gift from heaven, but by means of slowly increasing challenges. Therefore, when someone receives an oppressive, boring mission in the army, he should not complain, but should view it as a challenge. He should be happy. He should sing. He should not view it as a nuisance or a crisis, but as a test and a challenge.

By the way, somebody told me that there is no word in Chinese for “crisis”. In China, people work and slave and earn a pittance per day, and even an expert craftsman earns a dollar a day. So what happens if tragedy strikes and a Chinese worker’s beloved wife passes away? Now, besides his back-breaking labor, he must care for his little daughter. Will he consider himself to be facing a crisis? Certainly not. A “crisis” is a luxury enjoyed by the rich. If you ask him how he is doing, he will answer, “Nothing has changed. Things are just harder.”

In the army one faces harder and harder challenges, and from that emerges one’s will. True, sometimes a soldier in the army feels that he is being oppressed and harassed. Quite the contrary, however, he should view it all as a challenge! By such means he will emerge with a strong will.

Read Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 19, with its parable of the combat officer who becomes happier and happier the harder the missions he faces.

The key words are courage, brotherhood, responsibility, and developing will. Were there no need of an army, it would have to be invented just for this. That is how G-d orchestrated His world with wisdom and love.

Be strong and courageous!




I Have Seen Heroes


I have seen heroes.

I have seen a war break out on Chanukah, and the spirit of the Hasmoneans reawakened

in young men now determined to wage war with amazing strength and faith.  They do not make personal calculations; they are willing to sacrifice themselves.

I have seen soldiers committed to the mission, waging war with true courage; and even when their friends fall in battle, they do not stop for a moment, but say: “We are in the middle of the battle, and we must continue on and finish it.”

I have seen a soldier say: “There is nothing to fear; we do what needs to be done.  The individual is not important, only the national goal.


I have seen a unit of 120 soldiers, in which 116 were called and another 5 volunteered – including three newlyweds who did not want to forgo their responsibility.  And including someone expelled from Gush Katif who had a heavy heart and they said to him: “You are not obligated to go,” but he said: “Of course I am obligated.”

I have seen soldiers fight with great effectiveness in a war in crowded, built-up areas, knowing that in a situation like this on a darkened night, it is impossible to be completely immune from the dangers of friendly fire, yet they understand that war is war and they march on.

I have seen a high-ranking officer says: “What was once done by an elite combat unit

is now accomplished by a regular unit.”  I have seen an overwhelming response of 115%

from those called up and even those who have not been called up, including deserters

who begged to be forgiven, and then rejoin their units.

I have seen a soldier in the hospital who was wounded from head-to-toe and wanted to return to the battle and when they told him: “The next war.” He stood firm and said: “Now!”

I have seen a mother whose son was killed in the last war who did not hesitate for an instant to consent that her other sons could join combat units.

I have seen soldiers volunteer for dangerous units.  I have seen an officer sign up for the standing army, since this army is his supreme ideal.  He believes in what he is doing, and his soldiers follow him.

I have seen an officer who was wounded in the face but continued to fight.  He refused medical treatment, and he only agreed to go to the hospital after a few hours. He immediately returned to his unit, and said to the reporter: “Please do not turn this battle into a story of heroism.  We are just doing what we have to do.”  I have seen a soldier who waged war like a lion, and when he was asked where he gets this strength, he responded: “From the Nation of Israel!  Don’t you know?  This is a great generation!”

I have seen officers with great spirits who says: “The needs of the Nation are above our needs.  We have received so much from the State, we are happy to give a little back.  We are happy to worry about the national honor, to worry about our friends.”

I have seen officers full of integrity, morality and gentleness.

There is no doubt, I have seen new souls.

There is no doubt, I have seen the Divine Presence returning within us.




The Army’s Response Hierarchy


People ask: Bombs are falling from Gaza and a million people in the area have to stay home and flee into their bomb shelters. Why does the army remain silent and not respond with force?

Obviously, it is not the army who decides but the government. To the point, however, every attack certainly does deserve a forceful response, just as King David went to war because the enemy removed half of soldiers’ beards and cut off half of their garments. Yet things are different now. The army operates according to a response hierarchy. Responses are proportional, tit for tat. The army cannot respond any differently, due to international war conventions, whether signed or not. In Latin this is called, Jus in Bello, the Law in Waging War.

Why must we uphold the Law in Waging War?

For three reasons:

  1. Commitments: We have made commitments in the United Nations, explicitly or inexplicitly.
  2. Morality. Not all the people in the Gaza Strip are evil. There, too, you’ll find unfortunates.

True, we say, “War is War,” but as King Shaul said to Kenites, “Come, withdraw at once from the Amalekites, that I may not destroy you along with them” (Shmuel 1 15:6). In other words, “even though you are my friends, if you are there, I might hurt you. You are best off leaving.” Taking pity on those not at fault requires morality.

  1. Mutuality. How we behave is how others will treat us. It is not a matter of worrying about the enemy, but of worrying about ourselves. We require the assistance of the nations. We cannot live alone. True, it says, “Israel shall dwell alone” (Bemidbar 23:9), but in practical affairs it is not like that. For example, during the Yom Kippur War, we ran out of ammunition. It was very embarrassing, but the Americans organized an airlift for us and transferred ammunition to us. If they had not, it would not have been the end of our country, for we had thirteen missiles suited with nuclear warheads. Still, such things cannot be done in secret. There are satellites that see everything. The Russians already had ships in the region with nuclear bombs, and that’s no picnic either. It was the Americans who told the Russians to desist. Until the Messiah comes and we are responsible for the entire planet we are not alone. In the meantime we are dependent.

Some people say: Since we are dependent on the nations, it is impossible for us to say Hallel on Israel Independence Day, for we are not independent. That is wrong. There is no country on Earth that is not dependent on others, not even the Americans, the Russians or the British. They don’t do anything without taking others into account. They, as well, are not alone in the world.

One particular Rabbi, not a defeatist coward by any means, related that one time when Israel’s foreign minister returned from a visit to America, he was criticized for having capitulated to American pressure. Rav Tzvi Yehuda told that Rabbi, “Do you think we never have to take the Americans into consideration?”

We also have our tension with the Iranians. We need world support against them. The fact is that at present the nations are working on our behalf against Iran. You can’t always be fighting on all fronts.

In education, as well, you cannot be fighting on all fronts. You pick the most important front and you ignore the others.

In one of the Yeshivot, the Mashgiach [spiritual director] suddenly entered a room and found students playing checkers. They quickly hid the game under the table. The Mashgiach said, “I will explain to you what checkers is about. You always move forward. When you get to the top, you can do what you want.  You sacrifice one in order to win two.” He turned it into a lesson about behavior.

In running the country, as well, you sometimes sacrifice one in order to win two. We are not alone on this Earth.

A major principle regarding the Nation living in Zion is this: We go to war only when there is “no choice”. According to the statistics of the World Health Organization, every year 800,000 people are killed in the world by terrorists and other murderers. So why do we have the impression that more are killed here? It is because we know and love one another. An American living in New York is not connected to somebody killed in Miami. Yet when a Jew is killed or suffers, that creates large ripples.

Still we cannot go to war over such incidents. And the Nation dwelling in Zion would not agree to it either. Our soldiers are our citizens, and we cannot send soldiers who are not convinced that we must fight. Such wars are called “elective battles”. When there is a war of no choice, everyone goes out to battle, the Right, the Left and the Middle Ground. And they fight with self-sacrifice. It is not just the government who thinks we shouldn’t go into battle over every incident – the Nation dwelling in Zion thinks it too.

Some say: “But there a million people stuck there!” True, but you must look at matters in proportion. There are worse problems still. When I was born, I had to be hidden away so I would not end up in a concentration camp. My paternal grandparents on my father’s side died in such camps. That is suffering. The rule is this: we must thank G-d for what we have, and not bare open wounds over what we don’t have. Sure there are problems, but we don’t have to go overboard. We must increase our national fortitude.  This is not accomplished by shouting at our Prime Minister and army.

In conclusion, we must strengthen the residents of the South, and in general, strengthen our Nation and believe in our country, our government and our army. If we are always saying that the army is weak and the government is weak, we are weakening them. “What I have dreaded has come upon me” (Iyov 3:25). In other words, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A source for this is Berachot 60a. The Mishna there states: “If someone enters a bathhouse he should say, ‘May it be G-d’s will that You save me from this and other such things. Let no corruption or sin befall me, and if they do befall me, then let my death be an atonement for all my sins.”

Abaye responded to this, “A person should not say this prayer, so as not to give the devil any ideas.”

Now we might ask: How could Abaye, a Talmudic sage, dispute the Talmudic ruling of the Mishnaic sages who preceded him?

Rav Kook answers this in Ein Aya: The Mishnaic sages were heroic men who feared nothing.  Hence they could say, “I am going to the bathhouse and I hope not to die. If I do die, then I shall die.”

Yet the Talmudic Sages were weaker, and could not talk that way. Had they said, “If I fall prey to sin, let me die as an atonement,” they would have been dead.

Therefore, one should not express himself this way. Rather, we should say that we are strong and heroic, and that is the truth. The army is on the right course with its self-restraint. Sometimes, the army waits in order to be able to attack more forcefully later.

Let us be strong and courageous.







State of Israel

Ode to Religious Zionism


Since its inception, Religious Zionism has been the living fulfillment of what Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, its chief spiritual leader, said about himself:

“I am forever caught between two pathways, for on the one hand, I seek to establish peace and brotherhood between the older generation that is G-d-fearing and steeped in Torah learning… while on the other hand I seek to spread the love of G-d and Jewish faith and practice amongst the young people who are coming to settle the Holy Land, such that it will be to G-d’s liking. I thus seek to fulfill the scriptural admonition, ‘Love truth and harmony’ (Zechariah 8:19).” (Orach Mishpat 254)

Such indeed is the intent of the “Religious Zionist” movement, as its name implies.

This movement does not involve two separate matters joined together artificially, but one cohesive matter whose strands are all woven together. Zionism, after all, is itself Torah.

But that itself is the very source of a problem. Many Jews dwelling in Zion interpret this holy combination negatively. Some view the Torah positively and the Jewish State negatively, while others do the opposite. Thus, Religious Zionism has gotten used to having stones thrown at it from both right and left. Surprisingly, however, these attacks do not weaken it, and do not dilute its numbers. Quite the contrary, the movement is on the rise and is blossoming, and the more it is oppressed, the more it grows and burgeons. Presently, Religious Zionism claims more than 10% of the Jews in our country, and its educational and ideological influence goes far beyond its relative numbers. This strength derives from two factors:

  1. The constant attacks preserve it from extremism and exaggeration, and bring about a blessing.
  2. Most of the time, the accusations are false and nonsensical. That is good news, for if the accusations are off target, it’s a clear sign that there are no relevant accusations to be made.

Thus, Religious Zionism is not overly excited by the attacks. Rather, it continues along its sure path. An example of this is the recent media attack – which some claim was orchestrated – whose exaggerated statistics cannot cover up its low quality.

There is a very wide range of attacks, some new and some recycled, like “exclusion of women” in society in general and in the army in particular; religious extremism and religious coercion; going too far with a Torah slant in the schools, boy-girl and men-women separation; and modesty. Obviously, these come from the liberal side of the national map.

The claims made in the news are a marvelous example of the media’s transformation of isolated occurrence into gross overgeneralizations.

Example 1: An isolated group of military cadets left the hall to avoid women singing.

Whether they were right or in error, it should be noted that they didn’t yell, curse or malign anyone. They didn’t harm the event. They just quietly left the room so as not to bother others and in order to show them respect. The whole thing was much ado about nothing.

Example 2: Several dozen young people broke into an army base and stoned officers serving in our armed forces. Certainly this is a heinous, shameful act, but, once more, it was nothing but the act of isolated, fringe individuals who represent no one but themselves.

That’s what we said: Tell me what you’re being attacked for and I’ll tell you who you are.

And that righteous institution, Religious Zionism, instead of responding with fierce attacks against their accusers (in order to discount their claims) chose rather to defend itself by endlessly apologizing, humbly fulfilling the Talmud’s words, “If your fellowman calls you a donkey, put a saddle on your back” (Baba Kamma 92b). In other words, accept what he says. This patient, tolerant approach of Religious Zionism does not derive from weakness. Quite the contrary, it derives from the valor and fortitude to stand fast. Our movement has long been inured to all sorts of attempts at delegitimization. Therefore, it carries on with its strong spirit, without cursing or insulting anyone…quietly, with self-assurance.

The same may be said regarding all of the attempts, from within and from without, to divide us.

None of these succeed at all. Neither do all the stubborn efforts to create divisiveness, attempted by all sorts of ephemeral bodies within Religious Zionism.

It’s obvious that Religious Zionism is enormously eclectic. After all, as noted above, it tiptoes between the pathways. Between Zionism and religiousness there are many pathways, a great many differences of opinion in various spheres: the Jewish State; the army; redemption; loyalty to the State; Torah study; university; Eretz Yisrael; modesty; mixed society; innovation in Torah rulings…yet all of these differences are null and void compared to our common ground, which is infinitely greater than what divides us. And what is that common ground? The Nation’s rebirth in its Land according to the Torah

For Religious Zionism, working towards harmony is not the result of an effort but is built into its very existence. After all, in the eyes of Religious Zionism, Zionism is religious by its very nature, even if people far removed from Torah are partners in it. They, too, are emissaries of G-d even if they, themselves, deny this. Complex, intricate cooperation with secular Jews flows for Religious Zionists in a natural manner. The movement is noted for its creative tolerance, towards the Charedim, the secular, the right, the left, and certainly towards all the sub-streams within Religious Zionism. How remarkable is its loving relationship with its children who have moved away from Torah, yet who are its own flesh.

Therefore, it is no wonder that all sorts of funds and non-Israeli organizations aiming to make Israel a “state of all its citizens” (as opposed to a Jewish State) work so hard to weaken and to split Religious Zionism, since they view it as the greatest glue and the greatest guarantee of the nation’s unity in its Jewishness. They invest large-scale resources and efforts to unravel Religious Zionism, to make its worldview more pluralistic and less Jewish – and nothing works for them. Even their attempts to empower various minor bodies within Religious Zionism in a centripetal direction have gained nothing. The centrifugal force is infinitely stronger.

Religious Zionism is holding to its own pathway without diverging from it, and despite all the winds blowing against it, it is becoming stronger, both in its Zionism and in its religiosity. It is producing more and more volunteers out of its ranks to combat units and to the officers’ corps. In the last Officers’ Training Program, Religious Zionists composed 40% of the group, and the synagogue on base is packed to the hilt on Shabbat. And all this is a result of an idealistic education. The vision of Ha-Rav Neriah, who said, “We shall establish yeshivot everywhere,” is being fulfilled before our eyes. And of course there are also intensive girls’ religious high schools [“Ulpanot”] and post -high school seminaries and religious colleges for girls.

Every attempt to disqualify the Religious Zionists ends up in failure. All the arguments that claim that Religious Zionism is insufficiently enlightened, or, alternately, not sufficiently pure, don’t succeed in confusing anyone. The Religious Zionist public is getting bigger and bigger, and its light is growing stronger. Obviously, things are not perfect, but all in all they’re good. Even very good, from a moral, religious, educational or nationalist standpoint. There is little criminality and little licentiousness. There is a very strong moral sense.

And in fact, apart from a few minor accusers, Religious Zionism has earned high esteem in Israel and throughout the world, and it has an influence on the life of the Nation that far exceeds its numbers. Actually, Religious Zionism almost always sets the national agenda – apart from several painful failures. Yet such is life. You don’t always succeed. Religious Zionism does not get overly excited over all those who are trying to confuse it. It is sure of its path, and the fact that there are difficulties is not due to their being on the wrong path, but due to their not yet having reached the end of the way. Religious Zionism constantly and relentlessly engages in self-criticism, with great sincerity and with an ongoing effort to improve itself. It doesn’t need outside criticism for this to occur. Likewise, it is not alarmed by all sorts of attacks against it. It is strong, it has energy and it is marching mightily forward and fighting for its views out of a love for all.

It is not tired. It is always climbing, higher and higher.




Religious Zionism between Two Worlds


Question: What is the path of Religious Zionism? How is it possible to be hanging between two worlds?

Answer: Seemingly, the one world is Zionism and the other world is religiosity, and Religious Zionists are torn between the two. It is true that in practical terms, these represent two different worlds. There are irreligious nationalists and there are non-nationalist religious Jews. Truthfully, however, it is all one world, for what is the essence of Zionism? The Jewish Nation’s rebirth in its Land. This includes the Jews’ moving to Israel, settling the Land and taking sovereignty over the Land. Obviously, sovereignty over the Land includes having an army. Yet all this is written in the Torah countless times – that Eretz Yisrael is our Land, that we have to live there, build it and occupy it. In other words, we must fashion national ownership over it, or in other words, a state and an army.

See Ramban in his Addenda to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Positive Precept 4, where Ramban reduces the Mitzvah of Eretz Yisrael to three parts: 1) living in the Land 2) not leaving the Land desolate, i.e., settling the Land, and 3) not leaving the Land in the hands of any other nation, i.e., occupying the Land and establishing a state.

The essence of Religious Zionism is the rebirth of the Jewish Nation in its Land, living according to Torah law. And truthfully, it is all one. Yet since we were prevented from dealing with the nation’s rebirth for two thousand years, we forgot. There is nothing new here. Rather, there is something old that has been forgotten. Our sages, at the beginning of Tractate Megillah coined such an expression: “They forgot about it, and then they once more established it.”

There is nothing new here. It is all old. It is just that we have to re-accustom ourselves to it, since we forgot it. It is true that at the start of the renewal of settlement in the Land, between the nationalists and the Charedim reigned not only hostility but apathy – what occupied the one did not interest the other.

Yet gradually, through their living together, they began to know each other and to admire each other, and to cooperate. The Zionists became more religious, and the religious became more Zionistic, and the Religious Zionists stand in the breach and represent the fulfillment of the Torah to perfection. Perfection! “All that G-d has said, we shall do and obey!” (Shemot 24:7).

Also in Religious Zionism, itself, there are various hues. Some are more Zionistic and some are more religious.

That is the proper path. It can be likened to the relationship between body and soul.

One cannot survive without a body, otherwise the soul will depart. Neither can one survive without a soul. The body will be lifeless.

The truth is, however, that when a Jew says, “I am religious,” that itself makes him a Zionist, even if he is unaware of it.

The Charedim are Zionists, even if they are unaware of it. And when someone says, “I am a Zionist,” that itself makes him religious, even if he is unaware of it.

All of this is explained in depth in Rav Kook’s work “Orot”.




Strengthening the Religious-Zionist Community


Question: How can we internally strengthen the Religious-Zionist community and increase its influence?   Not through specific programs but by an overall philosophy.

Answer: When we speak about a movement, i.e. a powerful historical process, it is impossible to employ artificial ideas and use foreign concepts; rather we must identify the fundamentals of the movement which nurture and increase its strength.  This movement was born a little over one hundred years ago and its purpose was to insert a spiritual soul into a powerful movement which then appeared and was growing: The national revival of the Nation in its Land.  The Religious-Zionist movement therefore nurtures its strength from these two entities: the body and soul.  Its beginning was quite modest but it grew stronger, both internally and in its influence.

Regarding its quantity, it has reached ten percent of the Nation which dwells in Zion, and regarding its quality, it contains a much high percentage of those active in the government, army, economy, science than other sectors of society, and today there are more Bnei Torah, Torah scholars, yeshivot, women’s high schools and seminaries than ever before.

Its influence on the Nation is incredible, and much greater than the ten percent it represents.  One must obviously point out that the Religious-Zionist community has many shades and includes different streams: yeshivish, university types, those who are punctilious about the Mitzvot, liberals, right-wingers, left wingers, etc.  The common denominator between all of them is the belief in the revival of the Nation in its Land according to the Torah.

Besides the fact that this community is becoming stronger both quantitatively and qualitatively, it also has a major impact on the other two communities between which it mediates: the Non-Zionist Charedim and the Secular-Zionists.  This influence is not a direct one but a natural one of absorption.  The Secular-Zionists are coming closer to Torah, and are much closer than they were before the establishment of the State – and this is based on their encounter with the Religious-Zionist community, in which it sees many sterling qualities in the area of education, family life and in our relationship to the State and the army.  Similarly, the Charedi community is coming closer to the State and the entire enterprise of the national revival, in that it unwittingly absorbs Torat Eretz Yisrael from the Religious-Zionists.

There is obviously much more work to be done, and there are certainly many deficiencies in our community, but this is not on account of a faulty foundation, but because we are since at the beginning of our path.  It is the correct path and we must continue on it.  The strengthening of the physical national revival is a natural process which feeds itself, and does not require addition action.

Regarding the spiritual national revival, we must exert much more effort, i.e. to increase Torah learning in our community.  The more we learn Torah, the greater blessing will come to us and others.

This conclusion is not surprising.  We know that the Torah is the Divine cure for all maladies, both communally and individually, as the Maharal wrote at the beginning of his work Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah, that the Torah provides the order of the world.  The Netziv of Volozhin similarly wrote in his teshuvah “Yamin U-Semol” (Right and Left) regarding the different streams among the Nation of Israel, in which the solution is not separate communities but increasing Torah among the Nation, producing Torah scholars and Torah learning among the masses (Shut Meishiv Dvar 1:44).  Maran Ha-Rav Kook similarly wrote that the various spiritual ailments are a result of an intrusion upon the pure Israeli nature which retains its purity by learning Torah, whether Torah learning in order to produce Torah scholars or Torah learning for the masses (Orot Ha-Teshuvah).

The main remedy is therefore to increase Torah among the Religious-Zionist community, from top-to-bottom, in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and in yeshivot for both men and women.

And we must also strengthen what must precede Torah, i.e. proper character traits of integrity, honesty, helping other, care in guarding one’s tongue as the central focus.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, did not want to force the yeshiva’s schedule on the students, except for demanding that every day between 12:45-1:15 the students learn the book “Chafetz Chaim.”

The general principle is that we must increase proper character traits and Torah learning among the community in general and for one who display self-sacrifice for it in particular.



Why was Yom Ha-Atzmaut established on the Fifth of Iyar?


Periods of great suffering are followed by periods of great wonders.  And as is known, the quality of goodness is greater than the quality of punishment.  The prophet Michah (7:15) says, “As the days of your coming out of the Land of Egypt, I will show him wonders” (Micah 7:15). The Netziv (Rav Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin – Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva) explains that the incredible suffering experienced during the slavery in Egypt was followed by great miracles during the Exodus.  In our generation, we have seen greater suffering than in Egypt, and we will therefore certainly see greater miracles. We have already seen so many miracles with our own eyes.

Before the declaration of the State of Israel, the Americans warned us against declaring independence. How, they asked, will 600,000 Jews stand against a million and a half Arabs who were armed with English weaponry, and were aided by the armies of seven Arabs countries? The Americans also informed us from the outset that they would not recognize the State of Israel. The American Consul departed from our Land saying: I cannot watch the liquidation of the Jewish settlement. Even the Zionists of America were steadfast in their opposition to the declaration of the State. The leaders of the Jewish settlement too feared a great “slaughter of the Jews,” and were in doubt. Some of them reasoned that it was forbidden to endanger the entire settlement. In the end, the decision fell to the People’s Administration (Minhelet Ha-Am, which preceded the Government of Israel).  The vote was decided by a razor-thin margin: six to four. Soon thereafter, a chain of miracles began.

Approximately one million Arabs fled of their own volition from the Land of Israel, leaving room for a million Jews who soon arrived. In his article “The Revival of the Land and its Wonders,” Moshe Prager examined the wonder of the flight of the Arabs at the time of the establishment of the State in light of the verse: “I will make the Land desolate” (Vayikra 26:32).  There is no logical explanation for this strange phenomenon. Have you ever in your life seen that he who was rooted in his land for hundreds of years would suddenly uproot himself from the source of his land, lifting up his feet and fleeing in any direction that the wind would blow? Nearly half of the Arab population abandoned everything and fled in abandon, like chaff driven away by  the wind (quoted in Rav Menachem Kasher in the book “Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah,” p. 40). Take for example, the Arabs in Tzefat and its vicinity: they had many weapons and had prepared to slaughter the Jewish citizens of the city. The Jews did not know where to flee. They sent a delegation to the Arabs to speak to their hearts and to offer them great amounts of money to alter their evils plans, but it was of no use. So what happened?  There was a small post of the Haganah in Tzefat whose only hope was the “Davidka” – an improvised cannon.  They didn’t even know if it would succeed in shooting or would just explode in place. With the kindness of Hashem, the cannon shell came out with a powerful thunder and hit the enemy position. At that very moment a huge gap appeared in the sky and a torrential downpour began (a rare occurrence in the month of Iyar, which falls in Spring). When people arrived in Tzefat, they could not find a living soul, just as in the famous story in the Tanach about the four men stricken with the spiritual disease of tzara’at (see Melachim 2 chap. 7). In the end, the secret was revealed: everyone had fled. The few who remained in the hospital explained what had happened: the leaders of the Arabs believed that the Jews had an atomic bomb, and the frightful sound of the “Davidka” together with the uncommon rainstorm was seen as a sign that they had dropped it.

There are those who ask why Yom Ha-Atzmaut was established on the 5th of Iyar in particular, since no miracle occurred on that day. The Jewish State was declared, and with it a life-threatening situation began (Chanukah and Purim were established on the day after the “war” ended). Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, explains that the courage to declare the State is the miracle of miracles, the soul and root of all of the miracles and wonders (Le-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1, p. 179). The Talmud discusses a shepherd who abandoned his flock, leaving it prey to either a wolf or a lion who came and tore it to pieces.  The Rabbis established that the shepherd’s responsibility for the slaughter depends on whether or not he would have been able to save the animals. If he would not have been able to overcome the attacking animal, he is exempt from all payment. The Talmud asks: Why is this so?  Perhaps it would have happened as for David: “Your servant slew both the lion and the bear” (Shmuel 1 17:36)? Perhaps a minor miracle would have occurred (Baba Metzia 106a)? The Tosafot describe the miracle: “A spirit of courage and the knowledge to wage war” (Tosafot ibid.). So too in the matter of the declaration of the State: “The awakening, the exerting of effort, the philosophizing and the strengthening for the drive to rescue and revive,” is a miracle from the Heavens, “with a supreme and inner stimulus of power.”  The fact that the Nation of Israel was filled with the spirit to fight and the knowledge to wage war is the foundation of all miracles (Le-Netivot Yisrael ibid.).  From this act flowed all of the miracles which led to the establishment and strengthening of the State of Israel.

We are fortunate to have witnessed all of these miracles and to witness Hashem’s miracles every day.  In His great kindness, Hashem will show us more wonders in the future.




Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut

Question: Should we recite Hallel with a blessing on Yom Ha-Atzmaut?

Answer: We derive the answer to this question from what our Sages say about reciting Hallel on Purim.  They explain that Hallel is not recited on Purim for three reasons (Megillah 14a): 1. The miracle of Purim occurred outside of the Land of Israel (this reasoning does not, however, apply to Pesach which occurred before we even arrived in the Land of Israel). 2. After the miracle, we were still slaves to Achashverosh.  It is thus not logical to recite the verse from Hallel: “Praise, servants of Hashem.” 3. The reading of the Megillah takes the place of reciting Hallel.

So it seems straightforward regarding Yom Ha-Atzmaut: its miracle occurred in the Land of Israel in which we are servants to Hashem (and not to the non-Jews), and it has no Megillah reading in place of Hallel. Rabbenu Tam (one of the Tosafot), however, established that Hallel is only recited on a miracle which occurred for the entire Jewish People (Tosafot, Pesachim 117a).  If the miracle did not occur for the entire Nation, Hallel should be recited without a blessing. The Meiri and the Chida (Shut Chaim Sha’al) also hold this way. The Rogotchover Rebbe explains that this is the reason that Chizkiyahu, King of Yehudah, did not sing a song of praise after the fall of Sancheriv, since the miracle did not occur for the entire Jewish People (a number of the tribes were already exiled).  Accordingly, one does not recite Hallel with a blessing for a miracle which occurred only for those who dwell in Zion. In truth, however, the “Entirety of the Jewish People” means the Nation who dwells in the Land of Israel.  Jews who dwell in Exile are dangling limbs who we pray will return to us.  In his article “Reciting Hallel on the holiday of Ha-Atzmaut” (The Laws of Yom Ha-Atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, p. 146), Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren proves this idea from the Gemara.  He points to a discussion concerning “[A matter] overlooked by a community”: If the Sanhedrin was mistaken in a ruling and the community followed them, there is an obligation to bring a sacrifice for sinning. Who is this community? Those who live in the Land of Israel.  This is based on a verse in the Book of Melachim (1 8:65) which refers to the Jews in Israel as “all of Israel”: “And at that time Shlomo held a feast for all of Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entrance of Chamat to the Wadi of Egypt, before Hashem our G-d’” (Horayot 3a). The Rambam emphasizes that all of our holidays exist only in the merit of there being Jews in the Land of Israel.  If it could be imagined that there were no Jews there at all, the entire order of the holidays would collapse, something which would never occur, G-d forbid, because of the divine promise to always have some Jews living in the Land of Israel (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot positive commandment #153). The Chatam Sofer adds that those who dwell in the Land can even be ordinary people such as vinegrowers and farmers (Shut Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #134). The strength of the Nation of Israel living in the Land of Israel can also be seen in the Rambam ruling that in theory there could be an agreement among the Sages to renew “Semichah” (ordination which Moshe received from Hashem and was passed on through the generations until the Romans prohibited it with capital punishment) and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court), “provided that this will occur in the Land of Israel” (commentary on Mishnah Sanhedrin, chap. 1).

Another proof is provided by Chanukah.  Despite the fact that at the time of the Chasmonean victory a majority of the Jews were outside of Israel, they nevertheless recited Hallel. There are those, however, who reject this parallel arguing that Chanukah was a deliverance of the entire Nation of Israel because the Chasmonean victory against the Hellenists and the rededication of the Temple affected the entire Nation.  But one can respond: The establishment of the State of Israel also affects the entire Nation!  Our Rabbis teach: “The sole difference between this world and the Days of the Messiah is the servitude to the nations” (Berachot 34b). In other words, in this world, the non-Jews tell us what to do, but in the Days of the Messiah we will decide for ourselves. If so, doesn’t the establishment of the State, which enables us to decide matters for ourselves, have a direct connection to the Days of the Messiah? Does this concern the entire Nation of Israel? – It certainly does!!

It once happened that a delegation from the Religious Kibbutzim met with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Gaon Rav Yitzchak Nissim, and asked why the Chief Rabbinate ruled to recite Hallel without a blessing. He responded in earnest the Chief Rabbinate needed to do this in order to avoid increasing disputes amongst the Nation of Israel.  It is better, he reasoned, that a majority recite Hallel without a blessing than a minority with a blessing, i.e. if we rule that Hallel should be recited with a blessing only a minority of the people will accept this ruling, whereas if we rule the opposite the majority will follow. The delegation then asked him: What about one who wants to recite it with a blessing? He responded: A blessing will come upon him. Ha-Gaon Rav Shlomo Goren had already ruled that Hallel should be recited on this day with a blessing.

Baruch Hashem – Blessed is Hashem, we therefore merit saying Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzmaut with a blessing.




A Political Party of the Entire Jewish People


Question: While we are not yet in an election period, and the parties are not yet presenting themselves, perhaps this is still the time to take a look far into the future and to think about where we are headed. Obviously, the Torah is our life, the Torah of the individual and the Torah of the entire nation, and seemingly we’ve got to direct the country.  The simple, natural conclusion is therefore that we have to vote for a religious party. So said Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook in this regard: “I side with whoever is G-d-fearing.” More than that, perhaps the time has come for there to be a believer leading the entire Nation, a prime minister who believes in G-d. We cannot imagine what blessing and goodness that would bring. The question, obviously, is this: How do we advance this holy agenda?

Answer: 1. Without a shadow of a doubt, having a believer lead the country would be the ideal, and it is our duty to advance this. The question is: Is the Nation ready for it? After all, all political leadership can be divided into three parts: (1) knowing the present reality, (2) setting one’s goal, and (3) establishing a course leading from the reality to the goal, and not just one course, but alternative courses as well.

  1. The reality is that the Nation dwelling in Zion does not put its faith in a religious Zionist party. Moreover, about half of the National-Religious public itself likewise does not, choosing instead to vote for other parties. Even though before the elections almost all the National-Religious Rabbis issue a proclamation that we must vote for this party, the public does not follow that path. Not only is the situation not improving, but it is generally regressing. And most of the National-Religious public who vote for their party are far from doing so wholeheartedly – they only vote for this party because they are psychologically incapable of voting for a secular or Charedi party.
  2. Although the National-Religious members of the Knesset are fine, upstanding people who do a lot for the Nation, the Torah and the Land – and for that must be greatly admired – even with all of their good intentions, the National-Religious party remains ephemeral. If it continues to be split in two, there is a serious doubt about whether either party will pass the voting threshold. And even if they do pass the threshold, it is not enough for them to be able to make known their ideas of justice and truth, integrity and holiness, Torah and the Land. That is not the question. Such is the job of men of spirit and faith, to exert their blessed influence on the Nation. Rather, the job of a party is a matter of power, numerical power, quantitative power. Power! The Knesset is not a synagogue.
  3. Certainly Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook said to vote for a religious party, but we must consider whether he meant even an ephemeral party that is nothing more than a clarion call of truth and justice, without any real power. Certainly the ideal is a National- Religious party, and “I side with whomever is G-d-fearing”, all the more so with a precious party which has engraved on its emblem the rebirth of the Nation in its Land according to the Torah. But what does it help us to exalt that party if people don’t vote for it in practice? It’s like the Jewish People who wanted a king, but when the Prophet Shmuel complained to G-d about his intentions, G-d responded, “Of course you’re right, but you can’t go against the Nation’s wishes.” Ha-Rav Naftali Tzi Yehudah Berlin writes along the same lines in his “Ha-Emek Davar” Torah commentary as far as the Mitzvah of “You shall be free to set a king over yourself” (Devarim 17:15), stating that there is a need for the Nation’s consent.

True, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah said to vote for a religious party. The question is whether a transient party can still be called a party. Perhaps it isn’t big enough to be considered such, since it has no recognizable influence.

  1. Indeed, much of the National-Religious public votes for the Likud. And why do they do so? Apparently because this is the party most associated with the whole Jewish People. True, it lacks the great virtue of having the Torah as a lamp unto its feet (hence it is not to my taste). Yet in the existing party landscape, this remains the party most associated with the entire Jewish People. And a small faction within a large party has more power than a small party on its own, even if that small party is totally to my taste.
  2. But I must correct the characterization of the Likud as a party devoid of Torah, for that is not really so. As is known, the Torah transcends all the parties. It is associated with the entire Jewish People. It sees the good in all the parties, all of which together are building the house of Israel.
  3. Yet I haven’t yet answered the first question – why, despite the recommendations of our Rabbis, who engage each time in another battle to bring in their flocks, do those flocks disobey? Why don’t they accept what their teachers and Rabbis transmit to them?

What, then, is bothering the National Religious public about its leaders, its political personalities and its Rabbis? It’s very simple: they think that their leaders are incapable of leading the Nation. The proof is that they are incapable of leading themselves. After all, they are split in two camps, and each camp is itself divided. That’s what that public says, with deep sorrow, and sometimes they add: “It’s disgraceful! The public is not blind. It can see very well that its political leadership is quarreling, and, unfortunately, its spiritual leadership as well. They are caught up in base controversies and intrigues.” The public therefore does not place its trust in that leadership. The National-Religious-party representation is thus in jeopardy.

  1. The National Religious public, which is very precious, and is a serious, hardworking community of believers, finds itself scattered across the political spectrum, with many preferring a party that they view as encompassing the entire Jewish People. Truth be told, these people have a great love of unity, inclusiveness and “Israeliness”.
  2. Yet we are not giving up. Quite the contrary: we have to take advantage of this very bad crisis in order to rise higher and higher. There is a cure. A simple, remarkable, well-known cure: We should hold a general election to choose the chairman, Knesset members and central committee members of a single National Religious Party – one party that is large and general. The elections should be direct elections without any obstacles or tricks. It’s a long time now since the public has had faith in its leadership. It is afraid. It doesn’t rely on them. It is very afraid of the politicos. That is the solution. There is no other. Otherwise, there is a danger that everything will deteriorate and wither away. If we follow this path, there is great hope of rebirth. Our leadership mustn’t stand aloof from its holy flocks. Rather, it must serve them faithfully, for the sake of heaven.














Torah Learning

Unsuccessful Students

  1. There’s a story about a ninth grader in a yeshiva ketana who was a slow learner, and no matter how much the teacher tried to explain the material to him, he couldn’t grasp it. That student tried very hard, but without results. The teacher therefore assigned a patient student to help him, but that didn’t help either. At the end of the year, when everyone went up to tenth grade, the boy was forced to repeat the ninth. He made a great effort, but unfortunately got nowhere. The same thing happened for seven straight years. Then, when he was twenty, he saw that it was now or never, and he cried out bitterly to G-d. Starting then, his situation improved slowly. He moved on to tenth grade and beyond that, then to post-high-school yeshiva, until he became the head of a Kollel (from the book, “Sod Hatzlacha, by Rav Shmueli, page 235).
  2. Another story concerns a boy who moved to Israel from abroad, entered yeshiva and didn’t understand a thing. He was also too embarrassed to ask questions, because he was afraid that people would make fun of him. When he finally got up the courage to ask a question, it was a stupid question but his teacher didn’t want to insult him so he acted as though it was a real question and answered him. That student didn’t despair, and ultimately became a Rosh Yeshiva (ibid., 238).
  3. When Rabbi Re’uven David Nawi was a young lad he toiled very hard at his studies, but he still never achieved clear understanding. Yet he persevered, entreating G-d to enlighten him, until he became great in Torah and was appointed Chief Justice of the Baghdad Rabbinical Court (ibid., 248).
  4. Rabbi Amram Azulai was not a particularly gifted student during his youth, and no matter how much he toiled, he did not achieve marked success. Yet he did not despair, but continued studying until he became a extraordinarily diligent student in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva (ibid., 250).
  5. Rabbi Menachem Racanati, a disciple of the author of “Sefer HaRokeach”, who wrote a commentary on the Torah, was a poor caliber student when he was young, but he loved Torah and ultimately became a great rabbi of the Jewish People (Sefer Shalshelet HaKabbalah).


  1. There was a seventeen or eighteen year old boy who came to the Chatam Sofer and divulged to him his desire to learn Torah. At the time, that was considered old, so the other students laughed, wondering how a boy who hadn’t ever learned could want to immerse himself in learning now. Yet the Chatam Sofer castigated them, saying, “Why should you laugh? Surely all who want to learn may come and do so.” He drew that lad near to him and set him up with study partners for an hour each. Yet besides being older, he was also a slow learner with little retentive ability, and even if someone learned a particular mishnah with him a hundred times, he still forgot it quickly, such that the next day it was as though he had never learned it. All the same, his desire for Torah never ceased and he persisted in his studies until he ultimately reached the level of an outstanding scholar and was appointed head of a rabbinical court and chief rabbi of a city.
  2. When Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) was twelve years old, he did not want to learn and he moved from teacher to teacher, but to no avail. One day he heard his father in the kitchen, worriedly saying to his mother, “What shall we do with our Naftali? I’ve tried everything and he doesn’t want to learn. Perhaps we have to teach him a trade?” The boy was terrified. He ran into the kitchen and he began to cry, saying, “Abba! I’ll study!” and starting then he did begin learning, becoming an illustrious scholar (She’al Avicha Veyaged’cha 2:14).
  3. During his childhood, Maharam Schick (Rabbi Moshe Schick) was not blessed with sharp intelligence or a quick grasp. His ability to absorb material was very weak, he had trouble understanding, and he couldn’t remember anything, not even one page of gemara. Yet he did not despair, and he toiled greatly, entreated G-d, reviewed his learning many times even though he didn’t understand the subject matter well, until he ultimately became amongst the most famous of his contemporaries (Sefer “Ashrei Mi She’amalo”, 3:56).



Learning Tanach with Emunah


Question: Various Rabbis, and all sorts of researchers, have different interpretations of the Tanach. What’s wrong with having teachers share them all? Why must they conclude that there is only one truth? What could be better than presenting all of the possibilities and then allowing the students to select those that best suit them?

Answer: Our Education Ministry is not meant to be a supermarket of ideas. Rather, upon it rests the enormous responsibility of fostering the purity and holiness of our precious Jewish children. It must therefore follow the tried-and-true path, and not follow alien pathways, however prominent the personages who suggest alternative approaches. We must follow only the guidance of our holy Torah: “Follow the majority,” both as far as following the majority opinion amongst Rabbis, and as far as following those who Rabbis possess the most Torah wisdom (Choshen Mishpat 25:2; Rama). Most of our great Sages absolutely reject the idea of introducing secular approaches, let alone heretical ideas, into the holy study of Tanach. Rather, the task is to foster the fear of G-d, and to view the giants of the Tanach with reverence. Moreover, study of Tanach must be based not just on the ideas of contemporary Rabbis, but on the ideas of the Sages down through the generations, who are infinitely greater.


Question: We want Tanach to be relevant to the students so that they feel an attachment to it. So why not create new interpretations that make the text relevant for the student?

Answer: Then the student isn’t studying Tanach – he’s studying himself.  Relevance? Certainly!  But relevance to what?  To the supreme image of G-d in man?  To the specialness of the Jewish soul?  Or to man’s lowly passions?

Here I shall enlist the words of Rabbi Yehuda Léon Askénazi, from his Sefer Perurim MeShulchan Gavoha (p. 23):

What is ‘Parshanut’ (Exegesis of Tanach)?

There are two approaches to how to interpret the Tanach:

  1. In the first approach, the commentator holds that the text has no logical meaning. He therefore advances his own interpretation in order to infuse the text with meaning it never possessed in the first place. Ultimately, however, this involves forcing the commentator’s thoughts onto the text. That is not the traditional approach.
  2. According to the traditional definition, “Parshanut” involves transmitting to the student the tradition that has been preserved in the Jewish memory but that has been lost to many. It transmits a fundamental approach without which there is no possibility of understanding a thing. In the general culture, the academic ground rule of exegesis is that the text has no meaning per se, other than that affixed to it by the commentator. The traditional definition, however, is that the text being learned cannot be understood by any except those who, in advance, have absorbed deep into their psyches the culture suited and relevant to that text. People tend to think that exegetical works which spring up around the original increase wisdom and knowledge. In their view, modern man knows more than his predecessors, and a plethora of books is a sign of an increase in knowledge compared to the original. That idea is illusionary. In the traditional approach, precisely the opposite is the case: Because we know less, we need more books…

The Text of the Tanach Teaches us.

It is the text of the Tanach which teaches Us. We do not put words in its mouth. The Tanach teaches us ideas that we could never attain solely with our own thoughts and morality.  The Tanach always transcends the absolute ability of the human intellect. The moment you understand this, you discover the proper approach to Torah study: The verse teaches us. It informs us of what we must know, and not the opposite –  that I fill in its words. Thus, if there is a disagreement between the reader and the verse, the reader must be aware in advance that the verse is right. As long as he does not understand how it is right, he hasn’t understood a thing.

I believe I have explained this point sufficiently. Even so, I shall quote from the Talmud on this topic: A wise man once spoke of how much he had learned from his teachers: ‘Much Torah have I learned from them, but what I learned, compared to what they possess, cannot even be likened to what a dog could lap out of the sea’ (Sanhedrin 68a). I don’t know if you understand this parable, but you must realize that this is the meaning of Torah learning.




Relating to Biblical Prophets as Prophets


How should we approach the Tanach? First you have to approach its author. “But your eyes shall see your teacher” (Yeshayahu 30:20). The author is the Prophets who bring us the word of Hashem, for it is G-d who gives prophecy to the prophets, as Rambam said in Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah, chapter 7. There are different levels to the Tanach. There is the Torah, the prophecy of Moshe, transcending all other prophecy. There are the Prophets, with their prophecy, and there are the Writings, whose source is Ruach Ha-Kodesh, divine intuition. All of them are the word of G-d.

The idea of the word of G-d reaching man involves a miracle. The King of the Kuzars had difficulty believing this, and he asked the Jewish wise man to convince him that it is possible.

We thus derive that a prophet is an entirely different type of person. An angel revealed himself to the parents of Shimshon, and they thought he was a prophet, until he rose to heaven in a flame. Then they understood that it was an angel, but before that they were incapable of distinguishing between a prophet and an angel.

Therefore, when King Shaul met the prophets, he turned into a different person, and since he was worthy of it, he prophesied. We, too, when we study the Tanach, become different people. The entire world, with prophets or without prophets, is another world.

When prophecy ceased in Israel, the entire human race declined. There were three reactions to this: that of the West, that of the Far East, and that of ourselves, the Middle East. The Greeks said: prophecy has not ceased, because it never existed in the first place.  There is human intellect, and nothing more.

The mysticism of the Far East said: G-d spoke, and He continues to speak, yet He does not speak except from within man. G-d is not someone, but something that has been absorbed in man.

We say: G-d spoke, and then ceased to speak, but we continue to learn the prophets’ words with absolute steadfastness, as our Sages, the disciples of the prophets, instruct us to do. The prophets handed down the Torah to the Men of the Great Assembly. Ezra the Scribe, first of the Great Assembly, is Malachi, last of the prophets.

We try a bit to encounter and to understand the words of the prophets, and this turns us into different people – not in the sense of being cut off from this world, but of being people who bring G-d’s blessing into this world. As Rabbi Meir said in Avot 6:1: “whoever studies Torah for the sake of Heaven, merits many things.” He merits supreme, ethereal heavenly things which we lack the human words to define. “Nay more, the whole world is worthwhile for his sake. He is called friend, beloved.  He loves G-d and he loves mankind. He pleases G-d and he pleases mankind. The Torah invests him with humility and reverence. It enables him to become righteous, godly, upright and faithful. It keeps him far from sin, and draws him near to virtue. Men are benefited by him with counsel and sound wisdom, understanding and strength, as it says, ‘Mine are counsel and sound wisdom; Mine are reason and might’ (Mishlei 8:14). It gives him rule, a commanding personality and judging ability. To him the secrets of the Torah are revealed. He is made like a fountain that ever gathers force, and like a never-failing stream. He becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of insults. The Torah makes him great and raises him above all creatures.” The entire world takes on a new countenance.

What the Tanach possesses is something that we cannot find through our own intellect i.e., through philosophy, but only through prophecy. True, mankind is capable of achieving a certain degree of contact with the word of G-d, because we possess a divine soul (see the end of Guide to the Perplexed). For the sake of that we must pull ourselves upward towards heaven. We must exalt ourselves to the pinnacle of our spiritual abilities.

We mustn’t lower the words of the Tanach to our own small stature. Rather, we must recall that it is divine and not human, that these are things that we have never heard. These things are infinite, and it is puzzling that I am able to understand even the least bit of it. For the sake of doing so, one must exit himself, one must burst out of an astrological mindset and one must transcend one’s own limitations. Otherwise, one will never meet the Tanach.

If someone studies in the modern fashion, distinguishing between what is relevant/understood and what is old-fashioned/primitive, then he has never studied Torah in all his life. He has only studied himself, his own personality, fashioned by his surroundings, by life, the street, the marketplace, the media. He gains mastery over a text, in a postmodern fashion, when there is nothing absolute, nothing all-encompassing, nothing eternal. There is only the personal, the individualistic. That is not the “Torah study for the sake of heaven” that Rabbi Meir was talking about, but “Torah for my own sake”.

Certainly, the prophecies were recorded because they were needed for future generations (Megillah 14). True, they were revealed at a certain time and under certain circumstances, but their inner essence transcends time and place. Hence they also illuminate other times and other circumstances.

All the more so that the Torah itself transcends time and place, that it stands above and before reality. Therefore, it illuminates all the circumstances of reality. It illuminates in the State of Israel and the Exile, and it provides illumination to those who are healthy and those who are ill, to the honest man and to the thief, to rich and to poor.

The King of the Kuzars asks, “How did your Torah develop?” After all, he says, it is the way of religions that they have a founder, and then every generation adds or subtracts, lengthening or shortening at will. No, answers the Jewish scholar, our Torah was given all at once in its entirety. There was a bursting forth from On High, with thunder and lightning, a heavy cloud over the mountain, a stentorian Shofar blast, and the entire camp trembled with fear. Indeed, the entire mountain trembled. The Torah was given all at once, in its entirety, and gradually it is revealed to us.

The Tanach views the world from a divine perspective, and it trains our eye to see things in parallel to the eye of G-d. “For they will see eye to eye, as G-d returns to Zion” (Yeshayahu 52:8).  Certainly we must delve deeply into the Tanach. Certainly we must ask questions and answer them, and clarify matters all the way. Yet, said Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook in his article, “Emet Bilti Me’ur’eret” [An Unassailable Truth], regarding the scientific approach to Torah learning, in the book Li-Netivot Yisrael (vol. 2, p. 242), everything depends on one’s starting point – on whether or not we believe that we have before us a divine truth, a heavenly truth that we accept with perfect faith.

The Tanach is divine, superhuman, and it instructs us to elevate ourselves to G-d, to emulate Him, as a man with a divine image, and not, G-d forbid, to fashion a G-d in the image of man.

The Tanach enables us to hear the word of G-d. The prophets are a different world. They possess a divine fortitude that we lack, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote in his book Orot, in the chapters on Warfare, regarding the spiritual level of the Patriarchs.

Taking this approach, my learning has an influence on me, intellectually, morally and in terms of my faith.

A prophet has an alternate perception. He speaks out of an absolute world, a different world. He hears the word of G-d which bursts forth into our own world, and then almost collapses, like a small device that has been struck by lightning. We, too, learn Torah with fear and dread, with shaking and with trembling, as at the Sinai Revelation (see Berachot 22a).

If one does not understand that the Tanach is superhuman, one has not understood a thing. We are talking about prophecy, not philosophy.

Certainly there is room for independent thought, but only after I accept with perfect faith the word of G-d. As we say in our morning prayers, first one must “admit the truth” – the supreme, absolute, divine truth – and only then can one “speak truth in his heart”, as is explained in the “Olat Re’eiyah” prayer book of Rav Kook. Yet if we begin by “speaking truth in our heart”, that constitutes a post-modern utterance, in which the text is nothing but the interpretive worldview of the reader, a subjective, human analysis.

Do not mix up your own thoughts with the absolute divine truth that illuminates all generations and circumstances.

Prophecy constitutes a spark from the Upper World, as Ramban explains in his introduction to the Guide to the Perplexed, in his “Torat Ha-Berakim”. It is not a small flashlight, but a giant bolt of lightning that bursts forth from heaven to earth and momentarily illuminates the whole horizon in a manner which you have never seen before.

Likewise, one who learns Torah for the sake of heaven sometimes merits such a bolt of lightning, as is mentioned at the beginning of the work, “Tanya”. He merits a true understanding of the word of G-d.



The Scientific Approach to Learning Tanach


Question: There’s an increasing tendency in the yeshivot to introduce the academic/scientific approach to Tanach study. In other words, to make comparisons with various sources, to provide historic elucidation, style analysis, moral criticism and even to highlight aesthetics. Ostensibly there should be no problem with this approach, for ultimately our goal is to increase knowledge. Am I right?

Answer: Certainly our desire is to increase knowledge, wrote Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook in his article, “The Scientific Approach to Jewish Sources” (Li-Netivot Yisrael vol. 2, p. 242): “After all, that’s what we do in yeshiva day and night. We seek to know Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud and Jewish law. We are men of science, toiling to learn and to analyze, to increase knowledge and wisdom. Surely we are interested in knowing and understanding our Jewish sources. Could we possibly approach them without the goal of knowing them?”

Yet it all depends on one’s starting point. Do we believe that the corpus before us is Torah from Heaven, from the first letter to the last, or do we think that it constitutes something man-made? There are scholars who ponder Tanach as a fabrication of man – just some historic literary text. They view themselves as standing above it, and they decide based on their own considerations whether this text is worthy of entering the canon of truth and morality. This is an “entirely illegitimate approach to studying Jewish sources, Tanach, Talmud or Aggada.”

This illegitimate approach they call “science”. They arrogantly claim a monopoly on science, and they pronounce that what is learned in yeshivot is not science.

With this kind of Torah study, we do not say that the light it contains will return them to the proper path, for the student is locked in a place where the light cannot reach, since he relates to the text disparagingly. It is the researcher who decides whether or not the text has worth (see Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:1; Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:17; 4:3).

Out of this separatist, ostensibly objective approach, the student will understand nothing. The gates of Torah will be locked before him, because he will not believe in its divinity. Blocked before him will be the divine gate of infinite wisdom that preceded the world, into which G-d gazed before He created the universe.

“If we long for knowledge in its fullest sense, knowledge built on delving deep, with the presupposition that the Torah before us is the truth, the absolute truth, the uncontestable truth, the truth from Heaven and not from mankind, and our entire purpose is to reveal that truth, to understand that truth, with our being believers, convinced that the truth is before us, but that it presently is concealed from us – then our longing is positive and sincere.

In this longing, we are duty-bound to engage in all the spheres that find expression in our sources.

We must devote our efforts to the Tanach, to the words of the prophets, to their manner of speech, to examining the truth concealed within the aesthetics, the truth within the historical stories, the truth within the moral ideas, and all the more so, in the truth of our holy mitzvot.”

We strive to uncover the truth, not to create it. It’s not for us to accord the truth a stamp of approval. Rather, we humbly stand before the divine truth and wish to understand it. We believe and are convinced that we are standing before an infinite, divine intelligence.

We believe that G-d, in His kindness, teaches Torah to His people, Israel, and gives us the Torah which we can study and delve into, absorbing it into ourselves.

Everything must start with reverence for G-d. Whoever’s reverence does not precede his wisdom will never taste the taste of Torah. That same researcher, ostensibly objective, has set himself apart from G-d’s word, and he decrees what for him is the truth and what is primitive. This approach “forgets the first principle of faith that the Torah’s words are from Heaven. This approach does not distinguish between divine writ and the writings of man, and its approach to both is the same. This being the case, any idea that seems impossible to understand is deemed illegitimate, since everything is judged by a human yardstick.” The result is that this approach offers its adherents no possibility of being spiritually elevated and basking in the light of a higher truth.

Everything depends on one’s point of origin. One may ask questions, but he must do so out of faith and reverence.

When the illustrious Rabbi Akiva Eiger does not understand Tosafot he writes, “This requires further analysis.” Who requires further analysis? The Tosafot? No! Is the Talmudic source too difficult and impossible to understand? No! It’s we who have the difficulty. It is we who don’t understand. Tomorrow, a Torah scholar will come along and explain the source to us, and then everything will be clear.

“We approach Jewish sources as sources that were imparted from Heaven, and their words are the words of truth, an uncontestable truth. Our entire goal is thus to uncover that truth, to uncover it – not to create it. For the sake of uncovering it, we thus use all the means at our disposal.”




What would Nechama Lebowitz

say about the new approach to learning Tanach?


As is well-known, Professor Nechama Lebowitz left her stamp on the study of Tanach, not just amongst adults, but also, through her methodological approach, amongst students of Israeli schools. She worked hard to make this study meaningful and to engrave it deeply in the students’ memories.

So what would she say about the new approaches to the study of Tanach being advanced? Actually, there’s no need to guess, because the issue came up when she was yet alive. It is recounted in Chevata Deutch’s book “Nechama”. There, in Chapter 15, Chevata tells the story of how some twenty years ago, a Rabbi, one of her own teachers, presented himself for the position of national superintendent of Tanach Studies, in order to foment a revolution in the way it was taught. What he had in mind was an interdisciplinary approach. He thought a new –Land-of-Israel-school-of-thought should be created that would not fear the new Tanach research, but would use it to expand the field of study. He argued against Nechama Lebowitz, whose whole aim was simply to transmit knowledge and understanding. In his method, the Rabbi argued, everything begins with love.  Availing ourselves of Biblical realism answers this “love” by connecting the student to the Torah,  and saying to him, “The Torah is relevant in the here and now.”

Obviously, Nechama Lebowitz also sought to endear Torah learning to the student, but the question was how to do it. She made light of using Biblical realism, and viewed it as cheap exhibitionism. To her, it seemed foreign and petty.

She greatly loved, for example, to teach Tehilim Chapter 23, “Hashem is my shepherd, I shall not want.” To the argument that you can not understand the chapter without understanding shepherding concepts, she responded with ridicule, explaining that the Torah transcends time and is universal, and it should not be lowered down to the earth.

Multi-disciplinary study includes geography, archaeology, grammar and history, and not just commentaries as a “crutch”,  in that Rabbi’s words. Lebowitz, by contrast, sought to distance herself from all this. She was quite familiar with those approaches – after all, she had studied in Germany at the Universities of Heidelberg, Marburg and Berlin, and at the Advanced Beit Midrash for Jewish Studies at Berlin, which greatly appreciated these fields. And she was awarded a PhD from the University of Marburg. She was an expert in the school of Biblical Criticism! Yet in contrast to those who believe that one must be familiar with Biblical Criticism in order to confront it, she determined that the best approach is to ignore it by staying close to the traditional commentaries. She held that one must learn “the opus itself, not the stages of its coming into being, not the factors that influence its creation and not the story and the content out of which it sprouted, but the object itself. Likewise, it mustn’t be studied as a document attesting to things outside of itself, regarding the moment of its creation in the religious, political or economic sphere. In short, Bible mustn’t be studied as an entity that reflects a period, but as one speaking on its own behalf.”

She writes, for example, about the beginning of Parashat Masa’ei: “Before us we have about forty verses consisting of nothing but the names of places.  This dry list is certainly of great interest to scholars of antiquities and geographers who toil to identify names, but what does it have to do with the Torah, which, as the Divine poet wrote in Tehilim (19:8-9) is “enlightening”, “brings one joy”, and “restore’s one’s sanity”? After all, it was that way, and not as grist for archaeological, historical and geographical stories that its true students of every generation viewed it, always searching for what was promised to us in its regard, ‘For I give you good instruction” (Mishlei 4:2). And what is the good instruction hidden in this list of names? And as though the Torah already wished to warn us that we mustn’t make light of such a list of names, which for the person seeing with human eyes seems devoid of content, it therefore, precisely here, prefaced the list with the words: ‘Moshe recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by Hashem’ (Bemidbar 33:2).”

The rule to be learned is this: The Torah constitutes good instruction. It restores one’s sanity. It is enlightening. It sets out to teach us moral lessons!

Therefore, the program that was being presented to the schools, and that was set to replace, partially, the previous approach, made Nechama Lebowitz shudder. Whoever tried to convince her otherwise could not persuade her in the slightest degree.

Obviously, we mustn’t accuse her of arrogance because she steadfastly held on to her approach. Everyone knows that besides her having been a professor, she also lectured to the masses, was full of humility, and was known for her simple way of life. Her students called her “Nechama”, and she preferred the title of “teacher” to that of “professor”. “Teacher” is what appears on her tombstone.

Here is an example of her work: There is a well-known question: After Yosef rose to greatness, why didn’t he send off in search of his father? To this a new interpretation was offered: Yosef thought that his father had accepted the brothers’ argument and had rejected him the way Avraham had rejected Yishmael and Yitzchak had rejected Esav.

Yet Nechama Lebowitz responded to this interpretation, saying: It could not be that Yosef would suspect his father of such! It could not be that Yaakov would stop loving Yosef!

Another example: A theory arose according to which the sin for which King Shaul lost his kingdom was not his taking spoils from Amalek and sparing Agag – the reasons mentioned by the Prophet Shmuel in his rebuke of Shaul to explain his severe punishment – but rather his wiping out of only part of Amalek rather than all of it.

Nechama Lebowitz asked: If so, why didn’t Shmuel point this out to him? The response offered was that Shmuel did not know…

For Lebowitz, reading the Tanach without the commentaries constituted conceit, even arrogance.

Indeed, above all else, Nechama Lebowitz was a great educator. She therefore “ascribed little importance to the question of whether the student knows the source of the educational truth he has absorbed from the sources – Scripture itself or our Sages’ commentaries. She had a wealth of stories, at the center of each of which stood a simple, unlearned person, who had absorbed a moral/educational idea from our Rabbinical commentaries and had accidentally ascribed that idea to Scripture itself. For example, a mother castigated her son for mistreating a cat, and she quoted to him what was ‘written in the Torah’ about Moshe saving the young goat. In another case, a soldier who had fought in Sinai related how he and his comrades fell under heavy fire. Suddenly one of them was wounded, and the medic endangered himself and crawled, under fire, to administer first-aid.  ‘Surely he got this from Avraham, whom the Torah says jumped into a fiery furnace,’ explained the soldier. Nechama quoted him excitedly, saying, ‘What does it matter where he learned his self-sacrifice from? So what if people get confused, as long as they take away values and models to apply throughout their lives.”

Simply put, she did not teach in an academic manner. Her approach, rather, was based on faith, education, Rabbinic commentaries and tradition.




Time to get Back to “Orot”

Rabbi Yehuda Loew stated in Netzach Yisrael, Chapter 11, that the Jewish People’s goal is not just to elevate the individual to holiness but to elevate both the individual and the Jewish People as a whole.

Elevating the Nation to holiness means fulfilling G-d’s promise to make us a “great Nation” (Bereshit 12:2) and a “Nation of priests and a holy Nation” (Shemot 19:6).

This was our mission during the First Temple Period. At the end of that period, however, in the days of the Prophet Yirmiyahu and King Yoshiah, when the signs of the impending destruction already loomed from afar, our greatest Torah luminaries were undergoing preparation to deal with elevating the holiness of individuals (Introduction to the Netziv’s “Kidmat Emek”, his commentary on She’eltot Rav Achai Gaon). That new focus continued on through the Second Temple Period. (see “LeMahalach Ha-Ide’ot BeYisrael” by our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook).

Presently, thank G-d, we are returning to our land. An enormous Zionist movement has arisen, replete with both light and darkness, which is restoring us to safe harbor (Orot, page 38). Yet how can we increase that light and overcome that darkness? Regarding belief and behavior of the individual, we are fortunate to have Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s great work, Mesillat Yesharim, for guidance. Yet where shall we find a “Mesillat Yesharim” to guide in matters affecting the Jewish People? The answer is that the guide we are looking for is accessible in the Zohar, and the same ideas were later recorded in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal. So, is that the solution, for us to learn mysticism? Certainly not! As the Mishnah states in Chagigah, Chapter 2, the Torah’s mystical secrets are intended only for the spiritual elite, and the same point has come down as law in Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Talmud Torah, that not everyone should learn mysticism, but only select individuals.  The masses, at best, do not understand anything of mysticism, and at worst, misunderstand it, which results in enormous damage.

All the same, mystical writings are fascinating – like drugs. We’ve got to be serious, however, not like a child who wants everything to be sweet, and to know that in our world we don’t deal with any problem without appropriate preparation.  The preparation for studying mysticism is in-depth study of the non-mystical portion of the Torah, including in-depth study of tracts devoted to faith and sterling character.

So where shall the Jewish masses find the inner light? Not in cheap mysticism combined with charisma, be it Ashkenazic or Sephardic, but in in-depth study of works of faith, which have hidden in them secrets of the Torah, but translated to conventional language.

At this point we can go back to our original discussion: Where is the “Mesillat Yesharim” of the Jewish masses? It’s Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s book, “Orot”, which our master, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of the author, called “holy of holies.” He used that description in his introduction to that book because it deals with the holiness of the Nation that is being reborn in our land. Whoever examines the sources mentioned at the end of the book will see that it is all taken from the Zohar and the Arizal. Rav Kook, himself, in fact said that there is not one sentence in it that does not have its source in the words of the Arizal (“LiShlosha BeElul”). It is only that he translated those secrets into everyday language. True, the book is poetic, but with effort one can understand it.

Yet the truth is that in the time of Rav Kook himself, very few people understood this book. Gradually, however, its light permeated the Jewish People, and today there are tens of thousands of people who study it. And just as regarding the character and behavior of individuals, one can immediately see an enormous difference between those who study Mesillat Yesharim and those who do not, so too with matters of the Jewish People, we can see an enormous difference between those for whom “Orot” is a major part of their life and those who do not learn it regularly, in depth. The latter will be very confused by the complex issues generated by Israel’s rebirth in their land, especially as regards our G-d-given Jewish State and army.

Thank G-d, however, the lessons of “Orot” are penetrating the entire Jewish People by osmosis, reaching both the Charedim and the secular, without their being aware of it. Such is the way of great ideas which are slowly absorbed by the masses. Thus, the secular, in a long, involved process, are presently making peace with the Torah, and the Charedim, as well, are being “Israelified” in the direction of the Jewish State and the army. Obviously, this is happening slowly and gradually, as is true with all processes, but they are occurring on a large-scale all the same. We must arm ourselves with great patience, but the fact is that both groups are starting to realize how good is the approach of “Orot”.

Thus, our present task is to disseminate “Orot” all the more throughout the Nation, both amongst the Torah scholars and the masses, and first of all, we must study it in depth ourselves. Then we will be the living fulfillment of, “G-d saw the light, that it was good” (Bereshit 1:4).




Has the Time Come to Learn Mysticism?


Many ask: Perhaps the time has come for us to delve into Jewish mysticism?  The answer is not just “perhaps,” but “certainly.”  In any event, this is the strongly held opinion of our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, that this is the only way to save our generation from heresy, which is our greatest threat, and to restore the generation to repentance (Orot Ha-Teshuva 4:9).  Obviously, there is no slight intended here to all the other holy spheres of the Torah – Gemara and Halachah, ethics and faith.  Yet none of these will succeed without the soul of the Torah, the mystical component of the Torah.

You might ask: Are we so much greater than previous generations?  Does our studying mysticism not constitute arrogance?  Shouldn’t the simpler parts of the Torah, so full of purity and holiness, suffice for us?  The answer is that certainly, we are insignificant, but you cannot compare different generations, and now the time has come.  Beforehand, it had not yet come.  For example, Rav Kook explained at the end of a long treatise that over the course of the Exile, all the nationalistic ideas were stored away in Jewish mysticism, because they had no basis in “reality.”.  Now, however, that the nation is being reborn, we have to reveal all of these concealed ideas that have to do with nationalism and having a state, so that we can revive the foundation of our rebirth. (Orot 117-118).

Obviously, that does not mean that the time has come regarding ALL the secrets.  Rav Kook testified that it was hard for him to describe which secrets would cause damage if revealed, and which would bring a blessing.  He discussed this in the context of renewing the path to repentance.  In the Exile, the concept of repentance was linked to reverence and submission, but now that the light of salvation is shining forth, it should be linked to joy and courage.  Yet we have to proceed with great caution to make certain that our education does not nullify the caution and reverence that was present down through the generations among fine, righteous Jews (Letter 378, printed at the beginning of Orot Ha-Teshuva).  Indeed, this is a very important consideration; but in general, the time has certainly come for the secrets of the Torah, as Rav Kook testified about himself: “There is nothing from my own thoughts and opinions that does not have a source in the writings of the Arizal” (Li-Shlosha Be-Elul 1:46).

One might ask: Did our great master, Rav Kook, forget an explicit ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, that learning mysticism is just for people who are great in Torah, “once they have filled themselves with ‘meat and wine’, namely, the dietary laws and all the laws of the Mitzvot?” (Rav Moshe Isserlis’s comment on Yoreh Deah 246:4).  This ruling was supported by all the commentaries on Shulchan Aruch.  Surely he did not forget.

Rav Kook wrote countless times that mystical knowledge is not for the masses who will not understand a thing. Rather, it is only for elite few (Orot Ha-Kodesh 1:46). The longing for mystical knowledge belongs to those elite individuals, not for those who throw around the terms without understanding their inner meaning (Letters vol. 1, p. 232). Rav Kook wrote: “There is a great shortcoming to the standard student of Kaballah, in that he does not first employ his intellect, delving into the Torah’s sources to become wise in Divine matters.”  In other words, they don’t learn faith in depth. “Rather, they stuff themselves with the mysticism written in books.  Through such study, their intellect is not elevated.  All that happens is that sort of obscure emotion illuminates their being” (Orot Ha-Torah 10:7).  “Sometimes, lack of intelligence can bring a student to mysticism” (ibid., ibid., 8).  “When, in fact, is it good to study the Torah’s secrets? After one has exhausted all the other holy fields of study” (ibid, ibid. 1).  Mysticism is not for “those who cling to it without the proper preparation” (Orot Ha-Teshuvah 4:9).   Those people “take literally all of those holy secrets, which stand at the pinnacle of the universe, thereby increasing strife amongst Israel” by talking about the “mixed multitude” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, page 59).

If someone jumps ahead of himself, before he has learned conventional ethics, he will be harmed, and he will lose it all (see Rav Kook’s article on “Studying the Spirituality of the Torah” from Orot Ha-Torah, published by “Sifriyat Chava”, p. 193).  “Unless the intellect is first refined, studying Kabalah brings mishap to the world” (ibid. p. 225). “Lofty research at the wrong time causes illusions, religious hallucinations or heresy” (ibid. 240).  “Studying mysticism unprepared, jumping into it only out of weakness based on an inner yearning, coupled with laziness and idleness, causes the form of that mysticism to be blurred. This occurs when it is studied by people unconnected to reality, people who lack the capability to grasp the living world…” (Orot p. 93).

Rav Kook certainly knew that mysticism is only for the elite few; hence its study does not appear in the detailed curriculum he wrote for the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, p. 62).

If so, what is the meaning of his call for the uncovering of the Torah’s mysteries?  It means rewriting them in a conventional style, as he, himself, did in his many books, or as the Maharal did before him.  Those elite, down through the generations, who studied the Torah’s secrets, elevated the generation by their influence, and through their illuminating all the spheres of life with the light of these lofty lights, thereby bringing the world eternal blessing. (Orot Ha-Kodesh 1:86).















The Eternal Halachah…

Question: It seems like there are Rabbinic decrees that are no longer relevant, and their rationale has already ceased to hold true.  For example, “Mayim Acharonim – washing one’s hands at the end of the meal” was enacted due to the prevalence of salt from Sedom, which could cause blindness, but now that salt is no longer prevalent.  So why continue washing “Mayim Acharonim”?

Answer: Indeed, sometimes there is a Rabbinic decree whose status as binding depends on its rationale continuing to hold true.  Regarding “Mayim Acharonim,” Tosafot (Berachot 52) wrote, “We, however, amongst whom Sodom salt is uncommon, are unaccustomed to washing after the meal,” and the Shulchan Aruch wrote the same thing (Orach Chaim 181:10).

We have a rule that if our Sages enacted a decree based on a vote in which the majority quorum prevailed, then even if the rationale behind it has ceased to apply, it still requires a majority quorum of Sages to nullify it, and it does not become null by itself (Beitzah 5a). Yet if, a priori, the decree was only enacted in specific locales where the reason for the decree is relevant, then even in a place where that decree was enacted, if the rationale disappears, the decree becomes null by itself. Pri Chadash therefore wrote that we are unaccustomed to washing “Mayim Acharonim” after the meal, for salt from Sedom is not common among us. Even though it was originally enacted by a majority quorum, another majority quorum is not required to nullify it, because salt from Sedom is not common everywhere, and the original decree was only meant to apply in a place where the danger was present (Yoreh Deah 116:1).

All the same, many of the Acharonim (later authorities) hold that even in our own times we should wash “Mayim Acharonim” because another reason applies, that “dirty hands disqualify one from reciting a blessing… ‘Be holy’ (Vayikra 19:2) – this teaches us about ‘Mayim Acharonim’ (Berachot 53a).

This law applies, obviously, not just regarding the blessing after meals, but regarding someone who eats a piece of fruit at the end of the meal and recites a blessing before it, and his hands are not clean (Orach Chaim 181, Mishnah Berurah #23).

Yet there are people who eat with a fork and knife and do not touch their food. According to what precedes, they should not have to wash “Mayim Acharonim” (Responsa Mor U’Ktzia). Yet the Acharonim still reinforced this ordinance, mentioning that there is also a rationale based on the mystical tradition mentioned in the Zohar (quoted in Orach Chaim 181, Mishnah Berurah #22, in the name of many authorities). In other words, when our Sages enact an ordinance or a decree, they do not always reveal all their reasons. Yet if someone refuses to conduct himself according to the mystical tradition, arguing that laws based on the secrets of the Torah do not bind him, we can argue against him by saying “Lo Pelug” – we do not distinguish between different types of rationales. Or, in modern terms, we “generalize.”

When our Sages enacted a decree, they did not wish to go into infinite detail about when it is binding and when not. Rather, they fixed simple rules in order not to confuse people with complex deliberations about every case. It is true that according to this, an enactment will probably apply even in cases where it is irrelevant, yet that is a negligible burden compared to the need to judge each instance per se. We should not have to make certain in each instance whether or not the ingredients of the salt have changed, or especially, to examine to see if our hands are clean or not, including the question of just how clean our hands have to be. This way, we do not have to sit at the end of every meal pondering our fingers.  Moreover, Rambam explains that the same rule applies regarding Torah law as well. The Torah itself has a general situation in mind, and not exceptions, and we cannot make the Torah fit every individual in accordance with the data applying to him. Otherwise, “the Torah would be given over to measurements” (Shabbat 35b), it would be only relatively and not absolutely binding. We cannot make Mitzvot suit the changes undergone by individuals and the times the way medicine does.

Rather, the Torah’s laws must be absolute and far-reaching. As it says, “There shall be one law for the entire congregation” (Bemidbar 15:15; Guide to the Perplexed 3:34). Rabbi Shem Tov ben Shem Tov in his commentary there states that the same applies regarding the laws of nature. For example, Rain represents an enormous kindness for the human race, but sometimes too much rain can cause damage. G-d’s calculation relates to people in the aggregate and not to the individual, and out of this calculation the individual benefits as well – even if sometimes it hurts him.




What would Rav Soloveitchik say about “Creative Halachah”?


Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l related to “creative Halachah”, “flexible Halachah”, “new Halachah” and “meaningful Halachah”, in his two lectures, “Zeh Sinai”, and “Sichah Le-Parashat Korach”, and it is as though they were just written today.

Here are a few of his comments:

“Our underlying foundation must be humility before the Master-of-the-Universe. A haughty person will never be able to become a great Torah scholar. We must accept G-d’s will, without restraint, and not replace it with our own mundane, very utilitarian logic.”

“Our Sages use the expression ‘accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’. What does the word ‘yoke’ add? “One who accepts the Kingdom of Heaven without its yoke can be doing so for convenience, or because it suits his own wishes. Undertaking the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven can sometimes be very inconvenient and burdensome.”

“In order to join the ranks of the Sages of our tradition, one must avoid trying to explain Torah law via external rationales. One must not judge or assess Torah laws according to a secular yardstick. Such an attempt, whether based on an historical or psychological interpretation, or deriving from a utilitarian approach, undermines the very foundation of Torah and tradition, and ultimately begets the most tragic results.”

“We must not surrender emotionally. We must not feel inferior. We must not develop an inferiority complex. Anyone suffering from such a complex is surrendering to the transient charm of modern, political or ideological slogans. I say that not only must we not compromise – certainly not that – but twe mustn’t even surrender emotionally or feel inferior. It is forbidden for anyone who undertakes the yoke of Heaven to ever think it is important to collaborate to the slightest degree with the modern, secular, philosophical trend.  I believe that Judaism has no need to apologize either before the modern woman or before the modern representatives of religious subjectivism (which argues for a ‘personal truth’).”  We mustn’t try to adapt the eternal halachic norm to the transient values of a neurotic society.”

“Undertaking the yoke of Heaven requires us to attain the traits of respect and love, and to admire the words of the Sages of our tradition, be they from the Mishnah, the Talmud or medieval times. In every case, they are the ultimate authorities. Irresponsible expressions against our Sages verge on heresy.”

“I bear witness to the fact that modern life is very complex. I know your problems…We are facing terrifying social, cultural, political and economic problems; problems within the family, the community; and problems of society in general. We sometimes feel as though we are swimming against the current, and that it is moving swiftly via an external force, in the opposite direction from our own… The vast majority have abandoned us. We face an enormous challenge, but if you think the solution lies in a reformist philosophy, or in an external interpretation of Halachah, you are making a heinous error.”

“Obviously, many problems cannot be solved… If we say to dissident Jews, ‘This is our position,’ they won’t like it. They will say that we are inflexible, that we are cruel. Yet they will admire us.”

“The Torah calls upon the Jew to lead a life of great valor, a life of self-sacrifice.”

“Yet to say that the Torah is inflexible regarding problems, that it does not respond to people’s needs, is absolutely false. Halachah is indeed responsive both to the needs of the community and to those of the individual, but proceeds along its own route…with its own criteria and principles.”

“Believe me, [my grandfather] Rav Chaim Soloveitchik used to do his utmost to be lenient. Yet there are limits even to the leniencies of Rav Chaim. When you reach the limit, all you can say is, ‘I surrender to the supreme will of Eternal G-d.’”

“To talk about Halachah as if it were fossilized, G-d forbid, is ridiculous… We are against changes, but novel thinking is certain the very backbone of Jewish law. Novel thinking is endemic to the system, not external to it.”

“Korach rebelled against the authority of Halachah. He said, ‘All Jews are equal!  Therefore, every Jew has the right to interpret Jewish law.’

“What Korach wanted, and what many Jews want now… is that the Torah’s exegetical tool should be common sense, the empirical knowledge of daily living, man’s normal intellect.”

“The Oral Law cannot be identified with common sense…. It has its own methodology… Anyone who knows what the Oral Law is knows this.  Are you familiar with the Women’s Liberation Movement? With complaints against the Oral Torah, against our Halachah, claiming that it deprives the woman, that the woman is unequal to the man in Jewish law? There are rabbis who are willing to surrender in order to appease several female knights of Women’s Liberation. Basically, anyone who has studied Torah as a child, and knows the Pentateuch well, anyone who has studied the Talmud, knows that this accusation constitutes slander, since the Torah states in Bereshit that G-d created man in G-d’s image, that He created man male and female. Thus, equality is a given.”

“Let me explain the approach of those who advocate ‘common sense Halachah’. It doesn’t matter what they call it. Whether they call it ‘meaningful Halachah’, or ‘creative Halachah’, or ‘the new Halachah’… they are errantly being led by a simplistic philosophical doctrine that includes half-truths and false clichés. They are enlisting…a theory about subjective religiosity.   When I hear people talking about ‘meaningful Halachah’, about “ending halachic stagnation’, about ‘empirical Halachah’, I know what they mean… precisely what Korach and his followers had in mind.”

“Obviously, Moshe won…Korach’s congregation admitted in the end, “Moshe is the truth and his Torah is the truth’.”




Halachic Opportunism


Halachic opportunism is a phrase that contains within it an internal contradiction.

What, after all, is “opportunism”? It means checking out what works, what is pleasing and popular. Halachah, by contrast, is divine, eternal, absolute, firmly entrenched.

Every individual has goals and ideals. Yet what can he do when they are smashed up on the boulder of reality? Opportunism suggests: Very simple, make maximum use of opportunities, while foregoing or changing your initial goals in favor of what is easily attainable. Change your loyalties in accordance with the shifting likelihood of success.

According to this, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, halachic opportunism will say: Reality wins. Halachah has to be adapted to it.

There are therefore sophisticated methods for officially continuing to tow the line. In fact, the heretics in the universities claim that that’s what the Sages of the Mishnah did. For example, those heretics claim, the sages of the Mishnah considered the law of the rebellious son (in which the son must be killed in anticipation of the hideousness of his future acts, Devarim 21:18) to be inhumane, old fashioned, and in need of change, so they invented new conditions: in order for this law to be applicable, for example, the parents of the child must be identical in appearance and height – something which is obviously impossible. By such means, they elegantly neutralized that law. Those same heretics hold that the Sages of the Talmud did the same thing to the laws of the Mishnah, and so forth – G-d have mercy on them.

In just that way, halachic opportunism changes one’s loyalty to the laws of the Torah according to their shifting chances of success. In other words, according to the level of popular support. That’s how it works: changing one’s positions in accordance with one’s relative strength and in accordance with public opinion polls.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the incident involving Rachamim Kalanter (Kalanterism), a member of the religious “Mizrachi Workers’ Party” which, in 5713, sought to depose Jerusalem’s mayor because of his support of establishing a Reform synagogue. Kalanter changed his allegiance and supported the mayor in exchange for an appointment as Vice Mayor in charge of religious affairs. In order to prevent such Kalanterism, a law was passed that a Knesset member must leave the Knesset before being chosen to a new party.

Here is an example of religious opportunism: Many dwellers of Zion do not love conversions that demand undertaking Mitzvah observance. They want to change the definition of conversion to mean, “belonging to the Jewish People”. For them, “Your people are my people” (Ruth 1,16) suffices, without “your G-d is my G-d” (ibid.). This constitutes not just a change in the definition of conversion, but in the definition of the Jewish People.

Another example: It is a fact that many girls enlist in the army against the rulings of the Chief Rabbinate. The simple solution? A new ruling that says that this is all right.

A third example: There is a lot of filth in modern culture, but the public loves it with all its warts. Hence we must rule that all is permissible, perhaps with a few minor changes as a sort of fig leaf. Any interesting film or book is permissible, because, when all is said and done, it’s just “culture”. Even if it’s got a bit of heresy, a bit of forbidden gossip, a bit of pornography…all in all, those things are lost in the permissible majority. No big deal.

As for us, however, the disciples of Moshe, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, we say: “Let G-d decide!” And why is that? Because G-d also determines the divine nature of the soul.

And what exists in Halachah in black letters exists deep within us, in the letters of our soul. Israel and the Torah are one. Indeed, that is a spiritual concept. Whoever does not delve deeply into issues of faith, risks falling prey to halachic opportunism. I am not writing this for the halachic opportunist. He will not understand. He will think he is sanctifying the name of G-d. I am writing this for us, so that we do not get confused.

Maran Ha-Rav Kook quotes the words of the Zohar: “The Devil begins by bringing people together, but ultimately creates divisiveness. Holiness begins divisively but ultimately brings people together” (Orot Ha-Kodesh 2:440-441, and 1:15). Opposites cannot be attached together.

We do not go “whichever way the wind [Ruach] blows”. Rather, we set sail in the direction of “My spirit [Ruach] which shall be set upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth” (Yeshayahu 59:20).




Serving G-d with Joy


Question: When I pray, I feel nothing special. When I fulfill Mitzvot and study Torah, I do not connect to G-d. If this is the reason that I am serving G-d, I am clearly missing out on the essence. How can I improve my situation?

Answer: This is a delicate point. If a person serves G-d in order to get excited, he is probably not serving G-d but serving himself. That is, such worship of G-d is insincere.

Obviously, even worship of G-d that is insincere still counts as worship of G-d. Yet, if you are serving G-d even though you do not feel any connection, then you are worshipping G-d sincerely, and certainly would not want to descend to the level of insincere worship.

We can rest assured that at the end of the path we will feel an enormous, wonderful feeling, yet that is not the reason that we are serving G-d. There is a difference between knowledge and will. We know that this is the way things will be, yet that does not serve as a motive.

The book Mesilat Yesharim opens by saying that the foundation of saintliness is to derive pleasure from G-d (Chapter 1). Yet this should not be understood to mean that we should have selfish longing for that pleasure (see Orot Ha-Kodesh, 3:167).

The Master of the Universe created man with the goal that he should achieve pleasure in the service of G-d, yet our goal in serving G-d must not be that pleasure, but rather, to do G-d’s will. Or, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook worded it: “To shower contentment upon our Creator” (Mussar Avicha 2:4). Achieving perfection in our worship of G-d means worshipping Him “to fulfill G-d’s needs” — exclusively to fulfill G-d’s will and not to receive any reward, even the reward of excitement.

Imagine a person who has saved a whole city, for which he received a reward of a thousand silver pieces. He must rejoice over his having saved a city and not over the reward that he received (Ibid.).

Our supreme goal must be the performance of G-d’s will, and not just to get excited about it. A person does not always get excited. Maran Ha-Rav Kook quotes the book Chovot Ha-Levavot as saying that if someone wishes to change his own nature for the better and to carry out a revolution inside himself, he must be ready to taste “bitter medicine” (Sha’ar Avodat Elokim, Chapter 5). Obviously, the medicine will just as likely be sweet, yet in advance we must be ready if occasionally it turns out to be bitter (Mussar Avicha, 2:1)

We do not always get excited. Ha-Rav Ra’anan, the son-in-law of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, complained that he did not feel progress in his Torah study. Rav Kook responded that during learning, he too did not feel anything special.




In the End, the Two Worlds (Charedim and National Religious) Will Be One


Question: What is the difference in worldview between the Charedim and the National Religious that results in their differing halachic rulings regarding the Mitzvot of settling the Land, having a country, an Army, etc.?

Answer: the Torah forbids us to eat from the new grain before the waving of the Omer on Pesach (Vayikra 23:15). As the Talmud states in Kiddushin 38b: “Chadash [new grain from the new crop] is prohibited by the Torah.”  The Chatam Sofer used this dictum as a metaphor to express his opposition to changes and to modernism within traditional Judaism (Shut Chatam Sofer 1:28,148, 181, etc.).  Amongst the Charedim, “Chadash is prohibited by the Torah” has become the defining principle of their approach.

For example, what was “innovative” about Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was that he never innovated anything: not in approaches to Torah learning and not in his halachic rulings. He had absolute loyalty to tradition. He received the word of Hashem, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” (Avot 1:1), and he passed it on to the next generation in the same format, “handing it down to Yeshoshua” (ibid.), and so forth.

Due to present and former attacks against traditional Judaism from all directions, the Charedi world is by nature conservative, in order to avoid gradual spiritual erosion, as it says “Strip her to her very foundations!” (Tehillim 137:7). That is why they opposed collaborating with the Zionists regarding the establishment of the State and army service. “Chadash is prohibited by the Torah.”

The Yeshiva World focuses on one thing: Torah learning. Following the terrible destruction of European Torah world, today’s Charedim are making a monumental effort to build the world of Torah anew. To whatever extent they do collaborate with the State, it is for the purpose of advancing that goal.

Thanks to this outlook, the Charedi Torah world is flourishing more successfully than it has throughout the Exile.

Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook likewise explains that we relate with suspicion to anything new.  To make what is new permissible, the way the Pesach Omer makes new grain permissible outside the Temple, and the way the Shavuot wheat offering makes it permissible in the Temple we need content. The content that makes the new permissible is the old, the light “in which G-d enveloped Himself, causing His majestic luster to shine from one end of the world to the other” (Bereshit Rabbah 3:4). This ancient light, stored away in the soul of Israel, will cause a new light to shine for us, a light that will illuminate Zion (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 182). In other words, there are some things that were forgotten over the course of the Exile, and “having once been forgotten, they are now being institutionalized once more” (Shabbat 104a and elsewhere). When we are forced to innovate, we do so using old content, as Rashi says, quoting our Sages on Devarim 11:13: “If you heed the old teachings, you will likewise heed the new teachings.” In order for the new to be viable, it must be attached to the old, and this is accomplished through in depth study (see Ikvei Ha-Tzon, p. 107).

An example: Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren, who established the laws of the army, delved into the old teachings in order to create a Jewish army in keeping with Torah laws that had been temporarily eclipsed. Those foundations were hidden away, and Rav Goren reestablished them. Rav Kook likewise said, “The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah Vol. 1, p. 214).

At the Giving of the Torah, the Jews said, “Everything G-d has spoken we shall do and obey” (Shemot 24:7), i.e. through Torah learning we will also rebuild the Land of Israel, the Jewish State and the Jewish army. The old renders the new permissible.

Thanks to this outlook, the National Religious Torah world is burgeoning, returning to its roots from before the Exile.

The controversy is about the means, not the goal. There is no essential difference between the Charedim and the National Religious regarding the goal. Everyone wants the entire Jewish People to settle in Eretz Yisrael. Everyone wants there to be a Jewish State and a Jewish army. Everyone wants that State to be holy, and everyone wants the nation that dwells in Zion to be holy. There is no argument over these points. The difference is only over the pathway there, the means to achieving the ends. Should we first move to Israel or should we first repent in the Diaspora and only then move to Israel? Should we collaborate with the Jewish State or not? Should we presently serve in the army, or not?

The argument is an internal argument, within the family, like the arguments between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon and between Rashi and Tosafot. There is an argument between us and them, but we share the same goal. The Charedim bring proofs from the Torah to back up their approach and we argue that those proofs are incorrect, and vice versa. The two worlds are headed in the same direction: that of the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law. There are not two codes of Jewish law, one for the Charedim and one for the National Religious. Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook put it this way: “This argument is within the camp. The spiritual camp consists of the G-d fearing. ‘I am a companion to all who fear You’ (Tehillim 119:63).”

It should be noted that the Charedi halachic authorities are by now likewise engaged in dealing with the laws affecting settling the Land, building a state and an army, for they, too, consciously or not, are part of the Nation’s rebirth in its Land.

With G-d’s help, the two worlds will ultimately become one.



The Ends Do Not Justify the Means


Question: Must the Mitzvot of the Torah be fulfilled at any price? Even at the cost of committing sins along the way?

Answer: The Master of the Universe does not desire that we perform Mitzvot if to do so we must commit wrongful deeds. If it is impossible for us to perform a Mitzvah without first performing a sin, G-d foregoes that Mitzvah.

Fortunate is he who performs the Mitzvah of Lulav, but not with a stolen Lulav. “For I am Hashem who loves justice and hates burnt offerings involving theft” (Yeshayahu 61:8). Our Sages comment, “Even for the sake of bringing G-d a burnt offering one must not steal” (Sukkah

30). The Talmud there adds: “A mortal king was once passing by the tax offices. He said to his servants, ‘Give this money to the tax collectors,’ and they replied, ‘Surely all the tax money is yours.’ The king then said, ‘From me all passersby will learn not to evade taxes.’ G-d likewise said, ‘I am Hashem who hates burnt offerings involving theft.’ My children will learn from Me and they will make themselves flee from theft.”

Even for a Mitzvah performed for the Supreme King of Kings one must not steal — neither in order to construct Shuls and study houses, nor to support Yeshivot and Jewish day schools. If we maintain such standards, then everyone will learn to view as obvious the fact that one must not steal for any other reason.

The Jerusalem Talmud contains a still sharper parable: “A person brought a gift to the king, yet it became clear to the king that the gift was an object that had been stolen from the king himself. Woe to the one whose defender became his accuser!” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah, Ch. 3). Not only is a good deed that is achieved through a sin not a good deed, but it is itself transformed into a sin.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato stresses that when an employee does Mitzvot on his work time, that is likewise considered theft and it is not acceptable before G-d: “Even if someone performed a Mitzvah during his work time, it will not be attributed to him as a righteous act, but as a sin, for no sin can be a Mitzvah. Scripture states, ‘I am Hashem who hates burnt offerings involving theft.’ In the same regard our Sages said: If someone stole a bushel of wheat, ground it up and baked bread, and he recited a blessing over it, he is not blessing G-d but cursing Him, as it says, ‘When the greedy wretch blesses G-d, he curses Him’ (Tehilim 10:3.  Baba Kamma 94).

Of such instances it is said, ‘Woe to this person whose defender has become his accuser.’ Moreover, we have our Sages’ ruling regarding use of a stolen Lulav.  What I said about doing Mitzvot on work time makes sense. After all, if stealing an object is considered theft, then stealing time is as well. Just as when one steals an object and performs a Mitzvah, his defender becomes his accuser, so too, when one steals time and uses it to perform a Mitzvah, his defender becomes his accuser. G-d desires nothing more than trustworthiness” (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 11).

Whenever we are about to eat bread, or pray, we must wash our hands ritually. In the same way, before any act of holiness we must make certain that our hands are clean. Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes: “A person must always make sure that his goals are pure and holy, and that his means of achieving those goals are pure and holy as well” (Olat Re’eiyah 2, 257).

He further writes: “There are good and holy entities in the world whose foundations of support are unseemly. For example, weakness, falsehood and wickedness can sometimes lend support to such fine principles as shyness, modesty and faith. Yet, just as favors performed by the wicked for the righteous only harm the righteous (Yevamot 103), so too, goodness bolstered by evil and impurity is actually profaned greatly by them.

The light of Redemption cannot be actualized until all the evil foundations are destroyed, even those that support goodness and holiness.

And even though, as a result, goodness, holiness and faith suffer, and they decline and seem to become impoverished, this descent and impoverishment really represent ascent and revitalization. This is because after these evil foundations decay, light and luster and holiness will immediately begin to spring forth upon healthy foundations of knowledge, wisdom, courage, splendor, eternity and majesty.

It is by such means that an everlasting kingdom illuminated by G-d’s goodness and light will be established in the End of Days. This will be the fulfillment of G-d’s faithful and everlasting covenant with David — never to be annulled: ‘For He said: Surely they are My people, children who will not lie. So He was their deliverer. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old’” (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah, 52).




Torah or the Law of the Land


Question: Which takes precedence – the Torah or the law? Which is more important? Surely there’s no question! Doesn’t the Torah override all else? Isn’t G-d’s word the root and source of all?

Answer: Certainly G-d’s word overrides all else. Yet G-d’s word tells you: Respect the law! The laws of the King of England, the laws of the America. The kingdom’s law is the law. If you don’t like the laws of a country, you’re free to leave.

This applies all the more so to the laws of Israel, the laws of the Israeli Government, the laws of the Israeli Parliament. Obviously I’m not going to tell you that if you don’t like the laws here you can leave, but I am going to tell you that even if you don’t like the laws, you should stay, because this is your country. But keep the law! Even if the king is no saint, but wicked like Ahab, his laws are still binding (Tosafot, Sanhedrin 20a).

Such is the will of the Supreme King of Kings that the laws of the kingdom should take precedence (Derashot Ha-Ran 11). See the long responsum of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook that the agreed-upon ruler of the nation is to be classified as a king

(Mishpat Cohain 337-338). Yet the truth is that even without the rulings of our medieval and more recent sages, we would know this. For what alternative is there if there is no law and no rule? Chaos. Civil War. The Jungle. The Wild West. Might makes right. Therefore, “one should pray for the welfare of the kingdom. If people did not revere it, they would swallow one another alive” (Avot, chapter 3).

Yet we say that law and order have not only utilitarian worth, but spiritual, halachic, divine worth as well. See also Ein Aya (Berachot 89), regarding the four types of people [who have undergone life-threatening experiences and] who must thank G-d. One of them is the person who has returned from the desert, a place where there is no governmental law and order. That person suddenly understands the value of such law and order, and joyfully undertakes the restrictions of the law.

So please! Respect the law and honor the law’s representatives joyfully.

The story is told of a student of the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva who was arrested by a policeman due to a legal infraction while driving. Just at that moment, our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, the head of the yeshiva, passed by. The student turned to his Rosh Yeshiva and asked him to talk to the policeman on his behalf. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda told the policeman, “Give him a ticket!”

You might ask: Is every law really the law?! Even laws that go against the Torah?! Is a law the law even if Hitler made it?!

I was waiting for that demagogic question. Certainly there are exceptions. Every person with a head on his shoulders understands that. Even the Halachah itself nhas exceptions, and even a great Torah scholar must drive his wife to the hospital on Shabbat so she can give birth. Yet we don’t let exceptional cases ruin all the conventional ones.

It’s true that Hitler made laws, yet that doesn’t render the very concept of laws to be invalid. The Nuremberg Laws are invalid. Yet in principle, law is not invalid. Your implied claim is called Reductio Ad Hitlerum, a false syllogism in which one invalidates something because Hitler ascribed to it.

Please stop placing the Torah above the law! In this game, which occupies the two extremes, with one side placing the Torah on a pedestal and the other side placing the law on a pedestal, there is an unholy alliance in which the unity of the nation is torn to smithereens.

When we say that the Torah is above the law, we don’t mean that the Torah is a dictator who smashes and tramples his subjects. Rather, the Torah should be providing a soul to the law, morality to the law, lending weight to the law and rendering it more savory. And obviously, the Torah should also facilitate critical review of the law, while exalting and refining it.

Yes, the law is the law, and not because the law stands above the Torah, but because the Torah teaches us that we must keep the law. That is a Halachah, and obviously, we can be strict in this as well…



The Influence of One who “Only” Learns Torah


Question: Does a person who learns Torah but does not teach, answer questions, serve as a Rabbi, etc. have influence on a community?

Answer: Certainly.  The Gemara at the end of Ketubot (104a) relates that Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi was suffering terribly.  His maidservant saw and prayed that he should die but the Sages prayed that he should not die. In the book “Midbar Shur,” in his eulogy for Ha-Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector (pp. 332-336), Maran Ha-Rav Kook asks: Why did the Sages pray that he should not die?  Their view is difficult to understand.  After all, Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi was bed-ridden, suffering, could not teach or give halachic rulings, and was seemingly of no benefit to this world.  If he would ascend on High, he would continue to teach Torah there.  So why didn’t they pray for him to die?  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that the influence of a great Torah scholar is not only through his teaching, halachic rulings, etc., but also in the presence of his holy soul in this world.  The fact that his soul is located in this world brings blessing, even when he is unable to provide practical benefit, is closed in a room and cannot converse with others.  This is similar to the Vilna Gaon, who for many years was closed in a room learning Torah.   The world without Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi is not the same as a world with Rebbe Yehudah Ha-Nasi.

And when Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught us this idea, he would say that Maran Ha-Rav Kook also suffered greatly, and he told him: Each and every moment that Abba is in this world, despite the suffering, he brings it light. And Rabbenu would relate this with tears in his eyes.

This insight also answers a difficulty in Rashi.  At the beginning of Parashat Vayetze, the Torah says: “And Yaakov left Beer Sheva and went to Charan” (Bereshit 28:10).  Rashi makes the comment that when a Tzadik leaves a city it makes an impression.  The commentators ask: Why does Rashi comment on Yaakov leaving the city?   What about when Avraham left to go to Egypt?   What about when Yitzchak went to Gerar?   They were certainly Tzadikim!  Why doesn’t Rashi point out that their departure made an impression?  The answer is that it is obvious that Avraham’s departure made an impression.  He was a man of Chesed and welcomed everyone in!   His tent had openings on all sides.   And when Yitzchak left, it certainly made an impression.  He was well-known and planted all over Eretz Yisrael.  But Yaakov, at this point in his life, was always learning Torah in the Beit Midrash, “A simple man who learned in tents” (Bereshit 25:27).   He was closed off from everyone.  We might think that if someone who “just” learns Torah and doesn’t interact with others leaves a city, it won’t make an impression.  Rashi therefore mentions this idea in connection to Yaakov, as opposed to Avraham and Yitzchak, to teach us that the opposite is true: Someone who learns Torah has an incredible influence on his place even if he is simply learning Torah on his own.



I’m Charedi Too


I’m Charedi too. Certainly I am. After all, what is a Charedi? A person who trembles [chared] at the word of G-d, who strives to keep the Mitzvot, to learn Torah, to improve his character, to avoid evil and to do good. Surely we were all commanded about these things, and we are all called upon to fulfill them. That’s what is on the mind of every Charedi: to be G-d-fearing. Indeed, this is the ideal of us all, that we “desire to fear Your name” (Nechemiah 1:11). I didn’t say that I am already G-d-fearing, but I am amongst those “who DESIRE to fear G-d’s name”.

Obviously, there are a lot of types of Jews who fear G-d, or want to fear Him, or are trying sincerely to fear His name. Yet the common denominator of them all is: fear of G-d. And that common point is infinitely greater than all the elements that divide us. Indeed, it is very essential that all the various types of G-d-fearing people should recognize and feel that commonality. This will lead them all to cooperate. As it says in Pirkei Avot 6:6: “Bearing the yoke with one’s fellow Jew” is one of the forty-eight ways by which the Torah is acquired. One may not agree with one’s fellow Jew. One may even have some criticism for him. Yet we should still cooperate with him for the majestic common goal of undertaking the yoke of heaven.

One time a new student arrived at the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva. Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, turned to him affectionately and said to him something along the following lines: “From now on you are a Charedi. From now on, you won’t be busy with hiking and going out to have fun at night, with work and hobbies. Henceforth you’ll be busy with Torah and Mitzvot. Henceforth you’re a Charedi!

What a wonderful world! This is a wonderful world that has sustained the Jewish People for thousands of years, and will continue to sustain them. This is a world that was built by the Men of the Great Assembly, who generated masses of Jews “who are set apart from the impurity of the nations of the lands” (Ezra 6; Nechemiah 10; Sefer Orot, page 110). And you can see the marvelous continuation to this very day of that same G-d-fearing, Charedi Jew. So much Torah! So much Mitzvot! So much sterling character! So much familial contentment! So little divorce – and thank G-d for that.

Don’t expect to find anything else amongst those marvelous people. That isn’t their expertise. It’s not their mission. Don’t expect to find in them the rebirth of our nation in its land, in the Jewish State, and in the army. That isn’t their job. Each Jew has his own mission and task. Just as you won’t go looking for breakfast rolls in a hardware store. Among them, what you’ll look for is love and Torah and Mitzvot, and that you will find.

Our master Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook warned in his famous Letter 378, published before the appearance of Orot Ha-Teshuva: “One must be careful to ensure that all the ideals of fortitude and valor, joy and rebirth, which claim so much relevance at present, not weaken our fear of G-d to the slightest degree. Quite the contrary, we need to have even more fear of G-d.”

Living together as a nation is infinitely more complicated than living as individuals. Thus, we have to have even more fear of G-d. G-d forbid that we should dispense with any of the fear of G-d of the Charedim. Quite the contrary, we ourselves have to be Charedim. We have to be more Charedi than the Charedim. We must build an additional level of marvelous piety. We need the piety of building the land, of the return to Zion, of the establishment of the State, and of Israel’s wars. Obviously, ours is not some new kind of piety, but an old type that was forgotten because of the Exile, and now it has to be reawakened, in accordance with Megillah 3a which refers to principles that were “forgotten and then reinstated”.

Yet all this is in accordance with that same fine, blessed piety that has existed for two thousand years. What, after all, is piety? It is the first levels of the book Mesillat Yesharim – avoiding all sin, alacrity to fulfill all Mitzvot, being clean of the slightest hint of wrong-doing. All these are traits relevant to everyone. And the same applies to the higher levels: “purity” – acting with sincere intent; “separation” and “saintliness”, as we ascend further and further in holiness.

Fortunate is the person who trembles at G-d’s word. Fortunate is the person who fears G-d and walks in His pathways.



Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was Right!


Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, was right! As is well-known, he did not force a set curriculum on the students of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Obviously, there were set times intended for set topics, but he did not force anybody, but exercised patience. There was one exception: every day, between 12:45 and 1:15, there was study of Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan’s works, “Chafetz Chaim” and “Shemirat HaLashon” [dealing with avoiding “Lashon Ha-Ra”, unsavory speech]. On this, he would not concede. When this holy duty was not fulfilled, our master responded forcefully: he canceled all his lectures! Sometimes, he would sit at home, fasting and weeping over this, until the situation was rectified.

Certainly, he was right. We see with our own eyes that even God-fearing people who scrupulously fulfill even the lightest commandments, treat this area with abandon. And, it’s not a new phenomenon. Already, in the Talmud, the rabbis wrote: “Everyone daily verges on forbidden speech” (Baba Batra 165a). Ramchal [Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto] explained that people make excuses for themselves, deceive themselves and convince themselves that it is permissible, by all sorts of logical devices (Mesillat Yesharim chapter 11). The Chafetz Chaim opened a tiny crack regarding when it is occasionally permissible, as an exception, to use forbidden speech. Rav Tzvi Yehuda remarked that he was very sorry about that, because people came along and enlarged the crack and introduced into it a mountain of slander and wickedness. Likewise, enthusiastic gossips came along and permitted themselves to speak Lashon Ha-Ra regarding public matters, as though there were a blanket allowance in that regard. Quite the contrary, that is worse, as the Vilna Gaon states in his “Emuna Ve’Hashgacha”. Likewise, the Netziv teaches in his introduction to his “Ha’amek Davar” that this is what led to the destruction of the Second Temple, in other words, the phenomenon of people shedding one another’s blood by various libels. Yet elsewhere he writes that the destruction began with verbal bloodshed and ended up with actual bloodshed (Shut Meshiv Davar 1:45).

Indeed, our Sages long ago said that Lashon Ha-Ra is as weighty as bloodshed, idolatry and sexual sin combined (Arachin 15b). They further said that he who speaks Lashon Ha-Ra is as bad as “one who denies the essence”, i.e., an atheist (ibid.).

Even the Gentile nations, who don’t necessarily pursue purity and holiness, understood that Lashon Ha-Ra means the destruction of society. In ancient Rome, the slanderer was punished with exile and backbreaking labor. Likewise, in our day, Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden by international law. In Switzerland, one can be sentenced to three years in prison for it. In our country as well, there is a law prohibiting Lashon Ha-Ra: “Any statement whose publication is liable to humiliate a person in the public eye or to render him an object of hatred, scorn or ridicule, due to the deeds, behavior or traits attributed to him.” One can be sentenced to a year in prison over this. The law forbids Lashon Ha-Ra even against public figures. Quite the contrary, slandering such a person has a further stricture associated with it, since the man’s good name and public image constitute an asset that is very precious to him. In effect it is his life.

And if public figures will be exposed to the libel of every leper and ne’er-do-well, people of quality will be deterred from undertaking public posts, for what do they need such suffering for? Indeed, if someone speaks Lashon Ha-Ra, he is the equivalent of a leper, and as is well-known, G-d punishes gossips with leprosy. G-d asks, “Is that how you spend your time? Spreading scandals and public accusations? Rejoicing over the downfall of others?” King Shlomo said, “He that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished” (Mishlei 17:5). Even the philosopher Schopenhauer said, “To rejoice over the calamity of others is satanic.” Why rake others over the coals? Rake yourself over the coals!

Bear in mind that Cham was severely punished for publicizing Noach’s drunkenness, but Noach, himself, was not punished. The story is worse than the sin itself.

Have you no better way to be interesting than to peddle gossip, like the peddler of unsavory wares?

“Do not go around as a gossiper among your people” (Vayikra 19:16) is followed by “Do not stand idly by when your brother’s life is in danger” (ibid.), and the one does lead to the other. It starts with speech and ends with bloodshed. You are scrupulous about so many things but not about Lashon Ha-Ra. You think guarding the tongue is just a stringency. Yet the Chafetz Chaim, in the preface to his work by that name, lists seventeen negative Torah precepts and fourteen positive precepts that one is liable to violate, i.e., thirty-one Torah violations. At the very least, one violates eight Torah prohibitions each time one speaks Lashon Ha-Ra. Besides that, one falls foul of eight Biblical curses, for example, “Cursed is he who strikes down his neighbor in secret” (Devarim 27:22).

Maybe you are doing all this, so to speak, “for the sake of the Jewish People”, but the Chafetz Chaim wrote in his preface that, quite the contrary, the Lashon-Ha-Ra speaker arouses the Great Prosecutor [Satan] against the Jewish People, and he contaminates the power of speech – not just his own, but that of all Israel. Therefore, that saintly and brilliant rabbi was sent as a special divine emissary, urged on by a spirit from On High, to purify the power of speech of the Jewish People. If you are still speaking Lashon Ha-Ra, you need urgent treatment. So, until you finish learning these books, quickly read Chapter 30 of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, or at least Rambam’s Hilchot De’ot, Chapter 7. In the meantime, there is even a rule of thumb: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.”

Make no mistake. Guarding the tongue is not just some minor stricture. It is a severe, outright law, as the work “Chafetz Chaim” demonstrates. When Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan saw the wholesale use of Lashon Ha-Ra by our nation, he wrote two books about this. Whoever reads “Chafetz Chaim” will know the laws regarding Lashon Ha-Ra, and whoever reads “Shemirat HaLashon” will be so disgusted that he will no longer be able to speak Lashon Ha-Ra.

Be careful! Even one word of Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden, and even speech verging on Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden as well. For example, “It’s better that we not talk about So-and-So.” Even hinting at Lashon Ha-Ra is forbidden, and even wrinkling one’s nose [Hebrew “af”] in reference to a person, as in our sages’ exposition on the verse, “Through their anger [Hebrew “af”], they have killed a man” (Bereshit 49:6). Some people are exceedingly careful not to eat a single insect, a single worm, hence they check their beans and grains over and over, and they are right. Yet they are not deterred from eating a man alive with their poisonous tongues. In this regard King David said, “I am a worm, not a man” (Tehillim 22:7). Don’t eat me!

Also, don’t think bad about your fellow man. If you don’t harbor such thoughts, you won’t talk about him. This is not a stringency but a straightforward Torah obligation to “judge your people fairly” (Vayikra 19:15). Likewise, the Prophet Zechariah said, “Let none of you devise evil in your hearts against your neighbor” (Zechariah 8:17).

Consider how much suffering the righteous Yosef caused by gossiping about his brothers. Yet afterwards he repented, and he did not tell his father a single thing about their selling him. Binyamin as well remained silent and did not tell his father Yaakov. Our sages therefore note that his stone in the Temple breastplate is the jasper [Hebrew “yashpheh”, composed of the same letters as the words “yesh po”, “There is here”]. In other words, there was what to talk about here, but Binyamin remained silent. King David, as well, despite the public “lynching” to which he was subjected by Saul’s dynasty and by others, refrained from saying one evil word against Shaul or from speaking about how an unsavory spirit had befallen Shaul.

Be very careful! Flee all the excuses! Remember each day what G-d did to Miriam, that despite her holiness and purity and greatness and prophecy she was punished for Lashon Ha-Ra (Bamidbar 12). Don’t hurt people. “Don’t abuse one another. Fear your G-d, for I am the L-rd your G-d” (Vayikra 25:17). Don’t do it by way of speech, let alone by the medium of the Internet. Don’t disqualify people, for whoever disqualifies others is revealing something about himself. Our Sages, “Whoever speaks Lashon Ha-Ra deserves to be thrown to the dogs” (Makot 23a).

Instead, speak gently. Speak lovingly. Speak moderately. Speak admiringly. As our sages said at the end of Yoma 4, for one who learns Torah that is the greatest sanctification of G-d’s Name possible.




How to Daven without Bothering Others


If you are the one leading the davening

Do not daven slower or faster than what is acceptable.  Do not place “a burden on the congregation.”  If you daven too slowly you will cause others who have to go to work to leave before the end of the davening, and you will delay the next minyan from starting on time.  If the someone davens too quickly, do not admonish him in the middle of the davening and embarrass him.  Talk to him as a friend after davening.  If speaking to him gently does not work, do not ask him to lead the davening.


Shul is not an opera house

Use the accepted tunes of the community.  Do not use tunes with which the community is not comfortable.  This causes discomfort to the community  in addition to the halachic question involved in acting this way.  If the person leading the davening acts differently from the accepted practice, please do not embarrass him, as we said above.  If you ask your guest to lead the davening, advise him of what is expected of him in order to prevent any unpleasantness.


Shul is not a day care center

Do not bring young children who cannot remain quiet.  It is permissible to bring a quiet child.  If he begins to make noise please take him out immediately, even in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei, and especially in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei.


Shul is not a club house

Please take an urgent conversation outside, and “Hashem, the Beneficent One, will forgive.”  If you talk inside and disturb others who are davening, however, it is not certain that they will forgive you.  If the conversation cannot be delayed and it is impossible to take it outside, please whisper and “Hashem, the Beneficent One, will forgive.”


Shul is not a carpenter’s workshop

Close chairs and folding shtenders quietly without banging them.


Shul is not a place to create work for others

Please return siddurim to their places.  The Gaba’im are not your slaves,

Shul is not a welfare office

Pay your dues and donations, and do not perform Mitzvot with money that does not belong to you.


Shul is not a Chasidic Rebbe’s court

Do not make a long “Mi She-beirach” to which no one listens.  A blessing will come to someone who is strict to forgo a “Mi She-beirach.”  Donate money when you receive an aliyah, and I promise you that the Master of the Universe will bless you even without the Gabbai’s announcement.


Shul is not a “Shteibel” If you are late, repent. Do not organize a private repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei which prevents others from leaving and places a “burden on the community.”


Shul is not an election rally

Do not shout out “Yasher Koach” to people who receive an aliyah or led the davening.  They will be happier to receive a personal “Yasher Koach” with a smile.


Shul is not Hyde Park in London

Try, as much as possible, to hang announcements on the bulletin board.


The Netilat Yadayim room is not a club house for Cohanim and Levi’im

Conversation and the usual “jokes” are usually at the expense of the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and others people’s ability to concentrate.


The Silent Shemoneh Esrei is exactly that: Silent.  Our Sages said that one should not daven the Shemoneh Esrei out loud in the presence of others, since a person is not permitted to increase his own concentration at the expense of another person’s concentration.  Do not clap your hand in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei “to expel external distractions.”  Ask Mekubalim (mytics) how to attain this result without making noise.


If you see a new face in shul

Smile at him, extend a handshake and greet him.  The usual crowd in shul should also be viewed as a new face.


If you have an obligation to lead the davening, forgo it

The merit of forgoing it will benefit the ascension of the soul of the deceased even more than the merit of prayer.


If you are looking for challenges in Mitzvot between one person and another – come to shul.

If you are looking for challenges in Mitzvot between a person and Hashem, fulfill these Mitzvot between one person and another.  They are also the will of Hashem.




Tzedakah will Save you From Death


“Be very careful that you not have an irresponsible idea and say to yourself, ‘The seventh year is approaching, and it will be the remission year.’  You may then look unkindly at your impoverished brother, and not give him anything.  If he then complains to G-d about you, you will have a sin.  Therefore, make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it” (Devarim 15:9-10).

One might ask, “Why should I forfeit my money on Rosh Hashanah night?  It’s my money, isn’t it?”  The truth is that it is not really yours.  “Mine is the silver, and Mine the gold – the word of Hashem of Hosts” (Chagai 2:8).

All the great Mussar [morality] giants have said: Man is only the treasurer.  How fortunate you are to have merited this exalted post.  Yet you certainly would never consider betraying your task and taking all the money for yourself!  Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook was asked by Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrachi, the Religious Zionist Labor organization, according to the Torah, what is the proper economic system, and he replied: Without deciding on this question, certainly a system based entirely on private ownership is impossible and unprofitable if one is to fulfill the entire Torah lawfully.  After all, the Torah commands us to take care of our poor brethren and to give them “everything they are lacking” (Devarim 15:8; see Rambam, Hilchot Matanot La-Evyonim 7:3).

And how much is he lacking?  How do we define it?  It means his vital needs, in accordance with the time and the place.  The Torah does not demand of us a socialist system of equal division of all profits, but rather profit-based capitalism with taking care of the needy.

A fine and important project has been initiated by Machon Ha-Torah Ve-Ha’aretz, Nedivei Aretz and the Chessed Organization “Pa’amonim”.  The idea is to give a loan (up to 26 Elul) and not to demand its return by way of Pruzbul.  Thus, the money will go to tzedakah, and one will be fulfilling two Mitzvot at once – the Sabbatical remission of loans, and giving tzedakah.  Pa’amonim is a reliable organization – which cannot be said about every single charity organization.  With some of them, their staff salaries and expenses top eighty percent of the money people give them.  Some rabbis demand that this sum not top 49%.  By the way, according to Israeli law, non-profit charitable organizations are not allowed to have the figure top 20%.  It is therefore fitting that the sum should not surpass 10%.  All of this is without talking about people claiming falsely to be poor.  According to rabbis’ estimates, 90% of beggars are charlatans.  According to police estimates, a beggar at the Western Wall collects about 7,000 shekels per day, and some of them show up for “work” in luxury cars.  The police are well acquainted with them all.  Yet in the matter at hand, thank G-d, I am talking about honest, reliable organizations.

Still, one might ask, “How will I be able to afford to forego the money owed me?  I, myself, am not wealthy, and I have no money reserves!”  The answer is simple: Decrease your luxuries.  Your life comes before the life of your fellow man, but YOUR LUXURIES DO NOT COME BEFORE THE LIFE OF YOUR FELLOW MAN.  Such is the ruling of the Ba’al Ha-Tanya (Igeret Kodesh 16 at the end of the Tanya); the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (Yoreh Deah 251:5); the Chafetz Chaim (at the end of his “Ahavat Chessed”) and Rav Kook, who wrote, “Be careful regarding tzedakah! One must realize that according to our holy Torah, the poor man’s life precedes all your own luxuries” (Shut Orach Mishpat 188:54).

This has a source in the Talmud: If there is a spring in my city, my drinking from it takes precedence of people from other cities drinking from it.  Yet using the water for my laundry does not supersede my fellow man’s having drinking water (Nedarim 80b. Others hold that laundry is essential due to avoiding disease).  It doesn’t bother us that there are rich people.  It doesn’t bother us that some people live lives of luxury.  No one has to cut himself off from luxury.  To do so is to fulfill the trait of “perishut”, abstinence, which is not for everyone (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 13).  Yet the existence of people who lack vital necessities is scandalous.  Day and night people look for all sorts of Segulot, spiritual remedies.  Every day all sorts of new ones are invented, and people even spend a fortune on them, forgetting the main point, what the Torah commanded, a segulah greater than any other.

The story is told of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter, who was told that she would die on the day of her wedding.  She still got married, and she did not die.  The next morning, however, she pulled a pin out of a hole in the wall that she had stuck into the wall the night before, drawing out a dead, poisonous snake that had been stabbed in its eye by the pin and had died.  Her father asked her, “What Mitzvah did you do [that saved your life]?” and she answered, “At the wedding, a poor man was standing at the door and no one noticed him, so I got up and gave him my plate of food.”  Rabbi Akiva responded, “You performed a Mitzvah!” and he expounded, “Tzedakah shall save from death” (Mishlei 10:2; Shabbat 156b).




Placing Techelet in One’s Tzitzit


Question: Should one include the modern sky-blue “Techelet” strings, created with dye from the murex snail, in one’s Tzitzit?

Answer: For more than a thousand years we have not had Techelet, so it is clear that such a halachic innovation must be effected by the great Torah luminaries of the generation. Yet we see with our own eyes that almost all the great Rabbis of our generation do not place Techelet in their Tzitzit. Thus the Halachah has been decided, and if someone conducts himself publicly counter to their practice, that constitutes arrogance, in other words, religious arrogance as though he is smarter and more righteous than they. Thus, I shall not clarify whether to add Techelet or not, but rather why the great Torah luminaries reject it.

From their lengthy deliberations, one can discern three main avenues of rejection:

  1. The precedent of a thousand years. 2. Unwillingness to rely on proofs to re-institute a tradition. 3.  The weakness of the proofs that have been offered.
  2. When the Radziner Rebbe first identified a particular animal, the cuttlefish, as the source of Techelet, he quoted the halachic response of the Ha-Gaon Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk, the “Beit Ha-Levi”, who had written that if the murex snail had been known, and the means of production of its dye had been known the entire time that the Jewish People had ceased to use Techelet, yet they still had not added it to their Tzitzit, then it is as though this constitutes a tradition that this was not the same snail that our sages spoke about.

And even if we bring as many proofs as the sands of the sea, it will not help against the practical conduct of the Jewish People.

Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira quoted the Beit Ha-Levi in a letter of his that was

included in Rav Harari’s “Laws of the Seder Night” (Letter #1), and he added there that the very fact that the murex snail was known but was not used to make Techelet proves that it is not the Techelet of the Torah. It could not possibly be that the proper snail existed and Jews would fail to do all they could to search for it and investigate it so as not to nullify the Mitzvah of Techelet from the Torah. Only if practically speaking no Techelet dye existed would there be cause to clarify and to look for the right one. He concluded by saying that his basis was our Sages’ words, “Israel, if they are not prophets, still descended from prophets, and it cannot be that the holiness of the Torah would fail to enlighten them to keep the Mitzvah as commanded.

Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv likewise quoted the Beit Ha-Levi regarding the contemporary use of the murex snail, and he further noted that the Radziner Rebbe’s identification did not achieve acceptance, nor did that of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yitzchak Isaac Ha-Levi Herzog. How then do we know, he concluded, that the present identification will not be rejected, as were its predecessors? (Kovetz Teshuvot 2:1).

  1. Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik quoted the words of his great-grandfather, the Beit Ha-Levi, in a slightly different manner:

“Since the tradition about identifying Techelet ended, since for many generations we have not know what the ‘Chilazon’ [snail] of our sages refers to, then even if we succeeded in restoring this information through technical, scientific proofs and clear phenomena, that information still could not enter our tradition, and it is impossible for us to pass legal rulings based on this information without a halachic tradition.” (Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 52-53)

In other words, it is impossible to reconstitute a lost tradition regarding a Mitzvah object or a sin object, via proofs, but only via a continuing tradition of those who saw it with their own eyes.

It’s a little like those matters whose rulings are based on expert testimony, as with torts, as opposed to those rulings that need eyewitness, as with capital crimes or the validity of a marriage.

The wording of Beit Ha-Levi quoted above is more strict than that of the Radziner Rebbe.

For the latter, there is no rejection in principle of various proofs. All the same they are rejected due to the weight of the years in which it was not used, that constituting a “negative tradition”. Had the murex snail disappeared for a thousand years, there would be room for proofs.

Yet Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik holds that even then, if murex had disappeared, it would still be impossible to rely on proofs, because a tradition is required.

  1. The proofs about the new identification are far from final. In the Mishnah and amongst our medieval Sages we find seven identifying markers for what constitutes the snail associated with Techelet.
  2. It has a shell (Shabbat 75a)
  3. The dye has to be produced from a living snail (ibid.)
  4. It emerges from the sea once in seventy years, in other words, rarely (Menachot 44a).
  5. It’s similar to a fish (ibid).
  6. Mediterranean House Geckos bite it and it dies (Sifri, Zot HaBeracha 13).
  7. Its color is as black as ink (Rambam, Hilchot Tzitzit 2:2).

If we now investigate the recently identified murex snail we find the following:

  1. It has a shell.
  2. With a lot of snails, you do have to produce the dye immediately. Yet precisely with murex you can dry it and then produce the dye much later.
  3. Murex does not come out of the sea. Rather, it remains attached to the sea floor.

Likewise, it is not rare, but is found in all the Mediterranean sea ports by the ton, for use as food.

  1. It does not look like a fish.
  2. Its shell is hard and house geckos cannot crack it. A hammer is required for that.
  3. The dye that emerges from it is transparent (the sun just blackens it).
  4. The snail is not black but white.

Those who support identifying it with Techelet try to answer all of these questions, but the identification cannot be called certain.

As a rule, we must realize that all scientific hypotheses have the stamp of doubt on them. New facts are liable to be discovered that will change the hypothesis, and any man of science who frames a theory first states cautiously, “according to the present state of our knowledge…”

Let us therefore conclude by quoting Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna in his response to the Radziner Rebbe:

“It’s been rejected for a hundred years, and the wording in Arizal agrees with this, that

there is no Techelet except when the Temple is standing. It has been concealed by Heaven.”




Food for the Satiated or the Hungry?


If a miracle occurred and you were saved through the kindness of Hashem, it is good that you make a meal of thanksgiving at that time and date every year to publicize the wonders of Hashem.  But there is another possibility: Give the money to the poor so that they can eat.  This will certainly bring joy to the Master of the Universe, who sustains everyone.

If you complete a tractate of the Gemara or a holy book, it is certainly good to make a meal to celebrate the “siyum.”  But there is no obligation to invite many people or even ten people.  You can have it by yourself and give the money you save to the poor.

A “Chanukat Ha-Bayit – dedicating a house” is a proper custom.  This means that the first use of the house should be for a holy purpose, such as Torah learning or prayer.  But there is no obligation to eat.  Since one should begin with a holy act, it is better to give the money to the hungry than to the satiated.  As is known, in the State of Israel, a huge amount of people live below the poverty line, which is defined by the Government as a monthly salary of 2000 shekels for an individual and 3100 shekels for a couple.  This is really not a lot of money.

One should certainly make a “Seudat Mitzvah” (festive meal) to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a Pidyon Ha-Ben or a Brit Milah.  But the meal should be modest, since your guests have respectable houses and already have eaten or will eat.  You can give the remaining money to the poor who live under the poverty line, which according to the above mentioned definition is 1,700,000 people.  This is a lot of people.  We do not have to tell you that a wedding is expensive: the hall, the food, the band, the photographer, etc…  One should certainly rejoice on the day when a family is created in Israel, but there is no reason to exaggerate.  You must remember that families already exist in Israel, and they live below the poverty line.  This is a fifth of the families in Israel, and it would be a wonderful beginning for the newly-married couple to help them.

A memorial for the departed is also holy.  But one should remember the living whose lives are impoverished.  Helping them would certainly honor the deceased.

Similarly, some have the custom to write a Sefer Torah in memory of the deceased.  But in place of writing a Torah, it is possible to give life to the destitute, and this may even be a greater act.  And regarding a meal for completing the Sefer Torah, the Torah would certainly be happy to pass it up and give it to the downtrodden.

Buying an Etrog is a Mitzvah.  We should certainly buy a beautiful etrog as a “Hiddur Mitzvah – glorification of the Mitzvah,” but a “Hiddur Mitzvah” is only adding another one-third to the price.  You can give the rest of the money to someone who cannot buy the fruit of an etrog tree or even fruit to eat.

If this is the case for a definite Mitzvah, it is all the more so for acts which are not definite Mitzvot, such as traveling to “Kivrei Tzadikkim – the graves of the righteous,” or things which are not Mitzvot at all, such as amulets and all types of “Segulot” (spiritual remedies).  If you are looking for a “Segulah,” the greatest “Segulah” is giving tzedakah.  The Gemara in Shabbat (156b) says that astrologers told Rabbi Akiva that the day his daughter gets married, she will be bitten by a snake and die.  He was obviously very worried.  On the day of her “Chupah,” she took a decorative pin out of her hair and inserted it in to the wall, and it struck a snake in its eye.  In the morning, she when she removed it, the dead snake came out after it.  Rabbi Akiva asked her: what good thing did you do?  She said: On the day of the wedding, a poor person came to the door and because everyone else was busy with the meal, no one heard him.  I took the portion you gave me, and gave it to him.  Rabbi Akiva said: “Tzedakah saves one from death.”

A birthday is very nice.  Give respect and love.  One day I received a letter from a young child from America: “Everyone gave me money for my birthday.  I am sending it to you.  Give it to poor children.”  What an amazing child!

And there are new creations, such as “amen meals” and parties for separating challah, but…

When I say “poor,” I do not mean people who ask for money in the street or who go from house to house, the Rabbis estimate that 90% of them are swindlers.  I mean real poor people, including the elderly and single mothers.  You can give them money if you know them personally, though a social worker or through known and trustworthy tzedakah organizations which have been checked.

At the same time, we should obviously struggle to expand governmental aid.  While there is a great deal of aid, Baruch Hashem, there is still not enough.  We should certainly enact laws to aid the poor and create local work for them, but in the meantime, it is incumbent upon us to help them.




Tax Evasion


Question: What should I do if my employer evades taxes? Am I allowed to work for him? Likewise, am I allowed to buy in a store that evades taxes?

Answer: Tax evasion is theft. There is no difference between stealing from an individual and stealing from the public. The public pays taxes in exchange for various governmental services, and tax evaders receive, through theft, services for which they did not pay. Now then, if you are a partner in evading taxes, as for example, when someone sells products without giving a receipt in return, then not only your employer is evading taxes, but now you, yourself, are evading taxes, i.e., you are stealing. Therefore, you are obligated to tell your employer that you cannot be partner to that theft, even if this means he will dismiss you from your work.

A person is not allowed to do a sin, even if his livelihood depends on it. One is not required to fulfill a Mitzvah if he has no money, as when he has no money to purchase Tefillin.

Such is not the case regarding a sin. One is forbidden to do a sin even if he will thereby lose a lot of money (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 656). Sometimes, our Sages permitted violating a Rabbinic prohibition in the case of great potential loss, but that was only in extraordinary situations, and anyway, here we are not talking about a Rabbinic prohibition, but about the Torah prohibition against theft. Therefore, if a person is being obligated to be a partner to theft, he must vacate that workplace.

True, if he not partner to the sin, but he knows about it, then he is like any person who knows about tax evasion. Does the law require that he report it? One has a duty to report only a criminal act, such as murder, assault or theft (!). But is there is duty to report it according to Jewish law? Yes, there is, as part of “returning a lost object” (Shemot 23:4).

Money stolen from the public has to be returned. It can be viewed in terms of “Do not profit by the blood of your fellow” (Vayikra 19:16).

Rambam explains that this negative precept is not just violated when A wants to steal directly from B, but also when A wants to cause B to lose his money. Therefore, if someone has critical information he is obligated to testify, first of all as part of the laws of testimony, but, adds Rambam, also as part of “Do not profit by the blood of your fellow.”

It thus follows that according to Jewish law, whoever knows about tax evasion, whether by his own employer, or by anyone else, he is obligated to report it, in order to save those being stolen from.

Yet this is a complicated law, for by such means we become involved in the laws of Lashon Hara, forbidden gossip, and Rav Yisrael Meir Ha-Cohain explains in his work, “Chafetz Chaim” that in order to be allowed to report something bad about someone, certain conditions must be met: something beneficial must result from it, the person speaking the Lashon Hara must have that benefit in mind, it must be impossible to achieve that benefit otherwise, etc. It is a complicated issue. Obviously, we are not talking about someone who works for the Tax Authorities and must ascertain whether the law is being followed. He is certainly doing a great Mitzvah. As far as a regular person goes, however, this is a complex topic, for the fear is that an atmosphere will take hold in which everyone will begin reporting on everyone else. It’s a complex topic, both for the citizen, and for the worker.

Yet we needn’t forbid a worker to work for an employer who does something illegal, if that worker, himself, is not involved, just as we needn’t forbid his working for someone who violates the Sabbath, when the worker has no connection to that. After all, it isn’t easy to find work. As for buying from a store that evades taxes, or receiving the work or services of a person who evades taxes, there are three situations:

  1. The customer is not obligated, whether according to secular law or Jewish law, to check whether the worker keeps proper books or to demand a receipt from him. It’s good to demand one, but there is no obligation.
  2. If he becomes aware, however, that the seller or the worker evades taxes, he’s not allowed to buy from him. Otherwise he’s considered to be buying from a thief, which renders one, to a certain extent, a partner in thievery. After all, if the thief finds no one to sell to, he will stop stealing. As our Sages said, “It’s not the mouse that steals, but the hole.” If the mouse has no hole in which to hide its food, it won’t steal.
  3. If the seller offers a discount if the customer pays in cash and doesn’t demand a receipt, then the customer is not just assisting the thief, but is himself a thief. Both are thieves, partners in theft, splitting the theft between them.

By the way, a little story. A person invented something that brought him income, and others stole the idea and earned money at his expense. I suggested to him to ask Rabbis to write that it is forbidden to steal his idea from him, and he responded, “I’ve got a lot of experience with this. People listen to rabbis on the laws of Kashrut, but not on the laws of theft. They steal copyrights and they steal taxes.”

Very sad.

Let us be strong and courageous.






Question: Very often we encounter beggars on the street, especially at the Western Wall Plaza.  Are we obligated to give something to everyone who puts out his hand? How much must give?  It has happened to me that I gave a pauper a small sum and he scornfully returned it to me.  How is it possible to know whether someone is really poor or simply a liar?  Is it permissible to refuse to give a donation?

Answer: Generally speaking, we do not give Tzedakah without a serious investigation. There is only one exception, and that is if someone approaches asking for food because he is hungry. There, we must give him something immediately. The Shulchan Aruch says as follows: “If a poor person whom we do not know says, ‘I am hungry. Feed me,’ we do not investigate the possibility that he is a liar.  Rather, we contribute immediately. If someone lacked clothing and said, ‘I lack clothing. Give me money to buy some,’ we investigate to see whether he is a liar” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 151:10).

Indeed, if someone refuses to give Tzedakah when he has money in hand, he is considered cruel, and he violates a Mitzvah of the Torah. Yet as with all Mitzvot, the Mitzvah of Tzedakah has restrictions as well. The restriction on Tzedakah is that we do not give it to everyone who asks for it, but only to those who it has become clear really need it, as in Rambam’s words, “According to our information, they are in financial straits” (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Lo Ta’aseh 232). If someone gives without investigating, and the collector turns out to be a cheater, then he has not fulfilled the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. Rather, he has squandered his money and caused loss to genuine poor people.

Wicked men tried to kill Yirmiyahu. He then cursed them saying, “Master of the Universe! Even when those people perform charitable acts, make them stumble by having them perform their acts for disreputable people, so that they should not reap merit for it” (Baba Kamma 16b).  Even the wicked are sometimes aroused to perform good deeds, yet if they give their money to charlatans, they will not fulfill any Mitzvah thereby.

It is true that regarding all the Mitzvot of the Torah, a person is presumed reputable, truthful, honest and good, until proven otherwise. This principle has several exceptions, however, for example, the beggar mentioned above, and that is because of the large number of cheaters. The same applies in our own time. The great halachic authorities of our generation have ruled that all beggars are to be presumed swindlers until proven otherwise. There are some very wealthy beggars, for example, in Jerusalem. A beggar who walks from the Central Bus Station to the Kotel can collect 500 to 800 shekel per day.

Obviously, the investigative process to find out whether the beggar is a swindler or not cannot be carried out by just anyone, but only by a Bet Din, a Rabbinic court (see Otzar Mefarshei Ha-Talmud, Baba Metzia, 27b). The Bet Din then awards the beggar a certificate which the legal authorities have labeled a Ketav Kibbutz [writ of collection] (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 253:12 in the Rama).

Yet we must be cautious to ensure that the beggar’s “Ketav Kibbutz” is not forged. There was a swindler who forged the certificate of a great Rabbi, yet got confused between the Rabbi and the Rabbi’s father-in-law, also a great Rabbi, who had passed away several decades previous. Another swindler collected money for a deathly ill person, using a genuine certificate, but pocketed the money for himself.  Nonetheless, Divine Providence brought him to the home of the ill person himself, who had already been healthy for quite a while.   All of the preceding relates to a person who is suffering financial distress and approaches members of a charitable institution in hopes of their solving his problem. They therefore share a sizable portion of the responsibility for saving him from his troubles.

Regarding the beggar who approaches everyone, one after another, the law is different, however. The halachic authorities call that person a “door-to-door beggar,” and the Shulchan Aruch rules: “We are not obligated to give a large sum to the beggar who goes door to door. Rather, we may give him a small sum” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 250:3). That beggar is approaching many people, and from all of them together he will attain what he needs.

How much is “a small sum”? Rambam writes: “If a beggar goes door to door, we are not obligated to give him a large sum, but only a small one. Still, the Rabbis forbade us to turn him away empty-handed. It is enough, however, to give him a single dried fig, as it says, ‘Let not the oppressed return ashamed’ (Tehillim 74:21)” (Matanot Aniyim 7:4).   It is therefore enough to give him a fig or its monetary equivalent, in other words, twenty Israeli agorot (at present, about five American cents).  In that way, the beggar will be able to collect 100 shekels per day. If he is insulted and refuses to accept a small gift, it is a sign that he is not really poor. Rabbi Chaim David HaLevi wrote: “If a pauper begs door to door, it is enough to give him a small gift. At the same time, if is forbidden to turn him away empty-handed… In our day, however, there are poor people who are not satisfied with a little bit, and they demand set amounts, emphasizing that they must be given nothing less. These people bear letters from Rabbis or physicians assisting them in their cause. The number of people behaving licentiously in this regard has become great, and I am not certain that it is possible to rely on a recommendation. In any event, since these people are classed among those who stretch out their hands, there is no obligation to give them more than a small gift, as is defined by Halachah. A real poor person such as in called an “Evyon” in the Torah (Devarim 15:4) does not pamper himself. He accepts whatever he is given, even a dried fig, as in Rambam’s definition. If someone refuses small gifts, we bear no responsibility for him” (Aseh Lecha Rav 9:34-35).

Therefore, whoever wishes to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah properly should give to known and recognized organizations of Tzedakah and kindness.




Don’t Copy!


Don’t copy. Don’t copy discs, software, songs, “or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Shemot 20:13).  Your neighbor worked and toiled and invested his best efforts and resources. Will you benefit without paying?  Where is your integrity?  Where is your morality?  Even without the Torah, where is your natural morality?  Have you forgotten the Mitzvah of “Do what is good and right” (Devarim 6:18), which according to Ramban is a positive Torah precept?  How can you be such a scoundrel with the Torah’s license?  Yet here, this is not with the Torah’s license, but against the Torah’s license. Our Sages long ago ordained patent rights (see Techumin 6-7).  The Sages enact ordinances, and the public may as well (Baba Batra 9b).  Open your eyes and see the warning of the sages of Italy from 500 years ago regarding the book “Ha-Bachur” by Rabbi Eliyahu Bachur HaLevi: “The wording of the opinion handed down in Rome, the capital, by its Rabbis and Sages: They passed a decree of excommunication on any person who steals his neighbor’s handiwork…  And since we know that this man… wrote the above-mentioned writings with great toil, forfeiting his time over many days… and perhaps there is among you a root whose fruit is gall and wormwood (Devarim 29:17), who will have the nerve to publish even those aforementioned writings, all of them or some of them, in a more attractive format, taking the profits for himself, while the original authors will lose out.

“We have therefore demonstrably set ourselves apart, to be against the destroyers. As it says in Kiddushin 59a: “If a poor man is examining a cake, and someone else comes along and takes it from him, that person is called an evildoer.”  We also say, “’Fishing nets must be kept away from the hiding-place of a fish which has been spotted by another fisherman the full length of the fish’s swim, because that is called interfering with the other’s livelihood” (Baba Batra 21b)…  And since printed books can move from ocean to ocean, we have not set any limit. Rather, we decree across the board: Whoever knows of our decree, having seen it or heard it, must not publish these books. And whoever publishes them, he, himself or his agents, will be classed as a trespasser and excommunicated. And whoever knowingly buys it from him after hearing our decree, will be covered by the curse and the excommunication, and may all Israel be blessed.”

Therefore, my friends, be very careful to avoid such trespassing, for “cursed is he who trespasses his neighbor’s territory” (Devarim 27:17).  Don’t watch copied movies. Don’t listen to copied songs. If you’ve got a copied CD, throw it in the trash. “Keep a shovel with your weapons to cover your excrement. Let your camp remain holy” (Devarim 23:14).

One might say: I’ll do what I feel like. I’ll do what everyone else does. Everybody copies.  Everybody downloads. If you say that, it’s not your wisdom talking. It’s not your integrity talking. It’s your evil impulse. Such is not what “everybody” does. It’s what thieves do.  “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania said: ‘I have never been out-argued by anyone except by a  woman, a young boy and a young girl… What was the case of the girl? One time I was walking down a road that passed through a field. A girl asked me, ‘Rabbi! Is that not a field?’ I replied, ‘No, it’s a beaten path’ (that does no harm to the field). She replied, ‘Thieves like you beat it down’ (One is forbidden to walk in the middle of a field, and thieves like you trod on it until they created a path’. Eruvin 53b. See first comment of Ben Ish Chai on Parashat Nitzavim).

Yet you might still argue that the owners gave up on it. They know in advance that this is what is going to happen, so it’s like a lost object swept away by the river (Baba Batra 24b).

But that isn’t so, my friend. All such things are said about natural disasters, regarding which

people are impotent, since they can do nothing, so they give up hope. In our case, however, they cry out and protest the theft, and if they can, they call the police. There have already been cases of people paying hundreds of thousands of Shekalim because they downloaded things from the Internet illegally. Moreover, Ha-Rav Moshe Isserlis wrote that with lost objects, even after the original owner loses hope of its return, we should go beyond the letter of the law and return it. According to the Mordechai, we can even force a finder to return such an object to the original owner. In our own case, however, the issue is real theft.

You might argue: Here, one party benefits and the other loses nothing (Baba Batra 20). But

don’t say that, for we only argue that retroactively, after the deed, but not a priori (Tosafot ibid.). As we already noted, the Rabbis enacted patent laws.  Moreover, there are Federal laws and international laws. So, if you wouldn’t buy it in the first place, you can copy a book for personal use, for that the law allows. But you can’t copy a CD.

And when we quoted the Torah saying, “Don’t covet anything belonging to your neighbor,” the point was not to exempt theft from non-Jews, for it is well-known that stealing for non-Jews is likewise forbidden. Moreover, such theft profanes G-d’s name. Woe to us for our sins, for the State of Israel appears on the list of countries in which copyright laws are not enforced. G-d says, “You have profaned My great name amongst the nations, who say, ‘G-d

caused His Presence to rest on a nation of thieves.”

Thus you have three reasons for the Mitzvah of not copying, and each suffices: 1. To be ethical and good. 2. Our Sages’ decrees regarding copyrights. 3. National and International laws, which have halachic force.  We are further tempted to say: “The items are overpriced! Who can buy it?” That is irrelevant.  Don’t buy it.  The evil impulse further says, masquerading as the good impulse: “I only copy Torah content, so that I can learn Torah, for the sake G-d’s name.”  That’s worthless. That’s a Mitzvah via a sin. G-d doesn’t want that kind of Torah learning.  Something else: Don’t download even one song.  Don’t do even one sin. Don’t make yourself a CD with a collection of copied songs, with each song stolen from a different CD. Even one song has a price.  A person can be recognized by three things, and

one of this is his relationship to money. How wonderful honesty is! How wonderful kosher

wealth is! “If you eat by the sweat of your own brow, how fortunate you will be” (Tehillim 118:2).



Visiting Kivrei Tzadikim


Question: Should one make pilgrimages to Kivrei Tzadikim (the Graves of the Righteous)? Is it important?

Answer: There is no commandment, either from the Torah or from the Rabbis, to go to Kivrei Tzadikim. It’s not mentioned anywhere. But it is a national practice, is one of the customs of the day before Rosh Hashana, and even has a holy source relating to Calev ben Yefuneh, who went to Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah Hebron in order to ask the Patriarchs and Matriarchs to save him from the scheming of the spies (Sota 34b). Thus, there is no Mitzvah, but there is spiritual benefit.

Obviously, the intent is not to pray to the Tzadikim themselves, which would be idolatry.

Rather, it is akin to what, for example, appears in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch regarding  visiting Kivrei Tzadikim on Erev Rosh Hashana:

“It arouses the holy Tzadikim who are in the Land to serve as our advocates on the Day of Judgment.” And it is not only the Tzadikim who are holy, but also, because of them, the actual ground in which they are buried. And so our prayers benefit further from being offered up on holy ground.  G-d thus performs His kindnesses thanks to the virtue of the Tzadikim and the holiness and purity of their graves.

“Do not, however, think that one’s prayers should be directed to the dead buried there. That verges on the prohibition against séances to contact the dead. Rather, one should address one’s prayers to G-d to have mercy on him by virtue of the Tzadikim buried there” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:13).

Thus, there are two reasons to visit Kivrei Tzadikim: 1) to ask the Tzadik to advocate on your behalf, and 2) to be in a place where prayer is more accepted, due to the merit of the Tzadikim. The Mishnah Berurah (581:27) likewise, mentions the second rationale: “The cemetery is the resting place of the Tzadikim, and prayer is more accepted there. Yet one should not address one’s prayers to the deceased. Rather, one should ask G-d to show one mercy through the merit of the Tzadikim interred there.”

Rabbi Yosef Albo likewise provides a similar rationale (Sefer Ikarim 4:35).

The question often asked is whether one may leave Israel for this purpose. According to Rambam, who permits leaving Israel temporarily only for two major mitzvot (learning Torah or getting married [Hilchot Melachim 5:9]), it is certainly prohibited. Yet even according to Tosafot, who permits leaving for the sake of any Mitzvah (Tosafot Avodah Zara 13a, d.h. “Lilmod Torah ve-lisa isha”), as does the Mishnah Berurah (531:14), the serious problem remains that going to Kivrei Tzadikim is not classified as a Mitzvah. Were it a Mitzvah, our Sages would have had to define for us whether it should be done once a week, once a month, or perhaps once a year. They also would have had to define for us how great one has to be in order to be considered aTzadik whose grave may be visited in fulfillment of this Mitzvah. We would also see Torah scholars going to Kivrei Tzadikim. But this is not the reality.

True, we said above that visiting Kivrei Tzadikim contains the spiritual benefits of prayer, yet, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook asks (Shut Mishpat Cohain #147), is there proof that for the sake of this one is allowed to leave the Land? And, in any case, are there no graves in Eretz Yisrael? Can anything compete with Ma’arat Ha-Machpehah or Kever Rachel?! After all, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah are certainly greater than the various Kivrei Tzadikim in the Diaspora. Rav Kook wrote: “In my humble opinion, it is not clear to me at all that one can say that one’s love for the saints slumbering in Hebron does not suffice such that one must leave Eretz Yisrael for the Diaspora… The major holiness of those first Tzadikim beloved by Israel is here in our Holy Land.”

Yet even in Eretz Yisrael, itself, everyone should consider whether it is not better to invest one’s time and money on matters that according to the Torah clearly benefit a person, like doing kind deeds or learning Torah. This kindness, learned from Avraham, and Torah, learned from Moshe, have the power to atone even for sins so severe that a person has incurred a death sentence from heaven (Mishnah Berurah 315:3, Sha’ar Hatziyun #5-6).

By way of example, G-d said regarding the sin of Eli’s sons, “Assuredly, I swear concerning the house of Eli, that the iniquity of the house of Eli will never be expiated by sacrifice or offering” (Shmuel 1 3:14). Even so, our sages said that their sin can be atoned for by way of Torah learning and performing kind deeds.

Moreover, whether one’s trip abroad will cost a lot or a little, there, as well, the money is better spent on the hungry and the poor. That is a clear Mitzvah of the Torah, and our sages said, “Charity shall save one from death”, as in the famous story of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter, who was saved from death thanks to her having given charity (Shabbat 156b).

Thus, each person should carefully clarify for himself the best path by which to bring G-d’s light to rest upon us.

A story is told about Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. One time he left his home in the Sha’arei Chessed neighborhood of Jerusalem for the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Bayit Ve-Gan. He stopped and faced Mount Herzl with its military cemetery and said, “These are the Kivrei Tzadikim, the graves of the saintly.”

Certainly, even if a soldier, killed in action, was no saint during his lifetime, he becomes a tzaddik when he gives up his life for the sake of the Jewish People.



























Proper Character Traits

First Be a Person


I have to improve in many realms, and I can’t fight on all fronts at the same time.  If you try for too much, you end up with nothing.  So every year I pick an area to concentrate on. This year I’ve decided not to add Shabbat, Kashrut or proper concentration in prayer, but in order to be a person, you must be more ethical.  Each morning we recite the words, “Always be a person who fears G-d in private and in public.” First comes, “Always be a person” – this takes precedence.  Only then, “Fear G-d in private and in public.” And there as well, fearing G-d in private comes before fearing Him in public. We shouldn’t just be putting on a show. Both morality and holiness are Divine, but morality comes first. You enter the lobby before you enter the palace.

I want very much to draw closer to G-d. I want very much to draw close to the verse, “Hashem, who will stay in Your tent, who will dwell upon Your holy mountain?” (Tehillim 15:1).  The answer follows: “He who walks uprightly and creates justice, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue. He does no harm to his neighbor; neither does he take up reproach upon his kinsman. A base person is despised in his eyes, and he honors the G-d-fearing; he takes an oath to his own detriment and does not retract. He does not give his money with interest, nor does he accept a bribe against the innocent; he who does these shall not falter forever” (15:2-5)   I once heard a great rabbi from America say, “Before glatt kosher [perfect kashrut], one has to have glatt yosher [perfect integrity].” When I hear about religious people who cheated on income tax and were involved in all sorts of other dark monetary episodes, I am so embarrassed. When I hear about G-d-fearing people who are sunken in gossip, hatred, falsehood, base controversies, hypocrisy, insult, I just want to hide under the floor boards. I cannot say, “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One,” before I first mention G-d who “loves His people Israel,” or who “lovingly chooses His people Israel.”

And in fact, the Arizal ruled that one should not start praying until he says, “I undertake to fulfill, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

There’s a story about a Jew who ran to catch a prayer service. Afterwards Rabbi Yisrael Salanter told him, “While you were running, perhaps you stepped on somebody’s toes? Was it worth it?

I know of a very respectable settlement in which the greatest number of traffic accidents occur during the minutes before minchah. That’s worse!

There’s another story about Rav Yisrael Salanter. It was his father’s yahrzeit, but he passed on leading the prayers in favor of a Jew who was having a yahrzeit for his daughter. They asked him, “What about honoring your father?” and he answered, “Doing what I did is the greatest honor I could show him!”

I have therefore decided, “People come first.”  By such means, I shall reach holiness.




Character Improvement

The history of character improvement can be divided into two periods: before the appearance of the book “Mesillat Yesharim” and after. Mesillat Yesharim is a summary of all the books that preceded it, and the foundation of all the books that follow. Its author, the illustrious kabbalist, blessed with ruach hakodesh [divine intuition], Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto [Ramchal], was also a special divine emissary to attend to Israel’s character improvement.

Indeed, the Vilna Gaon loved Mesillat Yesharim (Tosafot Ma’aseh Rav 179):
“There is an oral tradition that when Mesillat Yesharim was published, and the author was no longer living, the Gra read the book and pronounced, ‘A great light has gone forth to the world.’ He learned it by heart 101 times, and he paid a sizable sum to purchase it. In the case of most holy tracts, the Gra would say that the book was greater than its author. In this case, however, he recognized that the author was many times greater than the book.”

Elders of the previous generation have told their children that when the book came before the Gra, he enthusiastically uttered, “If only Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto were alive I would trek to him on foot to learn morals and character improvement.” (ibid.)  In that same book, small in quantity and enormous in quality, several fundamental assumptions are laid out before each character improvement:
The first principle – There are no shortcuts. A person cannot change his nature overnight. He can change his deeds overnight, and then he will be greatly praised for having conquered his evil impulse. But as far as changing his personality, matters do not proceed so quickly. We must arm ourselves with patience, and ascend slowly. In such a manner did Ramchal build us a ten-step ladder, in accordance with our sages’ words.

The second principle – it is possible to ascend high. The way is open to every Jew to ascend very high. Every Jew must be a tzaddik, righteous, i.e., he must fulfill his duty, but what will bring contentment to G-d is that he should be a chassid, in other words, he should possess an enormous inner longing to serve G-d. Moreover, he can climb still higher, up to kedushah [holiness] and ruach hakodesh [prophetic intuition]. How does he do so? Each spiritual level sets before him the pathways to climb to the next level.

The third principle – Be careful not to fall. Even when, with G-d’s help you have achieved a particular level, you have to realize that you are just a person. Hence you are liable to fall. This we have learned from Adam, who was in a physical and spiritual Eden, and still fell. Hence one must ever stand vigilant and never fall asleep at one’s post.

The fourth principle – The intellect is a tool to self-improvement. According our great master Ramchal, it is the chief means towards that end. Obviously, this does not mean that neither emotion nor imagination nor any of the other mental force can be tools to character improvement. It only means that intellect is the main force. The intellect serves a dual role: 1. It enables us to learn well what is good and what is bad. 2. It enables us to examine well our situation on a daily basis, to see what is good and what is not, and to figure out ways to make amends.

Ramchal has many additional principles, but we shall focus on this principle, which is interlaced throughout Mesillat Yesharim, expressed in various ways. Ramchal again and again stresses that the divine task of character improvement must have our full attention and supervision. The great enemy of the intellect is the imagination. The intellect toils and strives hard to reach the truth, whereas the imagination, which is not interested in the truth at all. True, the intellect errs as well, yet it is always examining itself and correcting its errors, because its goal is to recognize matters as they really are. Not so the imagination, which depicts matters the way the person would like them to be.

People therefore love the imagination greatly, and the world is full of superstitions, tricks and ruses, harmful foolishness. The intellect tells you, “Your married life is limping along because you do not relate properly to your wife.” The imagination tells you, “No! Your wife is responsible for all the problems.” If so, surely the imagination is much more convenient and beloved. It tells you, “You are not conceited. You neither get angry quickly nor are full of lusts nor are lazy. How nice!”

Obviously, there is also a constructive imagination, which advances the world and human thought, but that happens after the imagination is examined by the intellect, which then gives it permission to make itself public.  Therefore, already Rambam waged a violent battle against the cult of the “mitakalmin”, the “talkers”. They hold that every thought we imagine is necessarily the truth, and will certainly not fool us.  Unfortunately, this struggle is still contemporary to our own times, in which we bear witness to the phenomenon of “the escape from reason”. The intellect has developed so much in our world yet people are still disappointed with it. And why is this so? Because it does not provide immediate solutions but is like “the slow-moving waters of the Shiloah Spring” (see Orot, “Yisrael U’Techiyato”). For example, a person, seeing that modern medicine did not solve the problem of a particular patient, might then turn to someone who engages in quackery, forgetting that modern medicine has solved the problem of millions and billions of people. Unfortunately, in politics as well, people dream about wonder-solutions that fix nothing, but only ruin things all the more.

Rectifying character traits is built on the intellect vanquishing the imagination, and on that same duel recognition regarding what is truly good and where a person truly stands. Each day we wage a struggle of the intellect against the imagination, and we win. When and how? By way of confession: We confess that we have sinned. Admitting guilt is the height of divine fortitude. It opens the way to all salvation. If the guilt for my having sinned lies with me, that signifies that I have the strength not only to sin but to make amends. How much joy and strength confession gives a person, and with its help he climbs higher and higher, improving his character and bringing joy to his G-d.




The Culture of Leisure


Question: Does there exist a concept of “free time” or “leisure time”? And if so, how should one fill up that time, as for example, during “Bein Hazmanim,” vacation time from yeshiva?

Answer: According to one approach among the early and late sages (such as the Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, and the Mishna Berura), there is no true “free time”. A person has to devote every second to Torah learning. Otherwise, he violates the sin of neglecting Torah study. He is allowed to cease Torah learning only to fulfill another Mitzvah or for the sake of actions essential to life, such as eating, sleeping or work.

According to the second approach of the early sages, a man is not required to study every free second. He should be trying to study Torah as much as he can, but he is also allowed to do other things. Such is the view of Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his Or Sameach at the beginning of Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah, and so holds Rabbi Issur Zalmen Meltzer regarding Rambam’s ruling in Hilchot Melachim that a king [of Israel] must learn Torah every free moment. Rav Meltzer explains that the king’s heart is the heart of all Israel. He therefore derives that any other Jew is not obligated in this manner. Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook likewise leans in this direction in his article “Al Geder Chiyuv Limud Torah,” in the book “Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah”,

To summarize, according to the first approach, there is no such concept of “free time”, while according to the second approach, the concept does exist, but a person must strive to fill up that time with positive activities, first and foremost learning Torah. If not Torah learning, he should occupy himself with Mitzvot and positive activities.

Therefore, it is clear that the concept of “Bein Hazmanim” – “vacation from yeshiva” – has no real place. This term [literally “between the times”], as mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 35b), refers to taking off time to work, in other words, to engage in compulsory activities. As for “Bein Hazmanim” as practiced nowadays, it was long ago decried by Maharal and Shela. Maharal [Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague] wrote, “The worst slight against the pillar of Torah is neglect of Torah learning, for their study is irregular and not permanent, but only lasts the year. And then they ‘proclaim liberty throughout the Land’, establishing a period which they label ‘between the times’, during which  everyone follows his own willful heart… thinking he doesn’t have to learn Torah at all, as though the break is called ‘between the times’ because it is not a time for Torah. And if the early sages practiced the inclusion of such a break, they most certainly had several good, Torah-compatible reasons, as we know. Now, however, the break is only being used to minimize Torah… And through this neglect, they habituate themselves to frivolity, lewdness and other unsavory activities.” (Drush Al HaTorah 26a).

The Shela [Shnei Luchot HaBrit – Rabbi Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz] writes, “During the ‘Bein Hazmanim’ break [when a person is neglecting Torah], he is not remembered or mentioned in Heaven, and he is uprooted from the world” (Sefer Ha-Shela 181).

If someone who learns in yeshiva decides that his chief occupation, at least for several years, will be Torah study, he should learn Torah as much as he can, and not engage in other activities.

Yet if, for various reasons, he cannot learn Torah (cf., he has a headache or some other constraint,)  he should fill his time with positive activities, i.e., Mitzvot or essential activities.

What is meant by Mitzvot? Acts of kindness – for his family, for his neighbors, for the poor, for the ill, for little children… There is no shortage of channels for one’s kindness.

Essential activities include: tidying or cleaning one’s home, making repairs, and learning secular studies f(or someone who needs it for his future. Obviously one can go on excursions as well – assuming they are reputable excursions to sexually modest places where visitors do not get involved with nonsense.

Rambam, in the fifth chapter of Shemoneh Perakim, writes that there is also room for having fun, to the extent that a person needs it to air himself out. Obviously one should not exaggerate with this. Two-and-a-half months of vacation from yeshiva is certainly too much. When people work, they receive one day of vacation per month. In other words, twelve days of vacation per year – not seventy! No one needs so much time to rest.

One should therefore study Torah or do Mitzvot, or engage in essential activities. This is proper use of what is popularly known a “free time”.




How to Be Happy


Everyone has a deep longing to be happy. Don’t confuse the longing for pleasure, which the Ancient Greeks called “Hedonism”, with the longing for happiness, which they called “Eudemonism”.  Pleasure is partial, momentary, sensory and fleeting. Happiness, by contrast, fills up the whole person with great, permanent content, and eternal worth. I won’t get into a discussion here about whether happiness is a human need or is itself a virtue.

Does an upright person deserve to be happy, or is happiness itself a good, upright thing?

Whoever peruses the Book of Tehillim will see that happiness is mentioned numerous times within the supreme ideal: “Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked” (1:1), “Happy are those that dwell in Your house” (84:5), “Happy is the people for whom such is the case” (144:15), “Happy are those that follow the path of righteousness” (119:1), etc.

If so, how does one achieve happiness? Obviously, someone who is lacking nothing in life – he has his parents, a spouse, children, status, work, health, and every other bounty – may not ask himself how to be happy. Yet there are unfortunate, suffering people, the impoverished and the ill, who find their lives unbearable and detestable, and one must certainly ask how they can find happiness.

We can ask a secondary question as well. Why is this matter never mentioned in our prayers?  After all, Rambam informs us in his “Guide to the Perplexed” that all the principles of faith are hidden away in our prayers and blessings. Certainly one cannot learn all of Jewish law each day. Neither can one learn all the foundations of faith each day. If so, a person will be lacking spiritual contact with those foundations. Therefore, said Rambam, all of those laws and principles are stored away in our prayers and blessings by the Men of the Great Assembly, which included several prophets.

Regarding the question of happiness, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi enlightened us in his book, the Tanya (Chapter 33), pointing out that man’s happiness derives from “closeness to G-d”, i.e., faith in G-d; which does not mean just being intellectually convinced that  G-d exists, but trusting in G-d, clinging to Him, and being connected to Him. Clinging to G-d is something that cannot be taken away from anyone. Whatever one’s circumstances, whether one is rich or poor, healthy or sick, single or married, whether one has a family or is childless, closeness to G-d cannot be taken away from a person.  The Master of the Universe fills up the entire world. Not only is closeness to G-d one pathway to happiness, but all of a person’s happiness. That is because there is nothing in the world besides G-d.  “In Heaven above and on earth below, there is nothing else” (Aleinu).  All the rest is transient vanity.  Obviously, clinging to G-d can be expressed as well through loving people and by loving all the mitzvot, through kind deeds and good character, through self-sacrifice on behalf of our people and land, our state and army.

That is what fills a person with happiness. G-d did a great kindness for His world that He didn’t abandon it, dwelling only on High, but instead established a residence on this earth. Thus we, who live on this earth, can be close to G-d.

All this is written in the siddur, and we daily mention how we fill ourselves with happiness anew each day.  “How happy we are! How good is our destiny! How pleasant is our lot! How beautiful our inheritance!  Happy are we who frequent the synagogues and study halls, early and late, proclaiming G-d’s oneness daily and forever, reciting twice each day, lovingly, ‘Hear Israel! Hashem is our G-d! Hashem is One!”




Overcoming Jealousy


Question: How does one overcome feelings of jealousy?

Answer: The solution is faith in Hashem. First of all, Hashem gives to each person exactly what he needs – no more and no less.  After all, we believe that Hashem is omnipotent.  Furthermore, Hashem is good.  He is good to all and His mercies extend to all of His creations (Tehillim 145:9).  If He does not give something to you, it is a sign that it is not good for you.  Therefore, you do not need to be jealous that your friend is wealthy and you are poor, your friend succeeds in learning Torah and you have trouble, your friend is married and you are still single, your friend has weak urges and you have strong ones, etc…  This is exactly how Hashem arranged it.  Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were extremely wealthy, while the prophets Eliyahu and Elisha were incredibly poor.  Rabbi Avraham ben Ha-Rambam writes in the book “Ha-Maspik Le-Ovdei Hashem” (Sha’ar Ha-Perishut) that they were so poor that they did not know if they could get married because they had no money to buy any kind of housing or food.  This is the way it was meant to be according to Divine directive.  The reign of one’s kingship does not impede on another’s kingship (Berachot 48b and other places).  You have received the best conditions in which to serve Hashem.  The Rambam in “Moreh Nevuchim” wrote that the angels are greater than us and there is no need for us to be jealous of them.  You can serve Hashem even if you are not an angel.  A person should not say: Either I am the Chief of Staff or I am not serving in Tzahal.  Each and every soldier has a role to play.  One does not say: Either I will be a great Torah scholar or I will not learn Torah.  Not true – “every man at his camp and every man at his banner” (Bamidbar 1:52).  Each person receives his role.  Therefore, everyone needs to be happy with his roles because he is needed there.  Every person should say: The world was created for me.  This part of serving Hashem and this part in the Nation of Israel is mine and no one can take it from me.  Therefore, I do not need to be jealous of anyone and I should be happy with my lot.  I am happy with my physical lot (Pirkei Avot 4:1) and I am happy with my spiritual lot (Pirkei Avot 6:6).




True Humility


Question: I do not understand our Sages’ words: “Know where you came from – from a malodorous drop, where you are going – to a place of dust, worms and moths, and before whom you are destined to give a strict account – before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He” (Avot 3:1). Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto enlisted this source as an example of reflection that leads to humility (Mesilat Yesharim 23).

People have the feeling that if they feel inferior and have a low self-concept, they won’t amount to anything. If a person thinks he has worth, that constitutes an incentive to achievement, but if he is nothing but dirt and dust, he will sit in shame. How hard the psychologists, in the wake of Adler, worked to liberate man from his inferiority complex.  It’s fine to be humble, but to view oneself as a “malodorous drop, worms and moths” seems like taking lowliness to an extreme.

Answer: First of all, our great master, the Rambam, indeed taught us that although in general one should not go to extremes but should stay in the middle, with humility we make an exemption: “The good path is not for one to be just humble, but rather to have a lowly spirit, even to extremes” (Hilchot De’ot 2:3). The proof comes from Moshe, himself: “The man Moshe was more humble than any person on earth” (Bemidbar 12:3).

Second of all, the Rambam proved in his “Guide to the Perplexed” that there is no need to be elite and prominent to serve G-d. We are not the ministering angels, but just simple people, and all the same, we serve G-d.  Not only does the army’s chief-of-staff serve the homeland, but the simple soldier does too. There is no need for me to be special and to act in a conspicuous manner.  After all, all that is insignificant compared to the great privilege of serving G-d and being His partner in the great enterprise of perfecting the world.

Every simple Jew has an enormous worth before G-d. The proof is the end of the Mishnah: “Before whom you are destined to give a strict account – before the Supreme  King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.” That is G-d’s will – that we do our work faithfully. Our Sages said: “Some accomplish more and some accomplish less, but the main thing is that one should direct his heart to his Father in Heaven” (Berachot 17a).  One should say: I don’t make light of myself.  This is how G-d made me. I am insignificant compared to G-d and compared to others, but I am content with my lot and I do the best I can.”  Quite the contrary, it is this humility which affords one strength. Consider that all of our greatest spiritual figures were humble.  Avraham said: “I have already said too much before my G-d!  I am mere dust and ashes!” (Bereshit 18:27).  Moshe and Aharon said: “What are we that you should complain against us?” (Shemot 16:7). And King David said: “After whom has the King of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog.  A flea.” (Shmuel 1 24:14), and “I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Tehilim 22:7).

In other religions as well, they spoke much in praise of humility, but that may be classed as “all talk and no action”. We have not seen that their rulers are exemplary humble people. Even Plato’s vision of a philosopher king, adorned in humility and all the other fine traits remains in the realm of a pious wish. Quite the contrary, Joan of Arc was a simple seventeen-year-old girl, not a member of the nobility, not learned and not even able to read or write, and besides all else, she was a woman and not a man. She was humble, simple, and innocent, and as a child, she loved to pray, which made her the object of scorn by young people her age. Yet thanks to her innocence, bravery and enthusiasm, she rose up and saved France from English conquest. All the same, the French could not bear that. They sold her to the English, and the Church burnt her at the stake. Only later on did they admit their error, but by then it was too late.

We say: “The humble shall inherit the earth” (Tehilim 37:11).   The greater a person, the more humble he is. Every Torah scholar uses the expression, “In my humble opinion,” and signs his writings, “Humbly.”  Our master Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook would sign, “A servant of the holy Nation on the holy soil.”  Even the King of Israel was commanded “not to let his heart become higher than that of his brothers” (Devarim 17:20).

We mustn’t confuse humility with self-hate or self-derision. Humility does not mean dissatisfaction with one’s good deeds. Quite the contrary, if I am insignificant and I have succeeded in doing a good deed, then that is very great indeed, and how happy I should be! By contrast, the arrogant person will disparage his own achievements, thinking them unsuitable to his self perceived abilities and exalted spiritual level.

How fortunate we are to have been privileged to be a Nation of the humble.




The Little Prince as a Moral Tract

Question: I heard that the book, The Little Prince (by French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), is full of Christian messages, hence it should be avoided.
Answer: Not so. It includes moral lessons of value to all mankind. This work is read all over the world. It has been translated into 180 languages and dialects, and has been ranked number four on the list of the world’s best books from the last hundred years.

It success derives from its having been written in a simple, endearing style suited to children. Its messages are profound, and are expressed in the form of symbols meant for adults.

Moreover, it encourages the adult to go back to the child within him and not to lose the innocence of childhood. It contains criticism about the illogical manner in which adults behave, in that they forget the simple truths:

“That’s the way they are. You must not hold it against them. Children should
be very understanding of grown-ups. But, of course, those of us who understand life couldn’t care less about numbers!”

The Little prince travels through the world, looking for a personality of true worth. Yet he encounters only laughable types, trapped in their loneliness:
The king, who rules over an imaginary kingdom, ordering everybody to do things that they do anyway, and who treats the little prince as a subject.

The egotist, who views the little prince as an admirer, and whose ambition it is to be admired by all. Yet he lives all alone on his planet.

The alcoholic, consumed with shame due to his alcoholism, who keeps drinking in order to forget his shame, caught in a vicious cycle.

The businessman, who never ceases counting the stars, thinking they belong to him, and who plans on using them to buy other stars.

The streetlamp lighter, stuck in his own world of meaningless, automatic behavior. His job is to turn on the streetlamp at the start of the night, and to turn it off in the morning. Yet his planet revolves faster and faster until he is turning the streetlamp on and off without pause, and he has no time left for himself.

The geographer, who is busy producing thick roadmaps, but never encounters anything outside of himself. When he wants to document the world of the little prince, the little prince tells him that on his planet there is a beautiful rose. Yet the geographer explains to him that is unfamiliar with roses. The little prince is shocked that the geographer deals with life’s externals, and is missing out on the important things like the rose, which symbolizes man’s search for his true help-mate.
The little prince looks for a life of meaning and finds empty worlds. Particularly disturbing is the image of three gigantic baobab trees holding the little planet with their roots and threatening to blow it up. All this happens because the seed of the baobab tree resembles that of the rose, hence it is related to complacently and no one sees its inherent danger, so they neglect to weed it out. This is an allusion to all kinds of evil forces which seem friendly at first, but if one falls asleep at the watch and doesn’t strike them immediately, they develop into monsters. This hints at Nazism and fascism, which at first seemed friendly as a rose. The depiction of the baobab trees is very frightening, as a warning of the terribly urgent need to deal with them. Obviously, the same thing applies to all the seeds of evil in every generation, in every country and society.

The little prince is busy endlessly weeding the baobab roots, which are trying to take control over his planet, as well as with sweeping the craters of the three dormant volcanoes on his planet – even dormant volcanoes have to be watched carefully. We learn that the author’s invitation to us to rediscover the child in us – “All the grown-ups were once children, although few of them remember it” – is not just entertainment, but a very serious, responsible task, hidden within innocent childhood.

The third thing on the little prince’s planet is a rose, the ideal mate he longs for. Yet here, again, disappointment awaits him. The rose is truly very lovely, but it has its thorns: it is arrogant, coquettish and demanding. It truly has thorns.

Moreover, in his search for true friendship, he comes upon a garden of roses, discovers that his own rose isn’t the only one, and becomes very miserable. Then he meets the fox, who at first seems very odd to him, but ends up teaching the meaning of deep friendship, and teaching him how one forges a true bond. The fox says, “One only understands the things that one tames”… “It is the time you have wasted for your rose, that makes your rose so important for you”… “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

After much searching, the little prince goes to see the sunset, but his planet is so small that it suffices for him to move his chair several meters: there’s no need to go far to gain contentment. It’s here.




Don’t Live off of Loans


Don’t take loans if you’re not sure you can pay them back. That is also a type of theft.

“The wicked man borrows and does not repay” (Tehillim 37:21).

Do not say, “I’ve got a lot of expenses, and I have no choice.” Certainly you’ve got a choice. The rule is: Don’t spend more than you earn. Spend less!

Less! 1) Because you must return all your loans. 2) Because you need reserve funds for unexpected expenses, pleasant or unpleasant. An example of a pleasant expense is a wedding. An example of an unpleasant expense is a washing machine that has to be replaced.

You therefore need a reserve fund.

Don’t spend money you don’t have. That is morally licentious, even morally corrupt – living off the money of others.

Our Sages said that there are four types who are too impossible for words, and one of them is a poor man who is arrogant (Pesachim 13b). This refers to a person of little income who lives like a rich man.

As a rule, don’t spend more than you bring in. Towards that end, here are several practical pieces of advice:


  1. Don’t rely on your intuition. Rather, keep a precise budget that covers annual, monthly, weekly and daily figures. Realize how much each item costs you, as with car upkeep and cellular phones. Knowledge is power. Just as we must spiritually take stock, so must we take stock of our holdings. That, too, constitutes taking stock spiritually.


  1. Use cash. Don’t use a credit card or checks. Just use cash. That way you’ll know whether you have money or not.


  1. Limit expenses and cancel unnecessary ones. Don’t envy others and don’t covet their possessions. Jealousy, lust and seeking honor banish a person from the world. Not just the world-to-come, but this world too. Get by with little. Who is rich? He who is content with his lot (Avot 4:1).

Here are some details:

  1. When you make a wedding, there is no obligation to invite so many people or to hire an expensive hall, catering service, band or photographer. Don’t take loans that are not based on what you own now.
  2. The same goes for the engagement party, the Shabbat festivities before the wedding, the festivities during the week after the wedding, bar and bat Mitzvahs, circumcisions, kiddushs, etc.
  3. Move to a more inexpensive apartment. Avoid remodeling and expensive furniture.
  4. Buy a less expensive car. Or live without a car altogether. It is possible.
  5. Limit telephone use. There’s no need to talk so much.
  6. Buy simple, inexpensive, essential food.
  7. Don’t eat out. Bring sandwiches, fruit, etc. with you,
  8. You can smoke less… You can smoke not at all. Each year 10,000 people die from smoking, with a sixth of them dying from passive smoking, and hundreds of thousands more who get ill.
  9. Limit travel expenses.
  10. Limit electricity expenses. My late father-in-law, of blessed memory, received free electricity as one of the perks of his important position in the Electric Company, yet he still went around the house turning off every unnecessary light. He taught: “Someone is paying for this!”
  11. Buy inexpensive clothing. Second- hand stores have an enormous selection of lovely clothing in excellent condition at rock-bottom prices.
  12. During vacation time, expenses skyrocket. Don’t spend on anything you feel like. Keep your spending under control.
  13. The same applies at holiday time.


  1. The Consumer Culture: Steer clear of the consumer culture, and from going on shopping excursions to malls. Don’t go in there! It’s a place full of unnecessary temptations.

If you must, plan in advance and prepare yourself psychologically not to be tempted. Go to less fancy stores. Compare prices. And remember: shopping is not a recreational activity, nor a treatment for depression.


  1. Admit the truth: If you’ve got a problem with overspending, admit it. It’s a sickness. True, you’re not the only one. About half of the Jewish People live in overdraft.

Yet that is no consolation. Pal, you’re sick! Get a hold of yourself! Nobody will solve this problem for you. Don’t expect others to come up with the solution, and not the government, as they do at demonstrations. Rather, the only guilty party is you. Because you are spending money that you don’t have.


  1. Redemption comes gradually. Save another hundred shekels, another ten shekels, another shekel. One small saving and then another, add up to a great saving. One penny to another adds up to a large sum.


  1. No more overdraft. Important rule: Have no overdraft. In the United States, it doesn’t exist. If a person there is missing one dollar in his account, a thousand dollar check will bounce. In Israel, the bank doesn’t allow overdraft out of kindness, but because it makes a lot money from it, and your own debt balloons. They say of overdraft that it is sweet at first, but bitter in the end.


  1. No loans. Don’t take loans. They’re not a wonder cure. Loans have to be paid off! Don’t keep borrowing to pay off loans. In the end everything will collapse like a house of cards.


  1. Not even interest-free loans. Even they have to be paid off. A free-loan is not a gift. Other people are waiting for the money. Don’t steal from Free-loan societies. Don’t live at other people’s expense, not even to do Mitzvot, except for a few exceptions. Don’t be a beggar. Don’t be a Schnorrer.


  1. The same applies to your children. Teach your children thrift. Don’t give in to their pressuring you to buy them everything their heart desires. Don’t submit to extortion. Such submission begets worse extortion. Show them your budget and let them share in the responsibility. Start teaching them from age five, the age when education begins. Handling money is part of education as well. Give your children spending money on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. Let them decide what to do with it, whether to save it or to buy items or to go out on excursions. Let them take responsibility. They can get jobs as well.





Maran Ha-Rav Kook and Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah

One Shepherd or Several?


Question: Do we, the religious Zionists, have one shepherd as do the Charedim, or several?

Answer: There are several shepherds, and all of them are beloved. Once we could say that we had one shepherd: Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and after him, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, but now we have several shepherds.

Yet when we say “shepherd”, we have a preliminary question to clarify: upon which green pastures is he shepherding the flocks, and where is he leading them? And if the shepherd does not know which direction to go, he must look at the flock: “If you do not know, fairest of women, Go follow the tracks of the sheep” (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:8). As is well-known, Ikvei HaTzon [the tracks of the sheep] is the name of a book by Maran Ha-Rav Kook, in which the Shepherd explains the characteristics of the sheep, as far as how to lead them.

Now then, where are the sheep headed? The answer is simple: we are rising to rebirth.

We are not ignoring all the shortcomings in our communal lives, writes Rav Kook in his book Orot. Yet even taking all that into account, we have to concede that we are being born anew as a Nation, a Nation in its Land and in its State.

And here is where the shepherd’s task comes into play: we need workers and soldiers, and no less than that, we need men of faith and men of spirit. That is the shepherd’s task: to invest a soul into the Nation’s rebirth, or, more precisely, to uncover the soul hidden within the Nation’s rebirth.

In this regard, Maran Ha-Rav Kook had four ideas about who should do this:

  1. The Charedim. Certainly the Charedim, who are devoted to Torah and Mitzvot, to the fear of G-d and to sterling character, should be the natural spiritual leaders of the Nation’s rebirth. Yet, as is well-known, that has not materialized. Why not? This is not the place to analyze that. It suffices for us to accept the fact that the Charedim have not taken an interest in the Nation’s rebirth in its Land.
  2. The Mizrachi. Seemingly the Mizrachi is suited precisely to this. After all, engraved upon its flag are the words: the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel according to the Torah of Israel. Yet here a problem arose, writes Rav Kook in his letters: the Mizrachi are compromisers. They compromise both on Torah and on the Land of Israel. Since they compromise on Torah, the Charedim are not attracted by them, and since they compromise on the Land of Israel, the Zionists are not attracted by them.

Yet, let us not fall prey to slander. Their compromises do not necessarily stem from weakness, but from a calculation of national responsibility, that in order to gather vast numbers under that umbrella, they mustn’t be overly precise – they should round out corners. Once more, this is not the place to discuss this. Suffice it to say that in actual fact, the Mizrachi did not fulfill its role of leading the Nation.

  1. Degel Yerushalayim. Therefore, Maran Ha-Rav Kook conceived the idea of establishing a new movement that would bind together within it Charedim devoted to the Nation’s rebirth. After all, they will be Charedim, hence the God-fearing public will place their trust in them, and since they will be devoted to the Nation’s rebirth, the Zionists and the nationalists and the builders will derive from them a lofty spiritual soul. Obviously, all this would not happen in one day, but through a prolonged process. Yet this plan did not succeed either. Once more, we will not discuss why, although that is very important. Rather, we will advance in our analysis.
  2. Mercaz HaRav. The fourth idea, which has in fact succeeded, was Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, the Central Universal Yeshiva. The Yeshiva itself has undergone changes and transitions, but it addresses young people profoundly connected to the Nation’s rebirth, to the rebuilding of the Nation in its Land, to the Army and to the State, and it raises them up in Torah until they become great Torah scholars. Rav Kook and Rav Tzvi Yehuda envisioned the correct process, and from the Yeshiva, whose beginnings were small, were born numerous Yeshivot, spread throughout our Land, each with its own special hue. The result has been hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of great Torah scholars glorifying the Nation and serving as its spiritual leadership. Myriads of women have obviously contributed as well.

Clearly, when we say “leader”, we do not mean a dictator before whom all stand at attention, but somebody who gradually taps into all of the spiritual resources stored away in the Nation. As with any human process, ups and downs are likely to occur.  It is important to note, however, that while dozens and dozens of Yeshivot stemmed from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, each with its own particular character, anyone who takes a look at them in the spirit of intellectual tranquility, must admit that there are no great differences between these “daughters” of the mother-Yeshiva. What divides them is minor compare to what unites them: the Nation’s rebirth in its land according to its Torah.

True, these small differences bring with them large arguments, yet such is the nature of the lively world of the spirit. This is also the impression one gets from studying Talmud and Jewish law. He thinks he is drowning in a sea of crashing waves, of countless debates, but the truth is that the Rabbis agree on 99% of the issues, with the “world wars” being fought over that 1%.

Yet the very existence of those hues needn’t bother us. The main thing is that everybody should respect everybody else. Differences of opinion — yes. Divided hearts — no.

It is natural for there to be differences of opinion. There always have been and there always will be. Even when the Sanhedrin arises and there is one law, there will still be diverse opinions. But out of this plethora of views will come a single halachic decision, and even that decision could be reversed over time. As is explained in the first chapter of Mishnayot Eduyot, that is the “banquet hall” to which we aspire – a time of uniform law. In the meantime, however, we remain in the “waiting room,” where we are expected to honor one another. We needn’t agree, but we have to show respect. We mustn’t ridicule. We mustn’t engage in name-calling. We mustn’t compartmentalize or assign labels. After all, the ends do not justify the means. One does not perform a Mitzvah by way of a sin. And even for the sake of the greater goal of one’s view winning out, one mustn’t ridicule anybody, let alone a Torah scholar. And even more so we must not ridicule anybody in the public media for all to hear. That is not the “waiting room” that will lead us to the “banquet hall”.

Indeed, amongst the Rabbis who have spread out from the central Yeshiva, there are many variants: some are more open, some are less so; some love secular knowledge more and some less; some take an interest in culture, and some back away from it; some are more devoted to the State and to the Army, and some less so, and so on, through all the various differences.

At such a time, we have to remember that it is impossible to unite by force or to force our views upon others. After all, we are not talking about small details which one can sometimes forgo for the sake of unity and peace, but about differences in approach that very often are deeply ingrained in the life force of that Torah scholar. It may represent his raison d’etre, through which he views his entire mission.

Therefore, there is also a blessing in the fact that each sapling keeps a distance from the other saplings, as in the metaphor of Maran Ha-Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh 3:15), lest they steal air and sun and water from one another. Each sapling can develop in a totally free manner. And when it grows up and becomes strong, all of the saplings will join together and the entire row will appear in all its perfection.

Indeed, every approach has to be clarified and strengthened on its own terms, for when all is said and done, a new question stands here before us: the Nation’s rebirth. Certainly this is an age-old question, yet for us, no question could be newer. And such was the practice of the first scholars of the Mishnah: every one of them delved as deeply as he could into his master’s words, in order to pass them on as an inheritance down through the generations.

They did not engage in comparing their master’s approach to other approaches, with questions and answers. Rather, their mission was this: to delve deeply and to understand and to clarify and to strengthen the words of one’s master. Only later generations could engage in the work of comparing and unifying after each approach had been well fortified, as may be understood from Rashi on Niddah 8b, at the bottom.

The guiding principle must be for each one to tend to his own garden without trampling the garden of his fellow, and the magnificent end will come.

Parenthetically, it is not clear that among the Charedim there is only one shepherd.

And indeed, this whole communal division between Charedim and Religious Zionists has no place. There is only one Torah. Neither does the communal division between secular and religious have any place. We are all one people. “And who is like Your Nation, Israel, one Nation in the Land” (Shmuel 1 7:23).




Our Great Master Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook


What was special about our great master, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who ascended on High thirty years ago? He ascended on High, but from there he continues to illuminate our path down here on earth.

First of all, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah was the continuation – indeed, the consummate continuation — of our Master, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohain Kook. For Ha-Rav Kook had, has and will have many disciples, but each one inherits a different aspect from him. Thus, they are his disciples to various degrees, some more and some less. One adds and another subtracts.

There are great disciples and simple students. But Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah was the ultimate disciple, neither adding nor subtracting.

Now, one might say, “Obviously he didn’t leave anything out. But why couldn’t he add? Was he nothing more than an imitation? True, he was a “cemented cistern which loses not a drop” (Avot 2:10), but did he not add a drop himself?! Was he not a “spring that ever gathers force” (ibid.)?”

Certainly he was. But how can that be? The answer is that nothing that flows out of a spring is external. Its water all derives from the spring itself. Likewise, everything Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah said was already stored away in the words of Rav Kook, and it makes no difference whether or not Rav Kook actually said it or not. This is the principle derived from the double wording of Devarim 11:13: “If you obey” [Im Shamo’a Tishme’u]: “If you hearken [Tishma] to the old, you will hearken [Tishma] to the new” (Rashi). When one hears a lot of ancient wisdom, with all one’s heart, soul and might, with all one’s intellect, emotion, imagination and will, with all one’s mind, spirit and soul, then the new wisdom, which seems so new, is really old.

What then was the approach of Rav Kook? What was his unique, Divine mission? As stated, Rav Kook’s path has been defined in many ways, because everyone took hold of a different approach. Our master, the consummate disciple, was the one who transmitted to us the definition: “The Redemptive Torah”, clarified at length in the work “Ohr LiNetivoti” (p. 280). This definition includes three parts, which are in fact one: 1. Torah 2. Redemption. 3. Redemptive Torah.

  1. Torah. One might ask: Obviously Torah! Surely Rav Kook was a Torah scholar and his mission was Torah. Yet Rav Kook taught “the whole Torah”. The Torah in its entirety, all of its spheres included. The Torah is G-d’s will. It is G-d’s wisdom, the soul of the universe.

It is what gives the world meaning. It is the world’s cure.

  1. Redemption. Rav Kook, the Cohain Gadol among his brothers, saw that G-d had decided to bring Redemption to His Nation, that He had inaugurated the third return to Zion, the rebirth of the Nation in its Land. He rose up and proclaimed: “Dear brethren, the time of your Redemption has arrived.” In his day, the Land was already being rebuilt, the ingathering of the exiles was taking place, and a Jewish State was in the making. And indeed, later on we witnessed the State of Israel itself coming into being, the wars fought on her soil, the further unification of the Jewish People, the return of Jerusalem to the Jewish People, and the Torah’s return to Land of Israel.
  2. The Redemptive Torah. In other words, the Torah instructs the Nation about its current rebirth. The prophecy, “Joyfully shall you draw water from the wellsprings of salvation” (Yeshayahu 12:3), is rendered by Onkelos as, “Joyfully shall you receive new learning from the greatest of saints.” There are different levels of saintliness. We honor and love all of the saintly, but there are different levels of saintliness, and the “greatest of saints” are at the top.

And who are they? It is they who open for us the wellsprings of salvation in the Torah and fill us with the supreme joy of holiness. It is they who transmit to us the new learning that reveals the soul of rebirth.

Now we can understand how far Rav Kook goes and where Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah begins.

Their common ground is the Nation’s rebirth in its Land, illuminated by the Torah. But Rav Kook elucidated the spiritual strengths at the foundation of that rebirth, while Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah spoke about the actual revelation inherent in a Jewish State and army.

There is a story that Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah asked his father, Rav Kook, “Where are we in the Redemption – at the beginning? The middle? The end?” Rav Kook responded: It depends on our focus. If we are talking about the practical Redemption, then we are only at the very beginning. If we are talking about the Nation’s spiritual strengths, then we’ve already got it all stored away, from start to finish (Igrot Ha-Re’iya vol 4, p. 67). The entire tree is already stored away in the seed.

Now we can understand why the Redemptive Torah constitutes the entire Torah. In the exile we were a scattered, divided people, both physically and spiritually. Every stream, every Jew, took one holy portion as his inheritance, devoting himself fully to that portion. Now the time of the collective has arrived. The Jewish People are uniting in their Land and becoming a collective entity once more. And the Torah as well is being restored to its collective nature, in study and practice, Mitzvot and character refinement, law and homiletics, morality and faith. The entire Nation needs to rise up to rebirth.

Rav Kook ascended on High, but he left behind sustenance for the coming generations, many generations: the generations of rebirth. He prepared the rebirth of holiness.

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah ascended on High, but his spirit affects us and lives on within us. Not only within his books and through his disciples, but even within the entire nation, which has absorbed his words, consciously or not.

We carry on, by the light of our great master, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, building our Land and country, and being rebuilt through it. We carry on with the rebirth of our Nation and the rebirth of holiness, amidst the miracles being wrought by G-d for His Nation and inheritance.




Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his book “Da’at Tevunot”, writes that every person has a task in G-d’s world. Even the most insignificant person was not created in vain. There’s no person who has no place. In his commentary on the prayer book, regarding the end of the Yom Kippur service, Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohain Kook wrote that when a person is born, it is a sign that the world needs him.  All the more so regarding the great men of every generation. This applies to all generations, but especially to the most recent one, the generation of redemption, as the Vilna Gaon wrote at the end of his work, “Even Shleima”.

Ours is a new generation, one in which the nation is being reborn. Throughout the ages we have known that the Exile is temporary, that the Diaspora is a cemetery, and that ultimately the graves would be opened, as the Prophet Yechezkel wrote. We knew that the Exile constitutes awful decay, national decay, and that ultimately G-d would arouse His spirit upon us from On High, as the Vilna Gaon wrote in his commentary on Sifra De-Tzniuta.

That time is now. So Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook teaches us. He didn’t make this up. Nor was he quoting some kabbalistic source. He was quoting a simple Talmudic text, clear and explicit: “Rabbi Abba said: You have no more clear sign of the end of days than that of the verse: “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is near” (Yechezkel 36:8). Rashi explains: “When the Land of Israel yields its fruit bountifully, then the end of days will be near. You have no more clear sign of the end of days than that.” And indeed, the Land is yielding its fruit in bountiful quantities.

Thus, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, a special emissary of G-d, was sent to us to teach the nation the meaning of rebirth, the meaning of a nation living independently in its Land, according to its Torah. He came to remind us of things we had forgotten, and he taught this via five different themes – five that are all one.

  1. Rebuilding the Land. This itself constitutes the revealed end of days. As Ramban wrote in his Addendum 4 to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, we are commanded not to abandon the Land to desolation. Its full expanse must be settled, and no area in it may be left vacant. This is a great Mitzvah: the Mitzvah of settling the Land.
  2. The Return to Zion. It is a great Mitzvah for every Jew to live in our land, and not in any foreign country. Every Jew in the Diaspora must make the move to Israel. This, too, Ramban mentions there, but the Torah itself – from start to finish – expresses this theme. Now that the Land is yielding its fruits, the Jewish People are returning to it from all four corners of the earth, including a massive Aliyah from Russia, something which Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah was absolutely certain would occur, at a time when many viewed it as a distant dream. He spoke much about the Aliyah to Israel of all world Jewry, in all its different shades and stripes, opinions and worldviews. This is the Mitzvah of settling the Land.
  3. The Establishment of the Jewish State. It is a great Mitzvah to establish a Jewish State. This, as well, is from that same Ramban source: “We mustn’t leave the Land under the control of any other nation.” “A Land under the control of a Nation” is what constitutes a political state. Creating such a Jewish state is a Mitzvah, and we have a divine promise by the prophets that we would once more conquer the Land. Sovereignty must be applied to the entire Land.

When Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah was asked, “Is this the political state that our prophets envisioned?” he would answer: “Precisely so! Obviously it isn’t perfect. We must arm ourselves with patience, we must toil together, and we will raise up our level, together with the state itself. This state is an enormous sanctification of G-d’s name, and even if G-d’s name is also profaned here, His Name is sanctified much more.” This is the Mitzvah of conquering the Land.

  1. The Army. Protecting the country obviously requires an army. There are numerous enemies from without and from within. It is a great Mitzvah to go to the army, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah wrote in his article “Mitzvat Ha’aretz” before the War of Independence. He said this included Yeshiva students, and he said no one was exempt from this. This Mitzvah can be divided into three parts, like everything else in the Tzahal: saving the Jewish People, saving the Land and sanctifying G-d’s Name.
  2. The Unity of the Nation. The backbone of the Nation’s rebirth is its unity. We are a Nation and not a collection of individuals. “I shall make you a great nation” (Bereshit 12:2), Who is like your people, Israel, a single nation in the Land” (Shmuel 2 7:23). The Mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew means loving every single Jew without exception. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). You must love him, without casuistry, without twisted logic. Public struggles, as well, wrote Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah in his major article addressed to the public at large, “Et Achai Anochi Mevakesh” (I am searching for my brothers), must be conducted in an atmosphere of love, without raising one’s fists, without humiliating others, without rancor. In other words, love must reign in our behavior, our speech and our thoughts.

All these themes Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught relentlessly throughout his life – in his lectures and personal guidance, in his books and in the works of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook that he edited and published.

And, as stated, none of this is new it is all very old. But it has been forgotten due to the Exile. Now, with the Nation’s rebirth, these portions of the Torah are likewise experiencing a rebirth. At first, Maran Ha-Rav Kook was alone in his generation, and his son, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah after him, father and son being as one. Slowly, disciples gathered to them, and more and more people came and listened, until there were dozens, then hundreds, then thousands and hundreds of thousands. Now the Nation is full of them.

Our teacher’s thought has penetrated many hearts and minds, both of the religious and of the secular, of the Charedim and of the Zionists. His thoughts and his views, which are not his own, but just part of the Torah, hover in the air over the Jewish Nation, consciously or unconsciously, as they build their lives exalting and putting things straight. Obviously there is a great difference between one who proceeds through life doing something knowingly and one who does so unknowingly. This is especially so when we face difficult, complex situations, that require, in our teacher’s words, “nerves of steel”.

Therefore, we call upon every Jew, young or old, working people, men of letters, to study the writings of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Delve deeply into them. Analyze them as much as you can, for they include everything. They are a life source. In them is hidden the soul of the great rebirth of the Nation returning to life in its land, according to its Torah.




The Chief Mistake of Religious Zionism


What is the chief mistake of the disciples of Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and of Religious Zionism in general? Obviously we are only human and we make many mistakes, but it is good to know the main point from which all of the problems derive – such that if we rectify that main point, all the details will be rectified as well.

The chief error is that their longing for the fear of G-d was shunted far aside by their overwhelming longing to love G-d, rejoice in G-d, find strength and fortitude in G-d, and find pleasantness and tranquility, faith and belief in oneself.

All of these things are fine and important, and essential in our generation, which is a generation of redemption, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in his famous letter, Letter #378, in which he notes the need to explain the repentance suitable to the generation: “Before all else we must clarify the confidence, tranquility, strength and joy with which the individual must be enveloped when the light of repentance illuminates his soul…” (page 36).

The reason for this need is that “if someone seeks to achieve a lofty understanding of repentance in these times without taking into account the redemption unfolding before us, and the light of salvation, he will not arrive at the truth” (ibid., 37).

Now we can understand Rav Kook’s testimony about himself: “What a harsh inner struggle I wage, and what a powerful spirit induces me to talk about repentance. All my thoughts are concentrated on this” (Introduction to Orot Ha-Teshuvah).

We therefore wonder: if this letter was written in 5671, why did Rav Kook delay publishing Orot Ha-Teshuvah? As of 5685 he had written only three chapters and then stopped? In fact the book was only published when his son, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, compiled that work from his father’s various manuscripts.

It is well-known that Maran Ha-Rav Kook was blessed with divine intuition. That being the case, what caused the delay? Rav Kook answers this himself: “The greater the matter, the more the hindrances” (Igeret #378). The reason for this is that the person must also “seek ways to ensure that this true joy and holy bliss do not impinge on one’s fear of G-d, and do not in the least lessen the spiritual arousal acquired through all sorts of aspects of earthly fear. Quite the contrary, that joy and bliss should be increasing the force of one’s spiritual caution and alacrity” (ibid.). In other words, Rav Kook was afraid that sublime repentance would harm our conventional fear of G-d, as well as jeopardize the caution and alacrity elucidated at the start of Mesillat Yesharim, i.e., caution to avoid all sin and alacrity to perform every Mitzvah.

“Particularly difficult for me was achieving a precise clarification” (ibid.). That is, Rav Kook expressed his difficulty in striking a precise balance between how much we must address joy and how much we must avoid this. This is the hard work of finding a balance (and see Orot Ha-Teshuvah at the end of Chapter 14).

The rule is this: joy does not erase the fear of G-d. Rather, it constitutes a stage above it, and quite the contrary, it strengthens it. Rav Kook likewise writes in Chapter 1 of Orot Ha-Teshuvah, that supreme repentance will appear after the lower stages of repentance, they, themselves, having developed into the higher stages.

We find the same in the Zohar, which notes the contradiction between “Serve G-d in fear” (Tehillim 2:11), and “Serve G-d in joy” (Tehillim 100:2), and resolves it by stating that

first one should serve G-d in fear and afterwards in joy (Zohar Vayikra 56:1).

True, in his article “Ha-Dor,” about his generation, Rav Kook wrote, “They are incapable of repenting out of fear, but very fit to repent out of love” (Ikvei Ha-Tzon 111). Yet that involves a non-ideal situation in which the edifice is constructed starting with the upper stories. All the same, when we have to rescue someone, we do it however we can.

Obviously, however, afterwards the fear of G-d has to be filled in, for the Torah includes a Mitzvah of fearing G-d, and that Mitzvah has not been nullified.

Moreover, fear of G-d is the foundation of all else. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d” (Tehillim 111:10); “What does G-d ask of you other than to fear Him?” (Devarim 10:12);

Fear the L-rd your G-d and serve Him” (ibid., 10:20); “Any person who has Torah in him but not the fear of G-d is like a thief who has been given the inner keys, but not the outer keys” (Shabbat 31a); “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind” (Kohelet 12:13).

Moreover, if there is no fear of G-d, the love of G-d will collapse as well, as the Jerusalem Talmud explains: “One verse states, ‘Hashem your G-d’ (Devarim 6:5), while another states, ‘Fear Hashem your G-d and serve Him’ (ibid., 6:13). Exercise both love and reverence.

Exercise love, so that should you be prone to hate Him, your love will already be there, and one you love you cannot hate. Exercise reverence, such that should you be prone to show G-d disrespect, your reverence would stop you from doing so.” (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 5:5).

One who loves cannot hate, but he can show disrespect. There are all sorts of disrespect. There is harsh disrespect, such as rebellion, trespass, willful sin and casting off one’s yoke. There is subtle disrespect, coated in a false coating of love. Examples include, “I can’t connect to Torah”; “It doesn’t speak to me”; “I have to be true to myself”; “I have to heed my inner voice”; “I listen to the G-d within me”; “Accept me as I am”. All these comments represent New Age thinking, which was adopted by “Neo-Chassidism”, which is actually Neo-Paganism.

Although it is possible to find such expressions amongst the great figures of Chassidism, or in the writings of Rav Kook, they are only in very small doses. When, however, such an approach occupies a much larger place, when a marginal point becomes the be-all-and-end-all, it turns into idolatry. This subtle disrespect creates all sorts of sins, under the veil of serving G-d joyfully.

Yet reverence can save one from such disrespect, because fearing G-d means seeing yourself as a servant of G-d who created us and brought us out of the House of Bondage. As it states in the “Sefer Ha-Gan” by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rav Elazar, a disciple of Moshe Ha-Darshan: one who fears G-d constantly thinks: “I was created only to wholeheartedly be G-d’s servant, as it says, ‘Serve G-d with all your heart’ (Devarim 11:13)… This means sincerely… Every individual must undertake to submit himself totally to G-d, to fear Him at all times, and to serve Him as a servant who must serve his master. He mustn’t behave like a person who sometimes obeys and at other times does not. Rather, one must perform G-d’s commandments with constancy… Neither should one pass up the least commandment of His Maker” (Sefer Ha-Gan Le-Yom Rishon).

Some will say, “But surely we attach ourselves to G-d better as G-d’s children than as G-d’s servants.” The answer to that appears already in the Zohar: Even a son cannot escape being his father’s servant, albeit that he has permission to glimpse into the king’s treasure house. (Zohar Vayikra, Behar, 111:2:272).

Remember this: “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind.”






Who is the Gadol Ha-Dor?


People are always saying: This Rabbi is the Gadol Ha-Dor or that Rabbi is the Gadol Ha-Dor, etc…  Who is the Gadol Ha-Dor?  The problematic word is not the word “Gadol – great,” we know who the great Torah scholars are.  The problematic word is “Ha-Dor – the generation.”  What is the meaning of “the generation”?  Would a great Rabbi of one generation be the leader of another generation?  Our Sages explain that Hashem showed the leaders and sages of each and every generation to Moshe Rabbenu until the time of the Messiah, as it says in Shir Ha-Shirim (1:8), “Follow the footsteps of the sheep (ikvei ha-tzon)” (Yalkut Shimoni, Shir Ha-Shirim #982).  We learn from this that each generation has leaders which are appropriate for it.  The leader of the generation is the right man in the right place at the right time.  Everything is therefore dependent on the generation.  The Vilna Gaon wrote in his book “Even Sheleimah” (chap. 11) that each generation has its virtues and its limitations, as well as the repentance it must perform based on the way Hashem is directing the world during its time.  Each generation is directed differently.  There was the generation of leaving Egypt, the generation of wandering in the desert, the generation of entering the Land of Israel, the generation of the Tana’im (the Rabbis of the Mishnah), the generation of the Amora’im (the Rabbis of the Gemara), the generation of leaving the Land and the generation of returning to the Land.  Each generation has its role, challenges, obligations, and trials.  When we want to speak about who is the Gadol Ha-Dor, we must therefore define the generation.

What is unique about our generation?  Anyone who asks this question displays a lack of understanding.  Our generation is unique as it is the generation of revival.  Haven’t you noticed that the Land which was destroyed is now blooming like the garden of Hashem?  Maybe it is happenstance? – It is not happenstance!  It is the hand of Hashem.  And haven’t you notice that the Land which was empty is now filled with millions of Jews?  By chance? – It is not by chance!  And haven’t you noticed that in the Exile we were enslaved to the non-Jews and now we are free?  And haven’t you noticed that in each and every generation the non-Jews rose up to destroy us and now we have an army? – And let us see what happens if our enemies rise up.  And you haven’t noticed that the economy is strong?  And haven’t you noticed that the Torah is flourishing in the Land of Israel?  You therefore see that Hashem has decided to return his Divine Presence to Zion.  Someone who does not see this does know this generation and cannot lead the generation.  He may be able to lead another generation, but not this generation.

Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook wrote in his letters (#378 and this famous letter also appears at the beginning of his work Orot Ha-Teshuvah) that there is a need to write a book of repentance which is appropriate for this generation.  Someone who wants to write an innovative work about repentance with holiness and awe of Hashem can do so, but if he does not see the Revealed Redemption and the light of salvation shining, he is not able to bring out the truth of the Torah.  This means that someone may be a great Torah scholar and an extremely righteous person, but if he does not notice that Hashem is doing something with this generation, he does not know this generation.  It is therefore not by coincidence that the first book that Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote when he made aliyah is called “Ikvei Ha-Tzon” (Footsteps of the Sheep).  “If you do not know the beauty of the women” (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:8), i.e. if you do not know how to help this generation repent and how to lead them, “follow the footsteps of the sheep (ibid.),” i.e. you must understand the generation.  The Torah – and any Torah ruling – must be based on two things: Knowledge of Torah, which is the essence, and knowledge of the reality around you.  There is a story about a rabbi who was learning Torah with his father-in-law, who was great Torah scholar.  They would learn, and if someone came with a question, the great Torah scholar would answer and they would return to learning.  The great Torah scholar once went out for a bit and a woman entered with a question about her piece of meat.  The son-in-law said: “Wait, wait, I am not the Rav, he will be back in an hour.”  The woman said: “I can’t wait.  My children are waiting to eat.  I need an answer.”  He had mercy, looked at the meat, found a contradiction between two laws in the Shulchan Aruch, came up with a solution, compared it to another ruling and gave a ruling.  Just then, the great Torah scholar entered.  The rabbi said: “Father-in-law, this lady came in with a liver, I looked at this meat, found a contradiction between these two laws in the Shulchan Aruch, came up with this solution, compared it to this particular law and ruled this way.”  The father-in-law said: “Very good.  There is only one problem: That is not a liver, it is a spleen.”  A Torah ruling has two parts: knowledge of Torah and knowledge of the reality.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in that letter that someone who does not see the light of salvation shining cannot reach the truth of the Torah.

Therefore, if we ask: who is the Gadol Ha-Dor?  He is the great Rabbi of this generation, the one who knows and understand this generation, the generation of the most horrible catastrophe and the generation of the greatest revival.  He is the unique Divine messenger to lead this generation.  Baruch Hashem, there are many great Rabbis and we are happy about this fact, but Rav Kook is the Gadol Ha-Dor.  The teachings of Maran Ha-Rav Kook comprise a system for building the generation which is reviving our Nation in our Land and teaching us how to insert a soul into this revival – a difficult task.  One needs patience, as this revival progresses slowly and it can take generations.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, said that his father is not only the leader of this generation, but the leader of generations.  And we hold on to the coattails of Maran Ha-Rav Kook and our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, and continue to toil in the work of the national revival in our Land until the Complete Redemption arrives.




Honoring the Chief Rabbi of Israel


Question: Is there are obligation to honor the current Chief Rabbi of Israel?

Answer: Absolutely.  What kind of question is that?!

Explanation: One is obligated to honor every Torah scholar and one is obligated all the more so to honor the Chief Rabbi.  This is the story in the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (25).  Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin – i.e. the Chief Rabbi, ruled one way and Rabbi Yehoshua ruled another way.  Rabban Gamliel said to Rabbi Yehoshua: “You have to come to me with your staff and your money belt on the day that you calculated to be Yom Kippur.”  Rabbi Yehoshua asked Rabbi Dosa ben Hurkenos if he was obligated to go.  He answered: “He is the Chief Rabbi and he decided.  If you question this Chief Rabbi, you have to question every Chief Rabbi going back to Moshe Rabbenu.”  If you say, “How was it that former times were better than these?” (Kohelet 7:10), you are incorrect.  You forgot.  “Go to the judge that will be in your days” (Devarim 17:9) – that is the judge you have.  And the later generations should not say that the earlier generations were superior (Rosh Hashanah ibid.).  Rabbi Yehoshua went and Rabban Gamliel stood up, kissed him on the head and said: “Peace be upon you, my Rabbi and my student.  My Rabbi in wisdom and my student in that you obeyed me.”  Fortunate is the generation where the elders – i.e. the greater Torah scholars – listen to the juniors, and all the more so when the juniors listen to the elders (Rosh Hashanah ibid.).  This is an explicit Gemara.  This is the way events occurred according to divine direction: each time there was a head of the Sanhedrin, there were greater Torah scholars than him.  Certainly the Chief Rabbi of today is not like the head of the Sanhedrin back then, but the Torah scholars of today are also not like the Torah scholars back then.  Each one according to his level.

In the book “Chayei Ha-Re’eiyah” (p. 212 and see the talk of Rav Tzvi Tau on Elkanah in Emunat Itenu vol. 1, p. 85), Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriyah relates that a Torah scholar who made aliyah from America came to Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook and complained about the state of Judaism in the Land of Israel.  He was so distressed that he was considering leaving Israel.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook said to him: Doesn’t your honor remember the learning of his youth?  The Book of Shmuel relates about Elkana: “This man would ascend from his city every year to prostrate himself and to bring sacrifices to Hashem, Master of Legions, in Shiloh, and the two sons of Eli, Chofni and Phinchas, were cohanim to Hashem there” (Shmuel 1 1:3).  Rav Kook asked two questions about this verse: 1. Why are we told in this verse that Chofni and Phinchas were there?  2. Our Sages say that Elkana would not only go up to Shiloh, he would go around and encourage others to do so as well.  Why did he have to do this?  After all, isn’t ascending to the Mishkan on the holidays a Torah Mitzvah?  Why weren’t people following this Mitzvah?  Rav Kook explains that the first question is in fact the answer to the second question.  The fact that Chofni and Phinchas were the cohanim in Shiloh caused people not to make the pilgrimage there, since they were corrupt.  People said that if there were cohanim like this in this holy place, it was better not to go and see this ugliness and meet such sinners.  Elkana then came and convinced them that despite the sons of Eli and despite the sins at this holy place, they should not give up on this Mitzvah of Hashem.  They should strengthen this holy place.  Right now there are not great people there, but later there will be.  Do not give up because of the difficulties.  As a reward for this act, Elkana was blessed with a son, the prophet Shmuel, who served in the Mishkan.  Rav Kook said to the Torah scholar that the same applies in relation to the holiness of the Land of Israel.  Why are you mad at the Land of Israel?  There are problems, therefore exert yourself and everything will work out.  Although there are sinners, this is not a reason not to make aliyah and all the more so not to leave the Land of Israel.  The more people committed to the Torah and Mitzvot in the Land of Israel, the more holiness will be added to it.

There may be problems with the Chief Rabbinate, but you have to honor it.  I have always said that the Chief Rabbinate is the nucleus from which the seedling will sprout from which the Sanhedrin will blossom.  Everyone understands that it is not the Sanhedrin and it is not even a seedling of the Sanhedrin, but it is the nucleus and the nucleus is precious.  Do you think the Sanhedrin will sprout from nothing?  No, it will appear slowly.  The same thing applies to the State of Israel.  Okay there are difficulties, but what do you suggest?  Would you prefer the British, the Turks or the Arabs?  The State was built slowly.  The Rabbinate was built slowly.  The yeshivot were built slowly.  Everything is built slowly.  If you want everything to be whole from the first moment, you will not have anything.  There are ups and downs.  You had Rav Kook who was a Torah giant and afterwards you had others who were less than Rav Kook, and so it seems that they will continue to be less than Rav Kook.  The essence is that we must pay attention to the process and not reject something great because of a temporary difficulty.




In Defense of the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal


Claim 1: My Rabbi is a greater Rabbi than the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal.

Answer: But your Rabbi is not as great as the Sages of the Talmud, who ruled that we follow the decisions of the Mara De-Atra, the local rabbi.  The Gemara states (Shabbat 130a) that in Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos’ region, trees would be chopped down on Shabbat to provide coals needed to make the circumcision knife. This was the custom, even though Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkenos alone ruled this way. Similarly, in Rabbi Yossi Ha-Gelili’s sphere of influence, people would consume fowl and milk together, because he deemed it permissible. This is despite the fact that he alone ruled this way, and the general principle that the law follows the majority. Conclusion: we follow the rulings of the local Rabbi, due to the principle of showing honor to Torah scholars, as explained in Shut Ha-Rashba (1:253), as well as Rama, Choshen Mishpat 25:2.


Claim 2: The army is not a locality. It’s not a place. It’s not a town. There is therefore no “Mara De-Atra.”

Answer: The concept of Mara De-Atra does not depend on geography, but on community. Even if a community moves elsewhere, if their Rabbi goes with them, he remains their “local Rabbi”. Some argue that before the Ashkenazim moved to Israel, the Mara De-Atra of Eretz Yisrael was Rabbi Yosef Karo, the “Bet Yosef”. When the Ashkenazim arrived, they therefore became obligated to rule according to him. But, despite that argument, the Ashkenazim did not conduct themselves that way (for example, see Chazon Ish on Yoreh Deah 150:10 and Shut Minchat Yitzchak 8:1-2). And even the Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael, i.e., those from Morocco, are not obligated to follow the Bet Yosef. Rather, each community follows its own Rabbi, who is their Mara De-Atra.

Questions arise for soldiers. For example: if a soldier keeps six hours between meat and milk, but he cannot wait the full amount of time because, for example, he’s going out to lay an ambush, what should he do? The illustrious Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren, first Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Army, said that the army is like a different country, and the soldier is considered as one living in that country. He is thereby obligated to rely on the local authority.

This point is not just relevant with ad-hoc questions but with permanent issues as well. An Ashkenazi who decides to live his whole life in a Sefardic community follows Sefardic custom. In Tiveria, for instance, the Ashkenazim recite Hallel on Rosh Chodesh without a blessing, in accordance with Sefardic practice (Bet Yosef, Orach Chaim 422:2). This is because originally, everyone in Tiveria was Sefardic. When the Ashkenazim arrived in dribs and drabs, they became Sefardim. Later, when many Ashkenazim arrived, an Ashkenazic community was reborn, but the practice of reciting Hallel without a blessing remained. All the same, if an Ashkenazic community had arrived with its Rabbi, they certainly would have recited Hallel with a blessing.


Claim 3: The Chief Rabbi of Tzahal does not know how to rule on Jewish law. He is a total ignoramus.

Answer: To say that is to show contempt for Torah scholars. Some, in response, engage in casuistry, claiming “they’re not showing contempt for Torah scholars, for he is no Torah scholar.” It’s like those people who call other Jews the “mixed multitude”, and when they are told that it’s forbidden to call a Jew by that name they respond, “But they’re not Jews!  They’re the mixed multitude…” You cannot say that a Rabbi does not know how to rule on Halachah unless you prove it. Show me that the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal has ruled falsely in the name of the Torah.

He ruled that women are forbidden to sing at army ceremonies, but that if women sing anyway and you can’t get permission to leave, you should remain. Some Rabbis rule differently, but he rules that you should stay. He rules that way because there is a Halachah that if someone is in a place where he is hearing women sing against his will, he does not have to leave (Pesachim 25b. See Chafetz Chaim 6:6).

In a lot of Ulpanot [National Religious girls’ high schools] when the girls sing, their Rabbis (and the husbands of their teachers) are there. They remain seated and do not leave. They do this every Shabbat. In the past, Rabbis would stay during all ceremonies, even when women sang. The debate over whether to leave or not is legitimate, but you cannot say that the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal does not know how to rule on Halachah just because he ruled that a soldier should not leave.

One time, at a British royal ceremony in Eretz Yisrael, a woman sang, and Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld put his fingers in his ears, put his head down and withdrew into himself. His attendant asked him, “How could you stay?!” and he responded, “The glory of the crown.” By contrast, Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook rose and fled the room like one fleeing fire (Mibechirei Tzadikaya by Rabbi Yosef Zussman, p. 178). One can debate whether the ruling is correct or not, but one cannot say that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Sonnenfeld does not know how to rule on law. The same applies to the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal.

At many governmental ceremonies, women sing and Rabbis don’t leave. Even at the funeral of Ha-Rav Chanan Porat, his daughter sang, and the two Chief Rabbis of Israel did not leave.

If the Mara De-Atra errs, one can discreetly and respectfully point it out to him.  Ha-Gaon Rav Avraham Dov Auerbach, Av Beit Din (Head of the Rabbinic Court) of Tiveria, once told me about an incident that occurred there in the past: it once happened that the “eruv” was damaged, but the Rav of Tiveria ruled that it was kosher. There was a great Torah scholar who lived there and he bumped into the Rav of the city after Shabbat. They talked, the Torah scholar walked him home, and then they sat and chatted some more. The Torah scholar said, “Let’s learn some Torah.” The Rav of the city obviously agreed. The Torah scholar took Massechet Eruvim and they learned. Suddenly, the Rav of the city said, “Oy va-voy! If so, I ruled incorrectly today!” The Torah scholar said, “It appears so.” The Rav of the city asked, “Did his honor announce in his shul not to carry on Shabbat?” “No,” he responded, “since carrying in this place is a rabbinic prohibition, but honoring a Torah scholar is a Torah Mitzvah. I therefore did not say anything.”

Even if the Mara De-atra errs, you cannot proclaim that he has erred. You can argue gently and try to persuade him. And, by the way, everyone agrees that women’s singing is a problem on the level of Rabbinic law (Berachot 24a. Rambam, Isurei Biah 21, Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 21, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8).


Claim 4: The Chief Rabbi of Tzahal is under the thumb of the Army Chief-of-Staff. He takes orders from the army, and they tell him what to rule.

This claim that he lies in the name of the Torah because he is under pressure from the Chief-of-Staff and has vested interests, also constitutes a show of contempt for Torah scholars.  It is similar to the ruling of the Satmar Rebbe who said that all Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael

are invalid to issue rulings regarding questions related to Israel, because they are all under the thumb of the State of the Heretics.  Therefore, regarding such questions, one should ask Rabbis in America… (see Va-Yoel Moshe, Shalosh Shevuot #60, 171-172).

How do you know that he rules in a certain way because he is afraid of the Chief-of-Staff?  You have no proof. You cannot make accusations against people without reason. If you do, you can say that every ruling by a Rabbi is tainted by personal interests. For example, someone claimed that Hillel ruled that one can wed a woman by giving her just a Perutah (a very small coin), because Hillel himself was poor… Some people engage in psychological analyses of Rabbis. Whenever a Rabbi says anything, they wrap it in psychological motives. You can’t say such things without proof.




A Rabbi Can Make A Mistake?!

Question: I have been teaching Torah and serving in the Rabbinate for twenty years, and I belong to the Ultra-Orthodox sector.  I happened upon a book from one of the students of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, I read it out of curiosity and also in order to publicly prove his mistake, but the opposite occurred and I saw that he speaks the truth. I learned other books from his stream of thought, and I reached the clear conclusion that during all of the years I was mistaken in my relationship to the Land of Israel and Zionism. One question bothers me: How can I follow a different path than my Rabbi, for I am full of respect and love for him, since I owe everything to him?  Moreover, how can it be possible to imagine that so many great Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis erred?  I am willing to say this about myself, but not about them.

Answer:  I commend you for your integrity. It should only be that we should all learn how to admit the truth.  To get to the heart of the matter, this question has been dealt with in many books, among them “Geulat Yisrael” by Rabbi Avraham Yelin, who was a brilliant Sage, although not well-known. Yet for his book he had approbations from the Admor of Ostrovtza and from Maran Ha-Rav Kook. In addition, his book “Erech Apayim” was very well-known.

Rabbi Yelin wrote: “Some claim that once someone has accepted a particular person as his rabbi, and that rabbi is opposed to Zionism, one must teach in accordance with that view so as not to violate the prohibition against “straying to the right or to the left from what they tell you” (Devarim 17:11). That is a mistake, however, for that verse is referring to the
Great Sanhedrin” (Geulat Yisrael, page 15). Quite the contrary, if it appears to a disciple that his rabbi has erred, he must ask him about this and argue with him until his rabbi changes his mind (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 242). There are numerous examples in the Talmud and the Poskim [Halachic decisors] of disciples disagreeing with their rabbis (page 15).
Regarding the issue of Eretz Yisrael itself, we find that Rabbi Yehudah was one of the illustrious giants of his generation, and he ruled that it is forbidden to move from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael (Ketubot 110a). His disciple, Rabbi Zeira, disagreed with him and moved there (ibid.), as did his disciple Rabbi Abba (Berachot 24b and Geulat Yisrael, pp.15-16).  He points out in the name of Rabbi Akiva Eiger that in our times, following the invention of the printing press, books have been disseminated throughout the world, and it is possible for there to be a student who studies books that his rabbi never studied, such that the student knows more than his rabbi (page 16). He likewise quotes Maharal Mi-Plotzk who said that if an illustrious rabbi knows the whole Torah, yet has not toiled to understand a particular law, and a lesser rabbi does not know the whole Torah yet has toiled to understand that particular law, the latter can better arrive at the truth, such that we will rule according to the lesser rabbi (Shut Meshivat Nefesh 16 and Geulat Yisrael, page 3).

As far as your wondering how it is possible for so many great rabbis to err regarding something so simple, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, wrote to a great Charedi Rabbi: “I was pained by what your esteemed self wrote some time ago in regard to G-d’s great and awesome deed in rebuilding His Nation and inheritance and gathering in His scattered ones, and in regard to the Zionism that is associated with this. It is clear that you are absolutely mistaken regarding those matters. What you wrote is like what Ra’avad wrote in Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 3, about the many rabbis greater than himself who followed a particular line of thought” (Le-Hilchot Tzibbur #6).

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, is referring to Rambam’s words that whoever says that   G-d has a body is a “min” (an apostate), and to Ra’avad’s response that Rambam is reacting too sharply to the great rabbis of Israel who thought that way. Here we have great rabbis who made an enormous error.

A question obviously remains: What made these illustrious rabbis err regarding the rebirth of our Nation?  Rabbi Yelin responds that the true reason is found in the words of the illustrious and holy Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher from Greiditz, who was blessed with “Ruach Ha-Kodesh,” Divine intuition. Rabbi Gutmacher was among the first to raise the idea of
agricultural settlement in Eretz Yisrael. He wrote to the illustrious saint Rabbi Elazar Wachs, suggesting the reason for the opposition: “The main cause of the opposition is that even in the greatest saints evil takes control to nullify this goodness. The whole force of evil is dependent upon this” (from a letter quoted in the book “Nefesh Ha-Chayah”). The author of “Chidushei Ha-Rim” wrote similarly regarding the sin of the spies (“Sefer Ha-Zechut” in Parashat Beshalach and “Geulat Yisrael,” pp. 8-9).

Rabbi Yelin mentions that sometimes even the prophets erred.

Moshe erred regarding the goat of the sin offering, and as a result of that, he became angry with Elazar and Itamar (Vayikra 10). Yehoshua bin Nun erred regarding the Givonim (Yehoshua 9); the Prophet Shmuel erred when he was going to anoint one of the sons of Yishai and he wished to anoint the wrong one (Shmuel 1 16).  Yerovam ben Navat succeeded in tricking the Prophet Achiyah Ha-Shiloni into giving his approval to idolatry (Sanhedrin 102a and Geulat Yisrael, p. 9).

Regarding settling the Land itself, the Torah says that “the whole community threatened to stone [Yehoshua and Calev] to death” (Ba-Midbar 14:10), and Rashi on 14:1 says that the phrase “the whole community” connotes the Sanhedrin. As Chiddushei Ha-Rim of Ger explains, the Sanhedrin argued that Eretz Yisrael would corrupt them (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9).
During Ezra’s times, the vast majority of the great rabbis opposed his going up to the Land on the pretext that Eretz Yisrael would cause the Jews to worship idols (Midrash Rabbah on Shir Ha-Shirim 5:3).

“The greatest saints handed over the Rambam’s works to Christian priests to burn… Many illustrious rabbis fanned the flames of controversy, persecuting and inciting against our master Rabbi Yehonatan Eibschutz, the holy Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto and our teacher the Ba’al Shem Tov” (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9).

“We have likewise heard about one mistake put in writing by a brilliant, holy rabbi. Due to the author’s greatness, the Charedim struggled to understand what he had written, and the holy Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk, who was a great lover of truth, said in this regard that the truth that emerged from here was that it showed the author that even he was only human” (ibid.).

Rabbi Yelin was apparently referring here to what the Maharal Mi-Prague wrote, that there is a difference between two Hebrew words that both mean “with him”: “Imo” and “Ito”, and that when Abraham took his two lads “with him” the Torah refers to this with “Imo,” whereas when Bilam took his two lads “with him” the Torah uses “Ito.” Truthfully, however, in the Torah it is the opposite (see Bereshit 22:3 and Ba-Midbar 22:22). The Maggid Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz wrote an answer to this problem (printed in “Be’er HaGolah,” p. 155). Yet the Kotzker Rebbe, who had enormous admiration for the Maharal, said that even an illustrious rabbi can err.

Rabbi Yelin concludes, “From all this we can conclude that even a great and saintly rabbi can make a mistake… The truth is that even the greatest rabbis amongst the opponents have no correct knowledge on this issue” (Geulat Yisrael, p. 9). Thus, how fortunate you are to have merited to attain the truth from great rabbis who did not err, faithful emissaries of the Supreme King of Kings.




Revering Torah Scholars

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught us to revere all Torah scholars. Once, one of his students disparaged Charedi Rabbis and accused them of being responsible for Jews dying in the Holocaust. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah castigated him: “Before all else, you must learn the meaning of treating Torah scholars with respect!” He devoted several hours to explaining this concept to him. Why go to such lengths? Because “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, passed it down to Yeshoshua, Yehoshua to the elders and the elders to the prophets, and they in turn passed it down to the Men of the Great Assembly” (Avot 1:1). Without those who handed down the Torah, there is no Torah. Everything rests on the way we relate to those who learn Torah. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world” (Berachot 64a). That is their essence.

Consider how Rabbenu Tam honored Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra. With enormous humility he wrote: “I am the servant of Avraham, and I prostrate myself before him.” And see the adoration with which Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra responded: “Is it proper for a knight of the People, mighty and thundering, to lower his head in a letter to a simple individual?”
If you say that the Rabbis of our own generation are not as great as those of previous generations, you are not speaking from wisdom. Our Sages taught us: “Gidon in his generation was like Moshe in his generation, and Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation…” as it says (Devarim 17:9), ‘Approach the Cohanim and Levi’im and the judge who will be in your times’” (Rosh Hashanah 25b).

Do not cast aspersions on the Rabbis of the generation if you find a shortcoming. A person is judged according to his overall deeds, and a great Rabbi’s shortcomings surely make up only a negligible minority of his total: less than a sixtieth, perhaps less than a thousandth. Our Sages did not refrain from pointing out that even the greatest Jewish personalities – the Patriarchs, the kings and the prophets – had shortcomings. That does not mean, however, that we are allowed to criticize them. An irrevocable pre-condition for criticizing them, says Maran Ha-Rav Kook, is that we ourselves must be learned, saintly, pure, and free of all blemish (Ein Aya, Berachot 83, page 97, Ot 29).

Moreover, writes Radbaz, even if it is revealed that a great Rabbi has expressed himself heretically, there is no reason to ridicule him. After all, even after Rabbi Hillel said to the Jewish People that there shall be no Messiah, the other Rabbis continued to quote him (Shut Radbaz 4:187).  Also, Rav Kook wrote that if we set out to create a fence to protect Jewish law from harm, we mustn’t as a result cause even greater destruction by disgracing a Torah scholar (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 56).

Controversy between scholars is legitimate. It is good to ask questions of the great Rabbis of the generation, our spiritual leaders. Having faith in the sages doesn’t mean playing the fool. It is permissible to ask. Yet it is forbidden to disgrace them! In any case, it is impossible to follow all of the sages at once. There are controversies among them. Therefore, one must “find a Rabbi” (Avot 1:6), but at the same time honor all other Rabbis.

The rule is this: Love and revere those who dedicate their lives to Torah day and night, for their devotion earns them divine assistance. The Rabbis said: Whoever loves Torah scholars will have a son who is a Torah scholar. Whoever is deferential to Torah scholars will have a son-in-law who is a Torah scholar. Whoever reveres Torah scholars will himself become a Torah scholar (Shabbat 23b).

We can learn from Yehoshafat, King of Judea. Whenever he saw a Torah scholar, he would rise from his throne and hug and kiss him and say to him, “Rebbe! Rebbe! Master! Master!” (Ketuvot 103b). Rabbi Zeira, when in need of a break from his studies, would sit at the entrance to the house of study in order to be able to fulfill the Mitzvah of rising before Torah scholars (Berachot 28a; quoted in Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 19). How fortunate we are that we have Torah scholars! How fortunate we are that we love, honor and revere them!



The Torah Scholar’s Ambition


Question: What ambition should a yeshiva student have? To be a great Torah luminary?

Answer: That can be worded better. His ambition has to be to grow in Torah, to increase his Torah. We must avoid haughtiness and expressions such as “great Torah luminary”. A person requires a bit of sense and a bit of humility. Not everyone can become a great Torah luminary. It depends on one’s talents and prospects. But he must grow in Torah, each person in accordance with his ability. Or, it can be worded differently: the goal is to become a Torah scholar. This is something to which every Jew should aspire. “And all your children shall be disciples of Hashem” (Yeshayahu 54:13).

There are different types of Torah scholars. There are professional Torah scholars, for whom Torah is their trade, like Shul rabbis or yeshiva rebbes, and they earn a living from this. There are non-professional Torah scholars, like carpenters, engineers or soldiers, who are full of Torah. Being a Torah scholar is the ideal, normal state of every Jew. He should be full of Torah, full of spiritual, moral and halachic thoughts.

Therefore, in Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook never led training programs for rabbis, teachers or rabbinical judges. Every student was supposed to learn all of these things himself. The main thing, rather, was to raise up Torah scholars. That is the ideal image of the Jew: a Torah scholar!

In various cultures the ideal was to be a knight, a monk or a gentleman. For us, the longed-for goal is the Torah scholar. As noted above, not every Torah scholar has Torah as his profession, but being a Torah scholar is what constitutes his personality.

As much as a person can, he should grow in Torah. For this there are Yeshivot. The first was the yeshiva of Moshe. It is true that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov also learned in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, Noach’s son and great grandson. Yet we do not know exactly how they learned there.

The yeshivot have carried on until our own day, and they have the glorious goal of raising up Torah scholars. To become a Torah scholar one must learn with diligence, work on perfecting one’s character and increasing one’s fear of G-d. One must also show enormous self-sacrifice. According to the effort, so the reward.

It’s not just a matter of the quantity of knowledge, but of devotion to study. The main thing is not to know but to study, and that study will leave its mark on the person’s whole personality, and the person will bring a blessing to his Nation.





Non-Zionist Rabbis

Question: Should we relate to non-Zionist Rabbis reservedly and in a unpleasant manner?

Answer: G-d forbid that such an idea should enter your mind!  We are obligated to honor all Torah scholars, even if there are sharp differences of opinion between us and them, and anyone who scorns a Torah scholar is in the category of a heretic (Sanhedrin 99b).  It is also forbidden for Torah scholars to scorn other Torah scholars.  Scorning Torah scholars is like scorning the Oral Torah, which appears through the medium of the Rabbis and their students, and it is therefore heretical. The Jerusalem Talmud compares this to a structure of stones, if one stone is shaken, the entire structure is shaken (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10:1). That is to say, one who scorns a Torah scholar, scorns and knocks over the entire building of the Torah in Israel (see “Perek Tzibbur” by Maran Ha-Rav Avraham in Ma’amrei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 55).


It is, however, obviously permissible and a Mitzvah to wage war against their mistaken opinions which do damage to all of Israel, but all of this must be done without scorning them, G-d forbid.  The war of ideas is permissible, but it must be done with love, fraternity, peace and friendship, within the context of respect and awe. Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained that the ideal of “Great is peace” (“Gadol Ha-Shalom” – a midrashic expression lauding the important of peace) does not imply complete agreement, but rather that responding to harmful opinions does not necessitate dispute.  We are able to respond with reasoned explanations, and through this, it will not in any way destroy the peace (Notes on the booklet “Or La-Yesharim,” Ginzei Re’eiyah 3:27).


Note: In this vein, it is worth recalling the following story about our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah:

Even though the Satmar Rebbe had a completely different outlook from our Rabbi, he never scorned or denigrated him. Once Ha-Gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l issued a ruling regarding the height of a mechitzah between men and women in a shul, that in pressing situations it is permissible to be lenient in a particular issue.  The Satmar Rebbe came out against him. Our Rabbi said: “It is known that our paths are separate and different, but in this issue he (the Satmar Rebbe) is correct.”  Even though they were polar opposites regarding the Redemption of Israel and Klal Yisrael (the entirety of Israel), our Rabbi never said one negative word about him.




The Satmar Rebbe is Visiting Israel!


Question: The Satmar Rebbe arrived in Israel for a visit.  Is it obligatory to go and greet him?

Answer: A person is not obligated to greet every single Torah scholar, especially since – Baruch Hashem – there are so many Torah scholars today.  A person is only obligated to greet his Rabbi, i.e. “Rav Muvhak” – the Rabbi from whom he has gained the majority of his knowledge.  Additionally, even if a Rabbi is not his main teacher, but is the “Gadol Ha-Dor”, he is considered one’s “Rav Muvhak.”  Therefore, if the Satmar Rebbe is one’s “Rav Muvhak,” he is obligated to go and greet him, but if he is not, one is not obligated, although it is certainly permissible.

Regarding the question if the Satmar Rebbe is the “Gadol Ha-Dor” there is a dispute.  Who is the “Gadol Ha-Dor”?  The answer for us is simple: the “Gadol Ha-Dor” is Maran Ha-Rav Kook.  In fact, he is not only the leader of this generation, but the leader of generations.  But it is possible that there is a dispute.  One person says that this rabbi is the “Gadol Ha-Dor,” while another says that another rabbi is the “Gadol Ha-Dor.”  Surely some thought that the Rambam was the “Gadol Ha-Dor” and others thought that Rabbenu Tam was the “Gadol Ha-Dor.”  It is even possible that each is the leading rabbi in a different sense.  The Gerrer Rebbe said that there is no need to find out which holiday is most important.  On Pesach, Pesach is the most important.  On Shavuot, Shavuot.  On Sukkot, Sukkot/  Each holiday, when it falls is the most important one.  So too here, it is possible that there are different types of leading Rabbis of the generation.   Nonetheless, the students of the Satmar Rebbe consider him the “Gadol Ha-Dor,” and others do not agree.  Thus, one is not obligated to greet him as the “Gadol Ha-Dor.”

Question: It is forbidden to greet him?

Answer: Why would it be forbidden?   Some say that if Yitzchak Rabin was a “Rodef” (literally a “pursuer” – who one is permitted to kill in order to save the pursued) then the Satmar Rebbe is all the more so a “Rodef” on account of his virulent anti-Zionist views.  We reject this position, since according to all halachic opinions, Rabin was not a “Rodef” and thus neither is the Satmar Rebbe.  It is certainly not forbidden to greet him.


The question of a rabbi who ridicules and insults the State of Israel, others Rabbis, etc. is a very sensitive topic.  On the one hand, the transgression of a Torah scholar who shames other Torah scholars is very severe.  On the other hand, we need to give the Rabbi as much benefit of the doubt as possible.  For example, there was a “Gadol Ha-Dor” of the previous generation who shamed all of the other Rabbis.  Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin said about him: He is insane – he is not normal.  This was giving him the benefit of the doubt.  There are also Torah scholars who have extremely harsh styles of speaking.  They refer to everyone as apostates, heretics, etc.  Explaining that this is someone’s style of speaking is also a type of giving the benefit of the doubt.  We are not saying that this is proper, but are trying to see others in the best possible light.

In any event, quite simply, it is extremely important to honor all Torah scholars.  One should not shame them, even if there is a harsh communal dispute.  The Gemara in Sanhedrin (99a) explains that one great Rabbi, Rabbi Hillel (not Hillel the Elder who was a contemporary of Shammai), said that the Messiah would not come.  This is certainly a severe statement.  Everyone is waiting for and anticipating the Messiah, yet in his opinion: “No – there is no Messiah.”  Rav Yosef said to him: “May Hashem pardon his error” (as explained by Rashi).  We clearly see that despite the severe nature of Rabbi Hillel’s comments, Rav Yosef did not shame him.  Based on this, there is a Teshuvah of the Radvaz (4:187) that even a great Rabbi who has expressed himself heretically should not be ridiculed even though one should argue with all forcefulness against his ideas.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained this law based on the Jerusalem Talmud, which compares disgracing a Torah scholar to a structure of stones: that is, if one stone is shaken, the entire structure is shaken (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10:1). Thus, one who scorns a Torah scholar knocks over the entire building of the Torah in Israel (see “Perek Tzibbur” by Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohain Kook, Ma’amrei Ha-Re’eiyah 55).  Scorning Torah scholars is similar to sitting on a powder keg; we do not know when it will blow up and who will be injured.  Shaming Torah scholars cannot be controlled and we do not know where it will end.  If someone disgraces one Torah scholar, he disgraces them all.

We saw this with our own eyes: Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the first Satmar Rebbe, made extremely harsh statements.   Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, never scorned or denigrated him even though their stances were diametrically opposed.  Our Rabbi once heard a severe ruling in the name of the Satmar Rebbe, and all he said was: “This is not correct.”  Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah also admonished students who expressed a lack of respect towards the Satmar Rebbe, and would not allow them to continue to speak.  Once Ha-Gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein issued a ruling that in pressing situations it is permissible to be lenient in a regarding the height of a mechitzah between men and women in a shul,.  The Satmar Rebbe came out against him. Our Rabbi said: “It is known that our paths are separate and different, but in this issue he (the Satmar Rebbe) is correct.”  Even though they were polar opposites regarding the Redemption of Israel and Klal Yisrael, our Rabbi never said one negative word against him.




Should Rabbis Intervene in Politics?


Question: Is it proper that rabbis engage in politics? Maybe their job is to engage in Torah study and in exalting the individual in his private life, which obviously will bring great blessing to the nation. Maybe they shouldn’t be engaging in general communal matters, let alone weighty, controversial questions affecting the public, when they receive their salaries from the state.

Answer: Indeed there is such an approach which argues: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto G-d the things that are G-d’s.” The government will deal with state matters in this world, and the clergy will deal with matters of the soul and the World-to-Come. This is the well-known Christian approach, advanced by Jesus to our Sages the “Pharisees”.

The problem is that, in the meantime, we as individuals live in this world, in this country, and we intend to remain here for a long time, as long as G-d, in His kindness, lets us. And the problem is that precisely by means of what happens in this world, we arrive in the World-to-Come. (Mesilat Yesharim chapter 1).

The problem is that our ideal is not just heaven but also earth, following the precedent of Avraham, who was commanded, “Go forth to your land” (Bereshit 12:1). Likewise, Moshe was commanded by G-d, “You have remained near this mountain too long. Turn around and head towards the Amorite highlands…. See! I have placed the land before you” (Devarim 1:6, 8). This is the special quality of our Torah. There is not only a Torah for the individual, but a Torah for public affairs, as well. More precisely, there is both the Torah of the public and a Torah of the individual. Or, even more precisely, there is a Torah of the individual that derives from the public Torah.

What, after all, is “politics”? It is a Greek word meaning, “the conduct of the city”.  And in its expanded meaning, it connotes the conduct of the nation, of the country.

Therefore, not only are rabbis permitted to engage in this — they are obligated to. They bear spiritual responsibility not just for the individual but for the community.

Obviously, the issue here is not the political details and technicalities, but political philosophy. As an example, a rabbi does not deal with medicine, but with medical ethics. He is not an economist, but he deals with business ethics. He is not a military commander, but he defines the legitimate use of weaponry.

The rabbi engages in politics in the sense of guiding the nation and the country, the purview of men of the spirit. The politicians themselves have a narrow perspective. They lack the tools to solve general problems touching on the historic, ethical, and spiritual. That is the task of Torah scholars.

Towards that end, the rabbis have to be familiar with the facts and the problems. They have to know the institutions involved, be able to make value judgments, and to know when historic processes are taking place. In a word, they have to be pedagogues of the nation.

Obviously, even the political technocrats have to be honest people dealing faithfully with the needs of the public — they can’t be sunk in the deep mire of unethical political back-scratching. Yet even if they are faithful public servants, they cannot rise up to the exalted role of fashioning a society the way a Torah scholar can. The Torah scholar can be classified as an idealist-realist. Therefore, men of the spirit were always involved in politics, starting with the prophets, and on through the sages. In other words, rabbis must know the reality well, they must establish what the goal is, and they must sketch out a plan. This is called educating the nation.

With this comes an answer to the question: what should rabbis who receive a salary from the state do if government institutions order them to remain silent on political matters?

It’s very simple. They should continue to talk, as our prophets did, as well as our Sages down through the generations, even in the exile.

There was the case of Rabbi Menasha of Ilya who expressed sharp criticism of the Russian regime for its “Cantonist” decree, by which ten-year-old Jewish children were drafted into the army for twenty-five years under the aegis of the tzar’s “Russification” program. Jewish communal leaders pronounced that because he was an official rabbi of the community, receiving a salary, he was not allowed to express himself in this matter. That great Torah scholar, a disciple-contemporary of the Vilna Gaon, responded, “If so, I quit this minute. I am no longer your official rabbi. I want no salary, and I shall say everything I want and must say.”

That is how our rabbis should conduct themselves now. It is also very logical and essential. A rabbi’s influence does not depend on his official appointment. He can’t force anything on anyone. He only teaches Torah, and only to those minds and hearts that want to hear it. If so, his quitting does not mean that he will stop talking and influencing, but only that he will stop receiving money for it. What emerges is that if he agrees to remain silent for the sake of money, he can no longer be classified as one who “hates profit”, and that constitutes a substantial flaw. By such means, obviously, he will lose the public trust, which will view its spiritual leaders as filtering their words in a filter of silver.

Therefore, if a nightmare ever comes true of rabbis being forbidden to speak out on public issues, they will have no choice but to resign and support themselves through other holy works. Then they will be able to express themselves freely.

Obviously, there may well be rabbis who will not speak out on public matters because they do not understand them, and they are certainly right in remaining silent, because they don’t understand.

What a shame they don’t understand, however, since such issues are part of their duty. Likewise, rabbis can also make mistakes. Indeed, rabbis must study each issue in depth before commenting, but that does not exempt them from the duty of studying and understanding. Rabbis may also have trouble drawing the line between public issues and the technical side of politics, and that is an error as well.

Generally, however, rabbis are definitely required to involve themselves in politics, and that, despite their receiving a public salary. Rather, the very fact that they receive a salary intensifies their duty to worry about the country.

We are quite familiar with the approach according to which religion should be kept separate from the state, and should shirk its responsibility to rectify injustice. In that regard Karl Marx said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world”; and, “The aim of religion is to anesthetize the people’s political consciousness, to describe to them an illusory world transcending the contentment that can be found here. It accustoms man to a world without a soul.”

Yet that is not our way. When Rabbenu, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook was asked whether it was good for rabbis to intervene in politics, he responded, “It’s very good!  According to the Torah, they are obligated to intervene. If they don’t, they’re traitors! The Torah says, ‘Fear no man’ (Devarim1:17).” (from the introduction to the book, “Bama’aracha Ha-tzibburit”).

Another time when people argued that things he had said had stirred up a public debate, and that rabbis shouldn’t engage in politics, he responded: ‘I don’t ask anybody’s permission. Whatever is truth and justice I am obligated to publicize, in accordance with the Torah. The politics of the Jewish People constitutes Torah.  It is holy.”



Honoring Rabbis at Weddings


Question: Should we honor our Rabbis by inviting them to weddings to recite blessings under the Chupah?

Answer: What honor is there in this? When I was a small child, I was taught to recite blessings. When guests came and saw that I knew how to do it, that brought me great honor. But a Rabbi knows how to recite blessings, so what honor are you bestowing on him when you ask him to recite a blessing? And not to mention the problem of the long pauses that develop between the blessings under the Chupah, which some sources say is a problematic interruption. In some communities, it is customary for the groom to recite all the blessings without pause.

Someone once told me that he wanted to honor me with a blessing. I told him that I don’t chase after honor, and in any case this doesn’t honor me. He then told me that he wanted me to bless him so that I would honor him. Now he was speaking the truth. He wanted me to come in order to honor him. Obviously, I want to honor everyone, but perhaps this indicates a bad trait in him, as he is pursuing honor.

As is well-known, Rabbis don’t play tiddly-winks all day. They barely have any spare time. They also have families. For some of them, their rabbinic salaries do not suffice, and they have to do other work as well. So why are you forcing them to come to a wedding, to waste two or three hours, just to say a half-minute blessing? Because you are chasing honor. You should consider well before inviting Rabbis and wasting a lot of their precious time. Especially considering that, for some unknown reason, weddings always start late.

When I got married, I said that the wedding should begin at such-and-such a minute, and it began at that minute. I appointed a friend to take a cab and have it arrive ten minutes before the Chupah at the home of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, who officiated at the wedding. I also told him, “After the Chupah, stay with the Rabbi, get a cab and bring him home.”

I told another friend: when you bring Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, be at his house a half hour before the appointed time, and bring him back as well.” Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Min-Hahar preferred to come on his own, and arrived five minutes early. The wedding started right on time. Why start late and waste people’s time? I told all the guests and friends that the Chupah would start on time. My wife, as well, told all her friends and family the same, and so it was.

You might ask: Aren’t people happy to have an evening out? It could be, but Torah scholars don’t have the time.

If you invite a Torah scholar to a wedding, you have to take care to transport him there and back. Many times I’ve been invited to weddings where they have forgotten to arrange to bring me home. You must take care of a Rabbi’s transportation and not waste his time. The further the wedding is from his home, the more you have to consider whether it is justified to make him miss time learning Torah. If you decide it is, take care of his transportation. Pick him up exactly on time and place someone in charge of taking him home directly after the Chupah. Many times I’ve looked around after the Chupah to find who is taking me home, and everyone refers me to someone else. It should not be that way! If you invite your Rabbi, arrange decent transportation for him: both ways.

One person invited his Rabbi and told another Rabbi to take the first Rabbi home. He turned that second Rabbi into a cab driver. Of course, being a cab driver in Eretz Yisrael is a wonderful thing, because with every four cubits of travel he merits the World-to-Come (Ketuvot 111a). All the same, however, don’t turn Rabbis into cab drivers. You must think all these things through. At stake is wasting a Rabbi’s Torah-learning time. One has to be very careful regarding a Torah scholar’s time.

Once time Ha-Rav Shimon Shkop was ill, and Rabbis contributed their Torah learning to his cure. One Rabbi contributed half-an-hour. Another contributed fifteen minutes and the Chafetz Chaim contributed one minute. People asked him, “Rabbi, is that all?!” and he answered, “Yes. You don’t understand the worth of Torah learning. If you understood it, you wouldn’t be puzzled.”

A major rule is that you don’t put pressure on Torah scholars. A Rabbi knows all the considerations. If he says he cannot come, then he cannot come. There’s no need to pressure him. You shouldn’t pressure anybody, let alone a Torah scholar. At my own wedding, I gave an invitation to Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Natan Ra’anan, and he didn’t come. I don’t know why he didn’t come, but I didn’t ask. Yet he sent me a letter with a blessing.

You’re allowed to invite your Rabbi to your wedding, but you don’t have to invite all the Rabbis of the yeshiva. Even as far as your own Rabbi, you should ask him if he wants to come in such a manner that it won’t be unpleasant for him to say no. “If you come, I’ll be very happy, but if you’re busy, that’s perfectly fine.” When you ask someone something, you have to ask in such a manner that it will be ok for him to turn you down. Don’t pressure anyone, let alone your Rabbi.

There are loftier ways to honor your Rabbi than giving him a blessing under the Chupah. There’s no law that a student has to follow his Rabbi’s path. He can follow another path, but if he thinks that this is the Rabbi who made him what he is, he has to find the avenues to increase his Rabbi’s honor. Ha-Rav Yoel Kahn, one of the closest disciples of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, admires his Rebbe and wants to increase his honor. He therefore works to spread his Torah, so that people read his ideas and learn from them. That’s called increasing one’s Rabbi’s honor. I don’t know if he ever kissed his Rebbe’s hand. Doing that doesn’t increase his honor. Dedicating his life to teaching his Rebbe’s Torah is what increases his honor

Likewise, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook is my Rabbi. That’s why I published his talks. Otherwise, people would forget what he said. This took hours, days, months, and a lot of money. Five volumes of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s talks on the Torah cost half a million Shekels. I took the money from my own book sales. In this way, I did my utmost to disseminate his Torah. Also, for years I collected all of his tapes. Having learned them, I wanted to honor him so that his words would spread. But I never kissed his hand. One day when he was eating, a crumb of bread fell on his trousers. I moved my hand to clean him off and he hit my hands. “How dare I…”.

If someone truly loves his Rabbi, honors him, and wants to increase his Rabbi’s honor, he must come up with ways to truly honor him, not via external gestures but via genuine paths to honor.



Matchmaking Talk


Is one allowed to wed a newly religious person?

Certainly. There’s no problem with it. See Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 7), who says that if someone becomes religious, that person is not second class. Quite the contrary. G-d loves him dearly and all his sins are wiped out. It is even forbidden to mention anything at all about his background. It’s true that there is a controversy in the Talmud about what is better – a newly religious person or completely righteous person. There are advantages to both

Is it permissible to wed a girl who has committed many sins?

Repentance blots out everything. Yehoshua Bin Nun wed Rahav, who was entirely corrupt from head to toe (Zevachim 116b). Yet she repented and converted to Judaism and he married her. Eight kings and prophets emerged from that match (Megilah 14a). Even the prayer “Aleinu’, written by Yehoshua, contains a sentence attributed to Rachav: “For Hashem is G-d in Heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other” (Yehoshua 9:11).

Is one allowed to wed a girl if one of her parents is problematic?

I cannot answer since I am biased. I have one grandfather who married the daughter of a thief and another grandfather who married the daughter of a murderer. This is not Lashon Ha-Ra since everyone knows them: The first is Yitzchak Avinu and the second is Yaakov Avinu. What fault does the young man bear and what is his sin? One must be judged on his or her own merit.

Is one allowed to wed a convert?

Yes. Boaz wed a convert and the result will be the Messiah. Ploni Almoni didn’t want to wed a convert, and he lost out (see Rut Rabbah 7:6, 9 and Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah, pp. 263-5). A person who converts is like a newborn baby. Is there any problem with marrying a woman who was born?

Is one allowed to wed a girl whose father is a non-Jew?

The Talmud (Yevamot 45a) tells of a person who approached a rabbi and asked him, “What is the law regarding someone born of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother?” The rabbi answered, “He’s kosher.” “If so,” he replied, “Give me your daughter for a wife.” The rabbi answered, “No. Even if this person were as great as Yehoshu Bin Nun, I wouldn’t give him my daughter for a wife, even though he is kosher.” His students asked him, “So what should this person do?” and he replied, “Either he should wed a woman who similarly has a non-Jewish father, or he should go someplace where people don’t know him and there he should marry whomever he pleases.”
The illustrious Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky expressed surprise at this idea (in his “Kehilot Yaakov” on Yevamot 4:44), stating that it seems to prove that one is allowed to hide a significant blemish, such as being the son of a non-Jew. He responds that since it was ruled that the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother is a kosher Jew without limitations (Rambam, Hilchot Isurei Bi’ah 15:3), his non-Jewish father is not considered a serious blemish that one must reveal. See the work “Ve-Ha’arev Na” by Ha-Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein (vol. 2, pp. 188-190) about a boy who the morning after his wedding is visited by an Arab who informs him that he is his father-in-law. Obviously the groom was filled with trepidation, but Rav Zilberstein ruled, based on the preceding principle, that after the fact, his wedding does not constitute a mistaken [hence nullified] transaction.

Is it permissible for someone to wed a girl who was born to parents who did not keep the laws of Family Purity?

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Rav Isser Yehuda Unterman, told a story: “There was once a girl to whom two matches were suggested. The one was steeped in Torah learning, but his parents had conceived him without observing the Laws of Family Purity. The second was not steeped in Torah but he had no blemish involving the laws of Family Purity. A great rabbi ruled that the first was preferable, ‘because the Torah he had learned had cleansed his blemish.’ We may derive from this that the virtue of Torah overrides the blemish of not keeping the family purity laws.” (from a booklet which I believe quoted the Chazon Ish).

It is further told about a father who asked the Satmar Rebbe, “My daughter was offered a boy who is newly religious. What does the Rebbe have to say about that?” The Rebbe asked, “Is he learned in Torah?” and the father replied that he was. So the Rebbe told him, “If so, there is no problem. “‘G-d is the hope [Hebrew “Mikvah”, also meaning “ritual bath”] of Israel’ (Yirmiyahu 17:13) – Just as a ritual bath purifies the impure, so does G-d purify Israel” (Yoma 8:9). If the boy learns Torah, it is better than any Mikvah” (see the brochure “Kehilat Yisrael”).

The most important principle in matchmaking is the mnemonic “Mi Va-Mi”, literally “Just who are they?” but also short for “Your deeds [ma’asecha] will draw you near [yikrevucha] and your deeds [uma’asecha] will distance you [yerachakucha]” (Sefer Chupat Chatanim, Rabbi Rafael Meldola, laws of matchmaking, p. 11).

Is it permissible to marry a divorcee?

A divorced woman is perfectly fine.

Obviously, one has to clarify carefully the background behind the divorce, but being divorced is not a stigma. Quite the contrary. In most cases, the woman is a great heroine. She has been through suffering that has cleansed her. She has suffered loneliness which has prepared her for true friendship. She has borne, alone, the burden of educating children. One has to marry a woman with fine character traits, and if she is divorced, so be it.

Is one allowed to marry a widow?

Yes. Of course, one might ask, “Maybe she still loves her previous husband?” Perhaps, but if she has decided to remarry, that is a sign that she has moved on. It is very important to know that widows and widowers who decide to marry must remove the past from their hearts and take a new lease on life.

Is one allowed to marry a woman who already has one or two children?

If the children are small, that is certainly very good. You will be their father in every sense of the word. It is more complicated if they are older. Sometimes this creates tension, and preliminary psychological counseling is necessary.

Is one allowed to wed a woman older than oneself?

Where is it written that the man has to be older than the woman? People say that women mature more quickly than men, just as we see that Bat Mitzvah age precedes Bar Mitzvah age. When a couple is very young, this makes a difference, but with older couples, it doesn’t.

Is one allowed to wed a girl from a different ethnic group?

All Jews are equal. There is no meaning to the fact that one is from one ethnic group and the other is from another. Yardsticks of compatibility include age, intellectual level, outlook on life, mentality, character, etc. Even when Israel was divided up tribally, they still intermarried. For example, Manoach’s father was from the Tribe of Dan and his mother was from the Tribe of Yehudah (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:5). Only during the generation that entered the Land was a restriction placed on marital choice: when a family only had a female to inherit the land (as with the daughters of Tzelofchad), the women were asked to wed within their tribe, in order to keep land inheritances from moving from one tribe to another. Apart from that, however, there was no limitation on marital bonds between tribes (see Baba Batra 120a). All the more so in our own day, where tribal division has disappeared. We mustn’t invent insignificant differences between ethnic groups.


Is it permissible to wed a young woman who talks non-stop?

Certainly. After all, she just doesn’t want to differ from our Sages’ dictum (Kiddushin 49b) that ten measures of talk descended to the world, and nine were taken by women and one by men. It creates a pleasant atmosphere of talk in the house.


Is it permissible to wed a young woman who is taciturn?

If you both sit and are silent, then apparently neither of you is talkative. You therefore have to prepare topics for conversation. Does that seem artificial? Where is it written that it’s forbidden to be artificial?  The head-covering, the shirt, and electricity are artificial. A lot of things are artificial. Even the Talmud did not descend ready-made from heaven. The Rabbis put it together in their wisdom based on the word of G-d. The young woman will learn to talk. These are things that you learn.


Is it permissible to wed an impoverished young woman?

It’s recommended. A wealthy girl is accustomed to a lavish way of life, and when she doesn’t have it, she suffers. She may not make demands, but she still suffers. By contrast, a poor young woman is used to living modestly and won’t suffer from it.  Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah once asked his father about two matches that had been suggested to him: A wealthy young woman and a poor one.  If he married the wealthy young woman, he’d be able to learn Torah in peace but would not be able to give her everything she wanted, while if he married the poor one she would already be used to living modestly but he would have to worry about earning a living. Maran Ha-Rav Kook told him that he should decide by himself. In the end, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda decided to wed the poor young woman (Tzvi Kodesh, pp. 152-157).


Is one allowed to wed a girl who is not pretty?

Certainly. After all, the chapter of Mishlei that we sing on Shabbat night, “Eshet Chayil”, states: “Grace is false and beauty is vain. A woman who fears Hashem is the one who shall be praised” (31:30). If you marry a pretty young woman, you won’t be able to sing “Eshet Chayil”… The philosopher Walter was asked: “What is beauty?” and he replied: “It depends on whom you ask. If you ask a black man, he will respond: ‘A black woman’. If you ask a Japanese man, he will reply: ‘A Japanese woman’. If you ask a bull, it will reply: ‘A cow’. If you ask a toad, it will reply: ‘A female toad’. And if you ask a philosopher, he will answer” ‘Incomprehensible gobbledygook’.”

We learn in the Talmud (Ketubot 16b-17a): “What should one sing as he dances before a bride at her wedding? Beit Hillel said: ‘What a lovely, righteous bride!’ Bet Shammai asked them: And if she is lame or blind, should you say, ‘What a lovely, righteous bride?’ The Torah says, ‘Distance yourself from a lie’ (Shemot 23:7). Beit Hillel replied, ‘According to what you say, if someone made a bad purchase in the marketplace, should his acquaintances praise or disparage it when speaking to him? I would say that they should praise it.’ Based on this our Sages said, ‘One should always attune himself to his fellow’s concerns.'”  Maharal comments that beauty and truth are subjective. The groom doesn’t love his wife because she is beautiful. She is beautiful because he loves her.


Is one allowed to wed a woman who limps?

Where is it written that it is forbidden to limp? Even our Forefather Yaakov limped for a while.


And if she’s missing a finger?

That’s nonsense. It makes no difference. She doesn’t put on Tefillin.


And if she’s missing a hand?

What’s the problem? But how will she take care of a baby? What – are there no husbands with two left hands?


Is one allowed to wed an angry woman?

That’s a virtue. With an angry wife, you’ll learn humility, and thanks to her you’ll win a place in the World-to-Come.


Is one allowed to marry a disorganized woman?

Why not? You keep things organized and that way you’ll learn humility. One time a woman wrote me that her daughter was disorganized, and that in all her life she had never seen such disorganization as with her daughter. Whenever she would go to her daughter’s for a visit, she would find pots lying on the floor with food from the preceding Shabbat that had already gone bad, and also, the whole house was sticky. It was literally Sedom and Amorah after they were overturned. She asked me to write a letter about the value of cleanliness and order, which she would then pass on to her daughter. I wrote it and I gave it to her. One day I was invited to the daughter’s house, and in the middle of the meal the daughter told me: “You wrote a letter to my mother about cleanliness and order, and she gave it to me. Only then did I [Rav Aviner] notice that her house was an indescribable mess. Until then I hadn’t noticed, because that house was so full of love and joy…”


Is it permissible for a groom and bride to marry when their fathers have the same name?

Certainly.  This is prohibition is mentioned in the Testament of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chasid (#23 and brought in Pitchei Teshuvah, Even Ha-Ezer 2:107 and Yoreh Deah 116:6).  There is a dispute whether the Testament of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chasid only obligates his own offspring or everyone.  The Noda Bi-Yehudah (Second Edition, Even Ha-Ezer #79) wrote that this “prohibition” is not mentioned in the Gemara and it is not possible to add prohibitions which are not found in the Gemara.  The Rebbe of Sanz did not agree, and said that everything in the Testament of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Chasid applies to everyone (Shut Divrei Chaim, Even Ha-Ezer #8).  Some authorities advise in such a case that one of the fathers add to his name, and then there won’t be an issue.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote three responsa on this subject at the beginning of Shut Ezrat Cohain (#5-7).  He says that being particular about this issue only necessary when someone is suggesting a match, because it is possible to suggest many other people.  If the couple meets on their own, however, it is different because it is not easy to meet someone to marry.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook also said that this does not apply in Israel, since the merit of Eretz Yisrael protects one from such spiritual matters.  He mentioned the Gemara in Berachot (44a) that there was one city in Eretz Yisrael called Gufnit that had eighty pairs of brothers who were cohanim married to sisters, who were the daughters of cohanim.  We see that they were not worried about “pairs” (a spiritual concern) since they were in Eretz Yisrael.  In general, one who is not concerned about such matters is not affected by them.  Furthermore, if a couple has an inclination and desire to marry, there is no concern.  In sum: There is nothing to worry about. If you add a name, then there is no problem according to all opinions.

And we can mention that when they were writing the Tana’im for Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski, who is solely referred to as “Chaim,” the question arose as to how to write his name since he was given other names at birth: “Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim.” The Chazon Ish said: Who said that we should reveal his other names? They didn’t have to do so! As is known, Ha-Rav Kanevski is the son-in-law of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and Ha-Rav Kanievski’s mother, the wife of the Steipler, was concerned that the other side would be particular about them having the same name, and she therefore brought up the issue at the Tana’im. The Chazon Ish, however, was not concerned since the son-in-law and father-in-law each had additional names – Ma’aseh Ish vol. 7 pp. 130-131.


Does one have to wed the daughter of a Torah scholar?

One should marry a Torah scholar’s daughter (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer 2:6). Alternately, she, herself, can be like a Torah scholar.  Once, children were like their parents, so much so that our Sages said that one who marries a woman should check up on her brothers (Baba Batra 110a). Nowadays, when siblings aren’t identical, we don’t insist on this point. The main thing is that she herself should be steeped in Torah wisdom.  The Chassidim are more strict regarding marrying the daughter of a Torah scholar, and the non-Chassidim are less strict. All the same, the traits of the woman herself are what is most important, for a person marries his wife, and not his parents-in-law, however important and great they may be.



Question: One of the problems of prolonged bachelorhood is that the more time passes, the more choosy one becomes (as opposed to the simple logic which says that the older one becomes, the more he should have to “compromise”). It seems like the reason for this is that older singles have gone out dozens (or even hundreds) of times, and the more prospective partners they see, each with his or her own advantages, the more they look for somebody with all those advantages, when in fact no such person seems to exist. The big disadvantage of this is that when they meet someone new, they don’t open a new page but bring along all of their baggage from the past. So how can a single person ignore all of his old history and start over “fresh” each time?


Answer: I think this is chiefly a problem of men and not women. Indeed, the choosy person justifies himself, saying, “I’ve waited so long, I don’t want my waiting to have been in vain. Let me at least gain from it.” That is the faulty reasoning of compulsive losers: “I played, I gambled and I lost, but this time I’m going to win. It’s got to be. Then I’ll compensate myself for my losses.”


Indeed, this is an example of the imagination winning out over the intellect.  Unfortunately, most people let their imagination hold sway. Instead of using their intellect and mind logically, they prefer to think about what is pleasant for them, even if it is wrong. Obviously, this flight from wisdom does not just hurt their dating, but also the marriage that follows, and other realms of life as well, and it does terrible damage. Therefore, a person should do himself a favor and realize with his mind and his intellect that he is hurting himself.


A boy once asked, “Marriages are made in heaven, so where is the girl destined for me? The answer is: “You missed her. She wasn’t 100% what you wanted, only 90%. Therefore, she married somebody else, who is 80% suited to her. But they bridged the gap and now  live happily.” In other words, marriage is no different from other spheres of life which involve a combination of natural suitability and concerted effort. See Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 1, which teaches that a person faces a severe battle in this world. Everything on earth requires an effort. The same is explained also at the end of Chapter 6. Whoever thinks he can lead a happy married life without investing in his bond is living in a dream world. If someone thinks he will find a spouse perfectly suited to his desires, as in the movies, he’s only thinking about being married to himself.


This is part of the Divine service involved in finding a spouse — making the effort, communicating, bridging the gaps, seeing things in the right proportion and perspective, seeking advice from friends and from more experienced people.


One time a boy asked his rabbi: “I’m going out with a girl, but she has shortcomings A, B and C.”

The rabbi answered him, “She’s got a lot more. You’ll discover them after the wedding.”

“Do you know her?” the boy asked.

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Then how do you know this?” asked the boy.

The rabbi replied, “I’ve been following the human race for more than 5000 years, and I’ve noticed human nature. You’re looking for a girl who is an angel. Such creatures don’t exist. And even if one existed, she wouldn’t marry you, because you’re no angel. For example you’ve got a shortcoming that you’re too choosy, and that’s going to cause you problems after your marriage. If so, this is a perfect match. A non-perfect man with a non-perfect woman. Literally, non-choice grapes with non-choice grapes (play on see Pesachim 49a). And the grapes are not A+ grapes, but they are still Grade A. Mazel tov!”


Unfortunately, older singles have a bad reputation that it doesn’t pay to go out with them. If they stayed unmarried so long, it’s a sign that they are too picky, and one shouldn’t pin any hopes on them. Obviously, that’s an unfair generalization. There are also very humble singles without exaggerated demands, who just haven’t yet found their match.


Therefore, every older single must ask himself whether he’s too picky, and if so, he should repent. In actual fact, there are two yardsticks before marrying: appreciation and love.

  1. Appreciation is chiefly built upon a good heart and good character. If that’s there, everything will work out.
  2. Love is not a rational process. Certainly you have to find a girl pleasing to you, but even in that one shouldn’t overdo it, overemphasizing insignificant details, such as, for example, the girl not being slim enough. Because then, what are you going to do when, with G-d’s help, the woman becomes pregnant after the marriage? Emotionally speaking, marginal details should be digested slowly to make it possible to fall in love.


The main thing is not to despair. Many single men and women have gotten married at a late age, and are now living happily.




Searching for a Torah Scholar


Question: Many girls are looking for a righteous, G-d fearing boy with sterling qualities, but some of them insist on going out only with boys who have decided to devote all their lives to Torah pursuits. The years go by and they don’t find what they are looking for. What is the proper path?

Answer: The girls’ yearning to wed a Torah scholar is appropriate, for Rambam wrote, “It is the nature of man to be drawn after the opinions and behavior of his friends and acquaintances, and to conduct himself like the people of his region. Therefore one must attach oneself to the righteous and always spend time with the wise in order to learn from their deeds. As it says, ‘To Him shall you hold fast’ (Devarim 10:20). One should wed the daughter of a Torah scholar and marry off his daughter to a Torah scholar” Hilchot (De’ot 6:1-2).

Obviously, we cannot know the future, and if a girl weds a yeshiva student whose plans are to learn Torah all his life and to be a rabbi, there is no guarantee that he will hold fast to this goal.  Conversely, quite a few persons with various professions have decided at a certain point to devote themselves to Torah, and have emerged as Torah scholars. Yet if a yeshiva student is determined to become a rabbi, there is a much greater chance he will achieve this than if he has other aims in life.

Still, the central question is to define what is a “Torah scholar”.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, opposed the idea of “Kollel” for married students, and he viewed it as an option only for those who had already learned before their weddings to continue learning afterwards. He held this view because he was against fixing a defined purpose for a Kollel, such as a program preparing rabbinic court justices, rabbis or halachic decisors. Rather, he said that the purpose of a yeshiva must be to produce true Torah scholars. He explained that there are professional Torah scholars whose profession is Torah, and there are non-professional Torah scholars who have a different profession, yet who obviously are replete with Torah, its study, its fulfillment and its character.

This does not mean that they will have no influence on our Nation’s path, for as is well-known, influence does not have to be formal. Our master, Ha-Rav Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, in his work “Eder HaYakar”, explains that the main influence of a Torah scholar comes about through his very personality, and his oral and written influence is only secondary. This is likewise the meaning of “The Torah’s application is greater than its study”. In other words, the personal influence of the Torah scholar is greater than his academic influence (Ein Aya, Berachot 7). This is true regarding anyone, all the more so regarding a Torah scholar’s wife, who when all is said and done is not influenced precisely by her husband’s articles or lectures but by his very personality, and the same applies regarding his children.

Therefore, a woman should not seek to wed precisely a Torah scholar who will provide her with the title of “Rebbitzin”, but someone who will lead a life of Torah.













Disciples of Moshe


Question: What is the right way to learn Torah? Should I try to understand the words of our Sages and the commentaries, or should I clarify what I, myself, have to say and what seems right to me?

Answer: The main point is to acknowledge and believe that G-d’s intellect is infinitely above our own humble human intellect. That is the necessary approach for our Torah learning to be real. How can my impoverished intellect be exalted enough to have any contact with the Divine intellect? It is through humbly and reverently understanding my own limitations. Yet, if I do not relate reverently to absolute divine truth, if I try a bit to address it on its own level, then I am not learning the truth of Torah, but only studying my own thoughts and feelings…

That is the question — am I thinking, speaking and innovating, or am I listening?

Moshe’s greatness was not so much that he came up with his own innovative ideas, but that he listened to the word of G-d. Once and for all, Moshe constructed the foundation of listening to G-d. As Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook wrote: “Man’s greatness, what makes him rise above all that is exalted, is his opening himself up to hear G-d’s voice, to accept G-d’s word, not to innovate with his own ideas, not to set forth a vision, not to become entrenched in the limited resources possessed by man and by every other creature, but to accept. Moshe, the greatest prophet, the most humble man on earth, achieved this exaltedness entirely by listening to G-d, and that listening was not tainted at all by the darkness of man’s limitations. The way he listened to G-d established forever how man should do that” (Olat Re’eiyah 2, 159).

What most epitomized Moshe greatness was his listening to the word of G-d, devoid of any influences from without  that could deplete that greatness. He was free of all the pettiness of man’s individuality and temporality, thus enabling him to exalt himself totally to the eternal, infinite Divine truth. If I am humble, I learn Torah in order to try to exalt my intellect to that of the Torah. Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook would explain that one must strive to bring one’s intellect closer to that of the explanation by the Tosafot commentary, and not to try to bring the Tosafot commentary closer to one’s own intellect. After all, the words of the Tosafot are G-dly. They constitute Divine intuition.

But if I try to clarify what I say and not what our Sages said, than I must first define who “I” am. After all, I am just the product of a certain education and environment. If it is I who determines the Torah’s meaning, then I transform it from holy to profane. Then it is no longer G-d’s word. It is I. Then I no longer have Torah.

It all depends on my humbly believing that Torah is divine, far loftier that all of man’s thoughts.

We certainly have nothing against secular knowledge. But the secular must be informed and illuminated by the sacred. If, however, I arrogantly raise myself up above the Torah, engaging in intellectual inquiry or merely trying to satisfy my emotions, and I turn the holy into the profane, then I am spiritually dead. The purity of my faith has then been robbed from my soul.

When this approach gains sway, the result is spiritual destruction.

In contrast to paganism, which involves man’s listening to himself, Moshe opened the gate for the entire human race to heed G-d’s word.

The primary condition for achieving any contact with the Torah is absolute humility, as Maharal explains at the beginning of Netiv Ha-Torah. Otherwise, I don’t see the Torah. I only see myself. “Moshe was pleased with the gift bestowed on him, for You did call him a faithful servant. A glorious crown did You place on his head as he stood before You on Mount Sinai. He brought down in his hand the two tablets of stone” (Shabbat Morning Shemoneh Esreh)

“The word of G-d – ‘Behold, the day is coming when I will send a famine in the Land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of Hashem.’” (Amos 8:11)


We are not “Modern Orthodox”

Question: It is argued that the religious are not modern, do not keep up with the times, hold on to something old-fashioned and are unwilling to give it up. Is this so?

Answer: We are certainly modern, but we are not “Modern Orthodox.”  We are modern. We love science and technology. We know that they are vital for the building of our state. We are happy about every advance that takes place in society. We give thanks to G-d day and night for all of the innovations that the times bring: a state and an army, the return to Zion and the building up of the Land, agriculture and industry. We know that in all of these, G-d’s hand is at work.

Yet when it comes to faith and mitzvot, we feel no need to be amongst the innovators. Quite the contrary, we view with pride our taking the “old” path paved by Avraham and Moshe, our imbibing the ancient wine, carefully preserved. We have no pretenses or ambitions about reaching higher than Avraham. We see no need for any additions to the blessing received by Avraham’s seed, in which they were called “G-d’s beloved” (Yeshayahu 41:8). Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes, “The essence of Jewish life is summed up entirely in G-d’s loving Israel. This trait is an accepted fact, without any need for further investigation or argument” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah, vol. 1 p. 43).

We learn from elderly rabbis, who themselves learned from elderly rabbis, going all the way back to Moshe. We fill ourselves with the old, and out of the great quantity of old that we learn, we attain solutions for the new. Rashi comments on Devarim 11:13, “If you hearken to the old, you will [more easily find answers] to the new.” In religious matters, every new thing arouses suspicion and requires precise examination. If it passes the test, it will be accepted with love. And what is the test? Clarification that the new thing is really old, and perhaps something old that has been forgotten. We undertake the yoke of Heaven to fulfill the Mitzvah of settling the Land, of building up and consolidating the state and the country. All of these are old things which have been postponed throughout our Exile, and now they are being reawoken thanks to G-d’s kindness.

In his speech at the Inauguration of Hebrew University, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook made a fundamental distinction, saying that we may accept science from the Western World, but not its spirit. Quite the contrary, the spiritual must spread from here towards the West (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 306). G-d’s word which comes to us from the Torah and the prophets, by far transcends all the thoughts of western man. Obviously, we can probably find sparks of goodness in the West which we would be able to accept. As our Sages said, we have to learn from the reputable practices of the nations (Sanhedrin 39b). Yet under what conditions is this so? We must not add to the Torah what it does not contain, G-d forbid. Rather, we may avail ourselves of the style of the Western World in order to be able to explain rationally to those who need such explanations, a minuscule bit of the great light that has come down to us through prophecy (Agadot Ha-Re’eiyah, ibid.).

Yet we are not students of western culture, and we must not force the Torah to disguise itself in western garb in order to receive a western stamp of approval. We certainly must not strive to make Jewish law fit the spirit of western thought. We are modern, but not “Modern Orthodox.” We are faithful students of Moshe.




Who determines what occurs in the World?


Question: If you say that Hashem determines what occurs in the world, then why do we exert effort? Hasn’t Hashem has already decided what will happen?  If a sick person will be cured, why should the doctor toil?  And if you say that people determine what occurs in the world, everything will be out of control and a mess.  What will happen to the world?  Oy vavoy!

Answer: Both Hashem and people determine what occurs.  How do these work together?  Many of our Sages discuss this subject and provide various answers, but the most simple explanation is that Hashem causes good to be brought about through the agency of righteous people and bad to be brought about through the agency of evil people.  This means that Hashem decides the outcome and we decide the means.  For example, Hashem decides that a sick person will be healed and the doctor decides that it will be through his agency because he works with self-sacrifice to save him.  The Gemara in Shabbat (32a) discusses the Mitzvah of the “Maakeh”, which says that a person must build a guardrail around his roof.  Why?  The Torah literally says, “Because a falling person may fall from it” (Devarim 22:8).  The Gemara responds that of course a falling person will fall off the roof, who else will fall off a roof – a person who is not falling?  Our Sages state that the reason he is referred to as a “falling person” is that Hashem has decreed that he will fall.  But if it was decreed that he will fall than why do we have to make a guardrail?  If it was decreed that he will fall, he will fall even with a guardrail, and if it was decreed that he will not fall even without a guardrail he will not fall.  Answer: Hashem decreed that he will fall with or without a guardrail, but if he falls and you have a guardrail, you are not held responsible.  If you did not make a guardrail and he falls, however, you are responsible – woe to you – because bad occurred through the agency of a person lacking merit.

Another example is brought by Rashi on the Torah (Shemot 21:12): There are two men, one who killed inadvertently and should be exiled to one of the cities of refuge and one who killed intentionally and should be killed.  There were no witnesses, however, to either event.  Thus, the first was not exiled and the second was not killed.  Hashem brings them together in one inn.  The one who killed inadvertently climbs a ladder, slips and falls onto the one who killed intentionally, and kills him.  As a result, the one who killed intentionally is killed as he deserves and the one who killed inadvertently killed inadvertently again.  He is exiled since there are many witnesses in the inn.  This is called, “Wickedness comes forth from the wicked” – Hashem causes bad to be brought about through the agency of evil people.

Obviously, good also comes through the agency of good people.  Massechet Semachot (chapter 8) says: Do not think that the entire Redemption was in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu, and if it were not for Moshe Rabbenu the Nation of Israel would not have been redeemed.  Good comes through the agency of righteous people.  It occurred through Moshe Rabbenu because of his righteousness.  The Pesach Haggadah says: “Me and not an angel, Me and not a seraf, Me and not an agent.”  But was Moshe Rabbenu an agent?!  Even though Moshe Rabbenu was the national leader and divine messenger, do not think that the Redemption was dependent upon him.  If it was not Moshe Rabbenu who brought us out, Hashem would have found somebody else.   Our Sages also say that the Torah had to be given to the Nation of Israel, and even without Moshe Rabbenu, Hashem would have found another messenger (ibid.).  The Temple would have been built even without David and Shlomo.  And the Jews would have been redeemed in the time of Haman, even without Mordechai and Esther.  It is written explicitly in the Megillah, “For if you continue to remain silent at a time like this, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from some other place” (Esther 4:14).  And so too, on the other side: even without Pharaoh we would have been enslaved, and even without Nebuchadnezar we would have been exiled.  Good things are brought about through the agency of righteous people and bad things are brought about through the agency of evil people.  Hashem has many agents, and many snakes and many scorpions.  Question: Why were the Egyptians punished for oppressing the Jews when the Torah says (Bereshit 16:13): “Your offspring will be strangers in a land not their own, they will serve them, and they will oppress them four hundred years”?  The Rambam explains that the Egyptians did not oppress the Jews because Hashem forced them to do so, but because they wanted to do so (Hilchot Teshuvah 6:5).  What would have happened if none of the Egyptians wanted to oppress us?  Do not worry, when there is a need to oppress the Nation of Israel or to perform evil in general, there are always plenty of volunteers.  So too, when good needs to be performed in the world – there are plenty of volunteers.  “For Hashem will not cast off His Nation, nor will He forsake His heritage” (Tehillim 94:14).



The Torah and the Big Bang Theory


The Big Bang Theory is beloved among believers and those who fear G-d, since it is a scientific admission that there was in fact a beginning of the world.  While it was long ago, there was still a beginning.  The Creation of the World is a fundamental of faith.  If the world was not created, then no miracle occurred.  If the world is ancient, then the Torah does not precede the world, but is a patch on an existing world, and it is not the soul of the world.

While there is still a difference between the dating of the world between the Torah – 5769 years – and scientists – 15 billion years (this conclusion is reached through radioactivity in rocks, salts in oceans, etc…), this is not a difficult, since our Rabbis explain that Hashem built worlds and destroyed them before the ultimate creation of THIS world (Bereshit 3:6-9).

Maran (our revered teacher) Ha-Rav Kook therefore wrote: “And regarding the counting of the years of creation in relation to geological calculations in our time – it is a well-known teaching that there were already many epochs before the counting of our era.  It is well-known among the early mystics and in Midrash Rabbah that He (Hashem) built worlds and destroyed them” (Igrot Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 105).  Our world is 5769 years old, but 15 billion years already preceded in other worlds (see the commentary of the Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishnah at the end of Seder Nezikin in “Or Ha-Chama” who explains this at length).  This means that the different strata found in the world are remnants of the destroyed worlds.


The Torah says: “It was night, and it was day” (Bereshit 1:20).  Bereshit Rabbah (3) explains that “it was” comes to teach us that there was an order of time before our world.  Thus, Hashem built worlds and destroyed them.  “And the land was unformed and void” (Bereshit 1:2).  “What does ‘was’ mean?  It (the world) already was, i.e. already existed (Sefer Ha-Bahir).

Regarding the basic issue, we are not necessarily for or against the Big Bang Theory.  The point of the Torah is not to deal with physics.  We respect scientists, and there is even a blessing for great scientists (Blessed is Hashem…who gave of His wisdom to flesh and blood), but the Torah is not a science book.  Science describes the reality of what was and what is, and the Torah describes what reality should be (Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah, 14).  What is written at the beginning of the Torah is a secret and not simple, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote: “And the Torah is certainly closed regarding the act of Creation and speaks in hints and parables, since everyone knows that the act of Creation is included in the secrets of the Torah” (Igrot Re’eiyah ibid.).



Were there Dinosaurs?


This is not a Torah question at all.  What is the difference whether there were dinosaurs or not?  The halachic question is whether dinosaurs were kosher or not.  There is a discussion is the Gemara regarding a mermaid and whether it is kosher.  The conclusion is that it is not kosher.  The discussion focuses on why it is not kosher and its impact on other types of fish (see Bechorot 8a with Rashi).  The Gemara focuses on reasoning.  Whether it is existed or not is not the point.

The Torah does not mention dinosaurs. This question is interesting from a scientific perspective but not a Torah perspective.  In the book “Netivot Olam” (Netiv Ha-Torah, netiv 14), the Maharal says that the purpose of science is to describe reality, while the Torah describes what reality should be, i.e. what is good and what is bad.  What exists is interesting, but it is not Torah, which discusses halachic questions.

When people ask how old is the world, if we came from apes, what happened in the distance past, I generally answer: I don’t know.  I wasn’t born and I didn’t see.  But in the case of dinosaurs, I saw the skeleton of the largest dinosaur in Europe – 20 meters, so you can’t tell me stories.  Some say that the Atheists made dinosaurs from plastic in order to challenge us and claim that they were from long ago.  This is nonsense.  I saw it.  There were dinosaurs.  If so, why doesn’t the Torah write about it?  The Torah does not say that there were dinosaurs and it does not say that there were not.  Some say that the large creatures mentioned during Creation (Bereshit 1:21) are the dinosaurs.

How old are the dinosaurs?  A few million years old.  Why then according to the Torah is the world 5769 years old?  This has already been asked and answered: Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before creating our current world (Bereshit Rabbah 3:7, 9:2 and Kohelet Rabbah 3:11).  The worlds were destroyed but certain remnants remained.  This is explained by Maran Rav Kook in one of his letters (vol. 1 #91).  The author of “Tiferet Yisrael” (a commentary on the Mishnah by Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz) also explained this at length in “Derush Or Ha-Chaim,” found in Mishnayot Nezikin after Massechet Sanhedrin).  He said that the mystics claim that Hashem created four worlds before creating our world.  Where are these worlds?  Scientists say that this idea is made up.  The Tiferet Yisrael says: “This is not correct.  Our Sages know what they are talking about.  And after they started excavations and found bones, we see that our Sages spoke the truth!”  Although we do not need proofs that our Sages spoke the truth, it is still nice to hear it.  He wrote: “The pondering spirit of man, who desires to discover all of the worlds, probing, excavating and delving like a weasel into the recesses of the earth, and the highest mountains in the world, in the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, the Cardillan Mountains in America, and the Himalayas, has found them to be formed of mighty layers of rock lying on one another as if thrown chaotically…  Probing still further, within the depths of the earth, they found four distinct layers of rock, and between the layers fossilized remains of creatures.  Those in the lower layers are much larger in size and structure, while those in the higher layers are progressively smaller in size but more refined in structure and form…  And they also found in Siberia in 1807, in the northern most part of the world, under the constant incredible ice which is there, a monstrous type of elephant, some three or four times larger than those found today…the bones of which are now housed in a museum in St. Petersburg…  We also know of the remains of an enormous creature found deep in the earth near Baltimore, seventeen feet long and eleven feet high…  From all this it is clear that everything that the Kabbalists have told us for hundreds of years, that the world had already once existed and was then destroyed, and then it was reestablished four more times, and that each time the world appeared in a more perfect state than before – now in our time it has all become clear in truth and righteousness.”

Nonetheless, there is no difference whether there were dinosaurs or not.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that our subject is not if man came from an animal, our subject is how not to be an animal.  The Torah’s purpose is to teach us how to have a gentle soul, and to be a holy and righteous person.



U.F.O.’s, Aliens and…Technology


Question: Does intelligent life exist on other planets?

Answer: In his letter to the Sages of Montpelier, Rambam writes that there are three available resources for examining any topic: prophecy, rational proofs and empirical evidence. In our case, the Torah and the prophets wrote nothing definitive in either direction. This is not surprising, for the Torah is not a science text but a book guiding us in what is good and what is bad. In order to become aware of reality, we possess scientific intellect, and that too is a divine gift. There is even a blessing for when one sees a scientist. We have nothing against the possibility of additional worlds, as Rabbi Chasdai Karshaks mentions at the end of his book “Ohr Hashem,” yet we possess no decisive source in this regard. Neither do the theoretical research sciences offer any definitive proofs. So that leaves empirical evidence.

How remarkable it is, then, that for more than fifty years people have been talking about U.F.O.’s and aliens, and hundreds of thousands of people have testified that they saw them. Even so, their declarations have no scientific worth. Why? For in no museum on earth is there is any U.F.O. or any part of one that would enable a scientist to examine it. This is one of the elements characterizing the scientific approach, that one scientist cannot rely on the declaration of another. Rather, every experiment must be examinable. That is, it must be possible for any scientist on earth to repeat the experiment, and each is entitled to either accept the first scientist’s assumptions or to prove their inaccuracy. Numerous commissions have been established to examine the various testimonies of people, and the phenomena have been explained in various ways, such as saying that the “U.F.O.s” were actually airplanes, missiles, meteorological balloons, kites, jets, helicopters, the moon viewed through fog, secret military devices, astronomical phenomena, comets, the Northern Lights, low flying clouds, automobiles on distant, cloud covered peaks, and so forth.

Science is critical. It does not accept anything without proof, neither does it reject anything out of hand. The matter has been investigated for fifty years, and we have nothing to show for it. All the same, people continue to express interest in this topic, and there continue to be hundreds and thousands of sightings. Likewise, this literary genre remains current and continues to fascinate people.

It is true that there are bizarre phenomena that science has not succeeded in explaining, and that some of the phenomena become explainable by means of the U.F.O.s. All the same, this is not an acceptable approach. There will always be unexplicable phenomena, but here those who believe in U.F.O.s grab a foothold where Science has no answers. They dig into the crack in scientific explanations, expand it into wide depths and introduce all sorts of conjecture into the hole. Yet that conjecture is just as far from being provable as the original phenomenon.

I am therefore puzzled by this stubbornness regarding faith in U.F.O.s. What is at work, however, is a modern myth with a psychological dimension of profound anxiety. I shall explain:

Why, in the imaginings of witnesses and writers, do the aliens come here? With their advanced technologies, what do they have to look for here? The closest star outside of our solar system is 40,000 years’ travel in the fastest spaceship. Why should they go to all of this trouble? It must be — some will explain — that they are looking for women here in order to renew their species which has reached stagnation. Moreover, the alien is a very intelligent and hedonistic creature, but he lacks emotions. He neither cries nor gets angry. Worse, he has no morality and suffers from no dilemmas or inner turmoil. He is inhuman. Therefore, the alien is sort of a kidnapper, seeking to give new life to his species…

What does all of this nonsense have to do with us?

What we really fear is ourselves, the man of tomorrow, lest he be alien to us, steeped in technology but lacking a human approach to social relations. People are in fear of science and technology. It is true that science and technology, per se, are good things, but they are liable to cause dehumanization and the end of mankind. It will not be man’s fault but such dehumanization will be caused by the deterioration of morality. You cannot talk to a computer.

Sometimes a computer eats an important file and the user pleads: “Please computer! Return the file to me!” But there is no one to talk to. The computer prints “error” and you really feel “Arur,” cursed — “cursed in your comings and cursed in your goings” (Devarim 28:19). People fear that man will turn himself into a computer, a sort of techno­barbarian, more dangerous than the most primitive, barbaric man, since he will have in his hands powerful means of control which will serve his cruelty. Having no conscience, He is liable to send an atomic bomb by the push of a button. And all of this threatens society, namely, technology taking control of life. Hundreds and maybe thousands of books have been written about this in America, and all in vain. It is impossible to put a bridal on the insane gallop of the technological monster. People are afraid of a new mutation of the human race — “computer-man,” lacking a conscience and armed with powerful means — the beast within man attached to high technology.  That is the alien we fear.

Efficiency, talent and excellence are taking control of man instead of morality and gentleness. A sort of totalitarian technology is appearing, at the center of which is a machine lacking human emotion.

Indeed, there is what to fear. Yet let us not stop technology. Let us rather increase morality, justice, the Torah and its light.



Near-Death Experiences


Statement: Many people who were diagnosed as having clinically died but who then returned to life, report a remarkable experience that proves that the soul remains alive after death. The person feels himself being detached from his body, he hovers over it, gazes at it from above, and sees everything that happens to him. He enters a gigantic tunnel whose end is awash in brilliant, powerful, sweet light. He encounters an entity full of boundless love that affords him a feeling of marvelous contentment. He meets various figures, some known to him and some not, angels and saints. He watches a reenactment of his entire life, in a sort of movie.  In the end he returns to his body due to a decision from Above or due to his own entreaties. All of this jibes with our sources about the World to Come being full of the light of the Divine Presence, and about encounters with previous generations. The remarkable thing is the enormous uniformity of all the descriptions. The experience is almost identical, which proves that it is true.

Reply: Indeed, everyone has an almost identical experience, but not entirely. Sometimes the experience is marvelous, and sometimes it is awful, with frightening nightmares about being tortured by demons, etc. (about 15% of the cases), unless one says that that is proof of Hell… Yet only 20% of those who have clinically “died” report near-death experiences (of whom only 15% have partial memories).  Thus, most do not experience anything, which would make that proof that there is nothing…

Indeed, Dr. Raymond Moody, who in 1975 carried out all this research on clinical death before resuscitation regarding NDE, “Near Death Experience”, did do quality work, but only regarding those subjects that supported his opinion, and he ignored those that contradict it.

Research projects are not always reliable. Even the great researcher Dr. Kubler-Ross, who very much supported this theory, was, in her great enthusiasm, herself misled by a scoundrel who, so to speak, spuriously made contact with the dead, to confirm her theory. Moreover,

Christians meet Jesus and the heads of the Church, Muslims meet Muhammad and all sorts of Imams and we, the disciples of Moshe, meet Avraham and all the other lofty saints.   All this demonstrates that each person see there what he believed in before, and all the other wonders he sees there are dictated by his own beliefs and opinions. That is why children, who do not yet have a rich perception of the world, report much less about near death experiences.

Psychiatrists do not believe that these phenomena constitute any proof of life after death. Rather, they consider them simply an illusion deriving from a fogging of the senses that leads to various experiences that a person undergoes being interpreted as life after death.

Hence, many people report similar although not identical experiences following other occurrences besides clinical death: 1) Taking Ketamine, a hallucinatory drug that serves as a quick-acting anesthesia. The drug causes a feeling of being cut off and distanced from the body – which facilitates operating.  2) Various drugs such as Hashish, LSD or DMT.  3) Psychosis.  4) An Epileptic fit.  5) Administering electric shock to the temple lobe during an operation for epilepsy.  6) Oxygen deprivation or diminished blood flow, for example in the trauma following the loss of much blood, or even in pilot training for fast acceleration.  7) High carbon dioxide levels.  8) Childbirth.  9) Meditation.  10) A very strong migraine.  11) Being in a critical situation, such as hearing the doctor say that you’re dead, or moments before your car is about to crash.  12) When one is in on the verge of sleep.

It goes without saying that people with well developed emotions or imaginations report more about that experience of near death.

As far as the feeling of being detached from the body and floating above it, called OBE – an Out of Body Experience – that is a well-known experience owing to a break-down in the temple lobe and the vestibular and proprioceptional system. These allow a person to keep track of his body and to know his body’s movements even with his eyes closed. When they are damaged, one’s senses operate in a distorted manner.

As far as people’s awareness of conversations going on around them when they were declared dead, it turns out that they weren’t entirely dead, despite the reports from the equipment. Or, a person may have unconsciously pieced together everything he was later told and retroactively processed it in his memory.

It is true that it is impossible to explain everything totally, but such is the lot of all the sciences, and we don’t reject them as a result. We certainly should not expand the delicate crack of misunderstanding and load tons of miracles into it.

Yet let us make no mistake.  Certainly there is a World to Come. Certainly the soul lives on after death, even without scientific proof, and we don’t need such proof either. Quite the contrary, science needs faith to enlighten its path, and faith does not need science to prove it.

Moreover, let us not forget that we do not live in Heaven but on earth, and the Torah is a living Torah, which the Living G-d, who desires life, gave us. See Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 1, which deals with Torah and Mitzvot in this world.  G-d doesn’t like it when we are preoccupied with death. The dead render us impure. A grave renders us impure. If someone touches the dead, he is impure for seven days. All of these mental excursions to the grave and back are not healthy.  Choose life!

Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote: “Regarding conjecture on metaphysical matters that remain outside the bounds of practical and moral life, even if we cannot deny them, we still should not let them dictate our way of life.  Our holy Torah distances us from preoccupation with unclear visions, forbidding all sorts of witchcraft and séances. It forbids Cohanim from becoming impure through contact with the dead, and it links all the Mitzvot to life.” (Igrot HaRe’eiyah, Letter #79).




Does a Person Complete His Mission in Life and then Die?

Question: When a person dies does it mean that he has completed his mission in this world?

Answer: No.  There are also wicked people who do the exact opposite of their missions and they nonetheless die.  The essence is therefore for a person to utilize every moment of his life to do good.  See in the Siddur of Maran Ha-Rav Kook Volume 2, p. 364 on the Davening for Yom Kippur.

Once during the Yom Ha-Atzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim celebration in Yeshivat Mercaz Ha-Rav, they also celebrated the 80th birthday of Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah.  Everyone praised Rabbenu and all of his life’s achievements.  Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin stood up and said: I do not agree with all of these praises.  He related that people once came to the Kotzker Rebbe with a sick child and requested that he prayer for their precious and wonderful child, and they recounted all of his sterling qualities.  The Kotzker responded that the child had not done a thing.  Everyone was shocked!  Instead of arousing merit for the child, he denounced him.  The child nonetheless recovered.  The Kotzker Rebbe said that the Gemara in Kiddushin (31b) tells that Rebbe Tarfon’s mother came to the Beit Midrash and said: Pray for my son who is a great Tzadik.  The Rabbis asked: In what way is he a great Tzadik?  She said: I once lost my shoe and he placed his hand under my foot the entire way home.  They said to her: This is nothing!  Even if he did 100 times this, he still would not fulfill half of the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parent.  The Kotzker asked: Why did the Rabbis belittle Rabbi Tarfon?  He explained that what Rabbi Tarfon did was indeed great, but they did not want to ascribe it too much importance for fear that it would mean that he had completed his role in the world.  Our Sages therefore acknowledged that what Rabbi Tarfon did was indeed positive, but it was incomplete, just as the Kotzker Rebbe suggested about the child.  In the same vein, Ha-Rav Zevin said about Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah: “He hasn’t done anything”.  Rabbenu smiled, and Rav Zevin said: “He still has lots and lots to do”.  And he did!  This principle of the Kotzker Rebbe, however, does not have a source.  Although the Kotzker Rebbe himself is a source, there is no source for his idea in the Torah, Mishnah, Gemara, Rishonim and Acharonim.  It is not written in any place that when a person finishes his task in life, he dies.


What is our task on Earth?


Question: What is our task on Earth? What do we need to do?

Answer: That is the ultimate question. And the answer is simple: We are here in the world to serve the Master-of-the-Universe. To magnify His glory in the world.

Whatever a person does, however important his activities and however great his talents, they are nothing compared to his ultimate enterprise: being a partner with G-d in the Creation Act, in the great task of making G-d’s glory appear on earth. This is what affords man’s life its greatest significance, its greatest glory, its greatest success.

So how does one accomplish this? Maharal explains in his “Tiferet Yisrael” (Chapter 3) that man is special compared to everything else in the universe.

The “supreme beings” [Elyonim], i.e., the angels and the celestial sphere and the heavens, are pure and holy, both potentially and practically. The “earthly beings” [Tachtonim], i.e., matter and flora and fauna, are inferior in potential and in practical terms, and will never change, just as the supreme beings will never change.  Man, however, is special. He is composed of both the supreme and the earthly, of soul and body.  More precisely, he is in practical terms an earthly being, but in potential a supreme being. In order to transform his supremacy from a potential to a practical state, he needs toil.

“Man is born for toil” (Iyov 5:7). This is to say: toiling in Torah (Sanhedrin 99b). Man is born for toil, toil in Torah and toil in Mitzvah observance. The Mitzvot hallow man, as we say in our blessings, “Blessed be G-d… who has sanctified us with His Mitzvot”. The Mitzvot transform man from an earthly being into a celestial being, and that is man’s task. G-d created man to turn him into a celestial being.

Our Sages say, “G-d desired to have an earthly abode” (Tanchuma Naso 16, explained in Sefer HaTanya 36), meaning: an abode within earthly man, an abode within man’s deeds, man’s character, man’s thoughts, man’s emotions and man’s pleasures. That is the great goal, “to take pleasure in G-d”. This is explained at the beginning of Mesilat Yesharim: man can become so holy that he takes pleasure in G-d. The greatest source of pleasure is not in this world, but in the World-to-Come. Yet when a person reaches the level of “Chasidut”, saintliness, as described in Mesilat Yesharim, by then he has already acquired a certain measure of taking pleasure in G-d.

Indeed, Mesilat Yesharim is a ladder set on earth with its head reaching the heavens, explaining how man can become a supreme being, and how he can become more than what he is. Idolatry says: “Be what you are.” But we say, “Be more than what you are”. More and more, all the time. “There are higher and higher levels, with even higher ones beyond” (Kohelet 5:7). Yet the higher levels above us are not alien to us. They are within us.

They exist in us in potential. They are in our soul.

That is our task – to be partners with G-d in this great work, each person in accordance with his strengths, each in accordance with is his efforts and each in accordance with his current spiritual level.



Listen to Your Doctor!

Blessed be G-d, who has granted us life and sustenance and permitted us to reach this age of modern medicine, which is achieving unbelievable wonders. Yet in ancient times as well there were physicians, and while they certainly were not experts, the Torah still commanded us, “He shall provide for his complete cure” (Shemot 21:19), i.e., that physicians had a duty to cure people, and that patients had a duty to seek cures. As is well-known, seeking a cure even overrides prohibitions of various types within Halachah. This is not the place to be strict.

Regarding a sick person who needs to eat on Yom Kippur and wishes to be strict, the Torah states, “Only of the blood of your own lives will I demand an account” (Bereshit 9:5 and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 618, Mishnah Berurah #5). Any time reliable physicians tell someone not to perform a Mitzvah or to commit a sin, the patient should do as they say and not seek ways around it (Shut Minchat Yitzchak vol. 2, 102:2). A person does not own his body. It belongs to G-d (Le-Ohr Ha-Halachah, Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin).

As is well-known, if someone strikes his fellowman and wounds him, he must pay his medical expenses, as it says, “He shall provide for his complete cure” (Bava Kamma 85b). Yet Ba’al Ha-Turim raises a new consideration: “This applies unless the patient violates the doctor’s orders.” In that case, the aggressor need not pay the additional expenses incurred through the patient’s negligence.

If someone takes risks against doctors’ orders, he violates a Torah prohibition of, “Watch yourselves very carefully” (Devarim 4:15). Whoever does not follow medical principles of preventative medicine, health and hygiene, violates the positive precept of “Walk in His ways” (ibid. 28:9). As Rambam taught regarding good character traits: “We are commanded to follow the middle course. That is the straight and upright path one should follow. As it says, ‘Walk in His ways.’” (Hilchot De’ot 1:5). He adds, “Keeping your body healthy and fit is amongst the pathways of G-d” (ibid. 4:1).

Consider how much our holy Sages toiled in the Talmud to extract the best of medical knowledge from their day in order to preserve our health. Our great master Rambam, besides his numerous medical writings, devoted an entire chapter to this in his legal code (Hilchot De’ot, Chapter 4).  Yet he remarks (4:31), “All of the fine practices described above should only be followed by the healthy.”  Rav Yechiel Michel Tukatzinsky wrote: “The physician is only the emissary of the Curer of All Flesh, who granted him permission to pursue his calling. Yet once the physician does his part, prescribing to the patient medicines, foods and behaviors, the patient must follow the doctor’s orders, not less and perhaps more than the laws of the Shulchan Aruch regarding permissible and forbidden foods, as the Torah commands, ‘Watch yourself very carefully’” (Gesher Ha-Chaim vol. 1, 1:2).

In what follows, all quotations are from the work, “Tenu’at Ha-Mussar, by Rabbi Dov Katz, pp. 315-316: The illustrious Rav Yisrael Salanter was exceedingly strict regarding all Mitzvot. “This likewise brought him to his fastidious caution regarding his health, under the aegis of one’s duty to ‘watch oneself very carefully’. True, such caution has not been codified as law, and few practice it, but Rav Yisrael was exceedingly puzzled by this and he would often say: A patient is exempt from all Mitzvot except for one, ‘Watch yourself very carefully,’ and the evil impulse incites us, casting scorn even on that one Mitzvah.”  “A medical professor in Baden, Germany would customarily relate that of all the thousands of patients who came to him throughout his life he found only one who related with total seriousness to all his instructions, fulfilling them with 100% precision, and that was Rabbi Lipkin [i.e., Rabbi Yisrael Salanter] of Russia…One time, when he was living in Halberstam, people came into his room and found him standing before an open German book, doing physical exercises with great precision according to the principles and illustrations in that book, as his physician had ordered him to do.”  Rav Yisrael viewed the command to “watch yourself very carefully” as constituting as much of a duty as any other Mitzvah, and he treated the orders he received from his physician, the professor, as rulings of the Shulchan Aruch regarding permissible and forbidden foods, which must be fulfilled down to the last detail. One time he was seen standing at dusk staring up at the sky, determining how much time there was until dark. It turned out that his physicians had ordered him to rest three days from his Torah learning. Obviously, Rav Yisrael obeyed their orders, and when the third day was ending, he stood waiting for the precise moment of nightfall. He explained, “Just as the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah makes it forbidden for one to delay one’s Torah learning for even a moment, so too, his obligation to ‘watch himself carefully’ made it forbidden for him to start learning even a moment early.”

Regarding the verse, “Man became a living creature” (Bereshit 2:7), the Rabbis taught, “As for the spirit that I placed within you, give it life!” (Ta’anit 22b).



Vaccinations are a must!

Question: I have heard many arguments against vaccinating infants, among them the following: There are numerous instances of infants being hurt by vaccinations. People say they serve no purpose. Quite the contrary, they weaken the infant’s natural immune system. Numerous illnesses such as autism have proliferated due to vaccinations. Numerous illnesses have disappeared not due to vaccinations but due to increased hygiene. Vaccinations only serve the economic interests of the drug companies. In fact, all they do is to introduce a dangerous poison into the infant’s body.

Answer: Obviously, the Torah does not write which illness should be treated with a vaccination, nor at what age, nor what drug and how much should be administered. The Torah is not a medical text in this sense. The Torah only says to listen to physicians, as it says, “Let them cure you” (Shemot 21:19). Obviously, this is referring to a real physician and not to someone who has decided to call himself a physician.  Therefore, the question is: What do we do when there is a disagreement between physicians, with some claiming that vaccinations are dangerous, and bringing many arguments in support, and others claiming that not vaccinating is what is dangerous, and bringing arguments no less convincing. It’s like a case occurring in the Sanhedrin in which some of the sages say that someone deserves the death penalty while others say that he is exempt. The Torah has decreed that we “follow the majority” (Shemot 23:2). The same applies regarding physicians, that we follow the majority (for example, regarding the point at which a sick person can begin to eat on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 618). Most of the world’s physicians and those in Eretz Yisrael say vociferously that we have to vaccinate, and not just “most” but almost all. Therefore, this is the law.  So ends the discussion. This is a halachah like any other, even more so, for there is the well-known principle that “a threat to life is more serious than a prohibition” (Chullin 10a).  Therefore, what follows is not a halachic deliberation, for the ruling has already been passed down. Rather, it is an explanation to make the matter more palatable to our mind and heart.

Claim 1. There have been many instances of infants being hurt by vaccinations.
Answer, or more precisely, two answers: 1) It isn’t so. It is exceedingly rare. Obviously, for the infant that it happened to it constituted 100%. Yet all in all, we are talking about exceptions. Every year, hundreds of thousands of infants in Israel are vaccinated. How many are hurt? The lack of legal suits will provide an answer.  2) Even if there were many instances of harm, with every medical treatment there is a risk, yet you’ve got to weigh the alternate risk, and in that as well we follow the majority. Regarding that as well it says, “Let them cure you.” The Torah gives physicians permission to cure people. If there were no risk, it would be obvious that physicians have to cure people, and what permission would be needed from Hashem?
Claim 2. Why expose an infant to risk, via vaccination, when he is presently healthy?
Answer: The Tiferet Yisrael long ago ruled: If presently there is no danger, one is allowed to expose someone to minute risk presently in order to prevent a great and genuine danger in the future (Tiferet Yisrael, Yoma, Chapter 8, Ot 3). The same applies with all preventative medicine.
Claim 3. The physicians who support vaccination are untrustworthy. The whole thing revolves around the vested interests of the drug manufacturers who juggle billions of dollars.
Answer: That is just an evil claim that doesn’t merit a response. The world’s physicians are ready to poison half a billion children each year for profit – that isn’t going to go into their own pockets?! Their own children they vaccinate for money?! If you’re using such arguments, then there’s a counter argument that all sorts of quacks and scoundrels peddling alternatives to conventional medicine are juggling billions in their pockets.

Claim 4. Vaccinations serve no purpose. It is forbidden to interfere with nature. The best path is to conduct ourselves naturally.  Answer: That is the argument of the Christian Scientists. Certainly we have to live as naturally as possible, but even there you mustn’t exaggerate. Do naturalists eat raw potatoes or do they cook them? Do they chew on natural wheat kernels or do they bake bread? Do they wear fabrics for clothing or do they cover themselves with fig leaves? Do they go on foot or do they use cars? Do they squint or wear glasses? Do they shout kilometers or talk on the phone? Do they walk around with sundials or do they wear electronic wrist watches? Do they write their learned treatises with a quill and pomegranate juice on papyrus or do they use a word processing package…

Claim 5. Parents are responsible for their children and no one can decide for them.
Answer: The Master-of-the-Universe can certainly decide for them, and we have already stated what the Halachah is. Society at large likewise makes decisions in various spheres in which the citizenry are irresponsible, and even indulgent regimes require use of seatbelts, helmets for motorcyclists, forbid drug use, etc. In the same way, society both can and must decide for parents incapable of parenting, and it removes their children from their domain. It can do the same here as well, when parents behave irresponsibly regarding their children. When all is said and done, many children die in the world because they have not been vaccinated. And if a child dies, can he sue anyone? If a child suffers polio, will he sue his parents? Moreover, if a child was not vaccinated and falls ill, he will make infants who have not yet been vaccinated sick. After all, children are not vaccinated right after birth but later on. It turns out that the unvaccinated child is endangering others, and society is allowed to defend itself.  Some rule that the authorities must enforce mass vaccination in order to save the entire population (Refu’ah U-Mishpat I, page 79). Such things happen all the time. For example, recently, a particular population had the practice of not vaccinating its infants against measles, but the virus struck infants of families whose parents do vaccinate them but their infants had not yet reached the age of vaccination, namely, a year. There are places where all the children in a day-care center were smitten, and there was discussion of pushing up the vaccination age for measles/rubella /mumps to nine months.  Yet even in the absence of a law requiring vaccinations, the problem can be solved by refusing to accept unvaccinated children into a daycare center or school, as in the practice in the U.S.

Claim 6. There is much scientific research that proves that vaccinations are harmful.
Answer: There is also research to the contrary, and as noted, we follow the majority. Yet we have to be aware that not every research project necessarily stands up to scientific criteria. For an article to be demonstrably rigorous, it must be published in a recognized, serious scientific journal and must be open to criticism. Without that, it is just conjecture.

Claim 7. Vaccinations have brought no benefit to the human race.
Answer: That’s false. Vaccinations are the greatest achievement of modern communal medicine. Thanks to them, many illnesses have disappeared or almost completely been eradicated. Examples including hepatitis A (90% decline); the BHI microbe, which causes meningitis in infants (95% decline); polio; diphtheria; measles; whooping cough; tetanus; congenital rubella; and more.

Claim 8. It’s true that many illnesses have disappeared, but that isn’t thanks to vaccinations but to improved hygiene. Proof of this comes from books that show that the frequency of these illnesses was beginning to decline long before vaccinations were invented.

Answer: It is true that hygiene has had a blessed effect on the disappearance of many illnesses, but it has not succeeded in eradicating them, and it was vaccinations that did that. We have to discern the enormous changes that have transpired during the past fifty years since numerous vaccinations were introduced. For example, since the vaccination against Hepatitis A in 1999, this illness has almost entirely disappeared, and that is certainly not due to any marked change regarding hygiene.  Even today, with all the hygiene, when there are no vaccinations, epidemics still strike. For example, in Ireland, three years ago rumors spread that the measles vaccine causes harsh side effects. As a result, vaccination figures went down from 100% to 30%, and then a measles plague struck, with hundreds of thousands of people being hospitalized and numerous fatalities – more than on the entire North American continent. Even in Israel, among certain populations that do not vaccinate, there are numerous cases of contagion.

Claim 9. Many children are not vaccinated and nothing happens to them.
Answer: This is due to “invisible vaccinations”, in other word, because those children are surrounded by a ring of children who are indeed vaccinated. Yet where there are population pockets that do not vaccinate, epidemics break out. For example, in Pesach of 2003, following a visit to Israel by a Chareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) child from abroad, measles broke out in the Chareidi sector, where some do not vaccinate for ideological reasons. Within two weeks there were sixty cases of measles due to its fast spread. Let me just mention that measles can have harsh complications such as pneumonia, meningitis or even death. The rabbis ruled that they should vaccinate, and within a number of days thousands of children were vaccinated and the epidemic was stopped.  Likewise, in 2005 there were ninety cases of polio amongst the Dutch Amish, and then their leadership ruled that they should vaccinate. In Bavaria, Germany, in which only 75% vaccinate against measles, there was an epidemic in 2002 and over 1,000 children became ill in a short span of time.

Claim 10. Vaccinating against measles causes Autism and similar disturbances. The fact is that Autism is greatly on the rise.  Answer: This claim was disproved long ago. In Denmark a study was revealed that compared 400,000 children who had undergone vaccination and 100,000 who had not, and there were the same percent of cases of Autism. In England, a study was published showing that the percent of the population undergoing vaccination had not changed but that the number of occurrences of Autism had risen.
Thus, vaccinations are not the cause. Rather, there has apparently been a change in the classification of Autism, and there is increased awareness of this disease.

Claim 11. I know of numerous cases in which precisely after vaccination an infant suffered a high fever, convulsions and other frightening phenomena. Answer: These are well-known, transient side effects and they appear on the fact sheet one receives at the Well-Baby Clinic when one brings one’s infant to be vaccinated.

Claim 12. When all is said and done, vaccinations still are harmful.
Answer: No they’re not! And even if some harm were caused, such is the nature of all medicine. We therefore pray, “Heal us G-d, that we may be healed.” Obviously, if G-d heals us, we shall be healed. The intent is, however, that human medicine heals, on the one hand, while making someone sick, on the other, and there is a calculation of benefit versus harm. Yet when G-d heals, there is no harm.


As I said when I started, all these claims I brought, and their answers, were not meant as a debate on whether or not to vaccinate, but only as an explanation, for the matter was already decided by Him who miraculously heals all flesh. G-d commanded us to follow the mainstream of medical thought and to heed the physicians armed with the image of G-d and the scientific intellect, they being His emissaries. Feel well!


“Supernatural Power – Is There Such a Thing?”

Question: Recently, a man who professes to have abnormal powers enabling him to uncover secrets, read people’s thoughts, influence objects from a distance and other para-psychological acts, has been looking for an heir, and most of the candidates are demonstrating their wonders on Television. It looks very convincing. Is there any truth in this? What kinds of powers do they possess?

Answer: Our great master, the Rambam, enumerates three reliable sources for a man’s knowledge: intellect, experience and prophecy. The rest, he says, is nonsense.

By “intellect” [Hebrew “sechel”] he means clear theoretical proofs. By “experience” [Hebrew “nisayon”] he means phenomena we encounter through our senses, without any possibility of it being a delusion. As for “prophecy” [Hebrew “nevu’a”] he includes “Ruach Ha-Kodesh”, divinely inspired intuition (Igrot Ha-Rambam, Ha-Rav Shilat Edition, 479).

As far as the abnormal powers mentioned above, (1) obviously there is no source in the Torah alluding to any of them. (2) Logically, such powers contradict well-established laws of science. For example, parapsychologists argue that telepathic brain waves operate with the same intensity at a distance of one meter or a thousand kilometers, which contradicts Coulomb’s Inverse Square Law, which states that an electromagnetic or gravitational force decreases in accordance with the squaring of the distance. Likewise rays are blocked by a wall of lead or by a mesh of conducting material, i.e., a “Faraday Cage”.

What remains is the empirical or experiential aspect, yet let it be said right away that anecdotal evidence, no matter how reliable it might be, has no value as scientific testimony. Such evidence provides nothing more than a point of origin for scientific research. Science has no prejudices. It rejects nothing. Yet it accepts nothing without proven arguments, and it is systematically suspicious if something contradicts the known laws of nature. Generally speaking, parapsychologists tend not to cooperate with scientific researchers. Indeed, the more systematic and critical is the research, the less parapsychology passes the test.

In any event, one-time incidents have no scientific validity, because “reproductibility” is the cornerstone of the scientific method, in other words, the ability to recreate an attempt in any laboratory.

Parapsychology is not a new claim. Rather, it is thousands of years old. For over 120 years it has been researched scientifically, including by scientists with a sympathetic bent for it, but in the meantime nothing has been proven.

There are performers who recreate all the phenomena of parapsychology by way of known tricks, and they earn a living entertaining people in this way. This, as well, requires halachic deliberation (see Chochmat Adam, Klal 89:6 and Shut Yechaveh Daat 3:68). Yet there is a serious problem when people believe they are encountering extrasensory perception, and they lose their ability to be critical. For someone devoid of scientific education, telepathy seems no more strange than a radio. Quite the contrary, it seems simpler, because it requires no apparatus.

Unfortunately, there is a widespread phenomenon at work here which is called the “flight from reason”. This is causing a nationwide renaissance for parapsychology. The Society of American Magicians has taken upon itself a permanent challenge: to recreate any act whose perpetrator claims to have performed with supernatural powers. So far, they have met the challenge. Their achievements include mind-reading; telling the future; bending spoons by non-miraculous means; psychological and technological pranks and sleight-of-hand. The magicians have had impressive success, pulling rabbits out of hats; cutting people in half and attaching them back together again; guessing people’s I.D. numbers and then pulling the I.D. card out of the neck of its owner; levitating objects without touching them; making an elephant disappear; or even the Eiffel Tower…

In 1964, the magician James Randi, an expert at deceiving crowds, offered a thousand dollar reward to anyone who could prove, under scientific scrutiny, the existence of abnormal, supernatural forces, In the meantime, the reward has grown to a million dollars, and no one has won it. When candidates become aware that they must be tested by scientists, most of them refuse to sign their consent to those stipulations. Even those who have gone ahead, numbering more than a thousand, have not passed muster.
In 1976, CSI was founded, for the scientific investigation of supernatural claims. The organization includes university scientists, magicians and even the Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov. It has exposed attempts to deceive the masses, such as “paralyzed” persons who suddenly rose from their wheelchairs when they really had never been sick; or spiritual healers who know the secrets of their patients, but who gain their knowledge through trespassing the patients’ computers, or by way of a disguised assistant who talks with the patient and then informs the healer of the information behind the scenes.

The one Israeli most famous for such pranks was investigated by researchers and did not succeed in deceiving them. They exposed his deceptions and documented them with the aid of a video camera. He then sued CSI for libel, lost the case, and was slapped with a large fine. He then sued his own lawyers for inferior defense, and lost once more. One has to wonder how someone who professes to know the future didn’t know in advance that he would lose the case.

In general, those who argue that supernatural powers exist do not dare to bring back the dead or to guess what will succeed in the stock market or the number that will win the big lottery number. They also do not create money out of nothing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need to work in this profession.

Here are several examples of how it works: Bending spoons is a simple deception. The spoon is bent to begin with, and it seems to slowly bend out of shape through its being held in a particular manner, employing circular motions. Another method is this: Hold the spoon between the thumb and the index finger in such a manner that the handle will be concealed by the hand, and such that through finger movements the spoon will look bent. Anyone standing nearby will immediately discern this.

What about those wonder workers who bend the spoons of television spectators with the help of their thoughts? Indeed, later on hundreds of spectators call up after finding bent spoons in their homes. Certainly, out of a million spectators, there will always be several hundred with bent spoons in their homes.

The same applies as far as watch-fixing through the television. The spectator is requested to pick up and to put down his broken watch several times, and to move it right and left several times. If the watch is mechanical, sometimes a speck of dust that was stopping it up falls out. If it is battery operated, sometimes such a watch can start working again for a short while if you move it around. If a million people are watching the show, several hundred will call up, swamping the studio with their success stories, and this makes a big impression. When this happens, those who did not succeed, accounting for 99%, attribute their failure to not have concentrated sufficiently.
I will not tire the readers by elaborating on the methods of counterfeit telepathy, counterfeit telekinesis, etc. Let me just say this: Please! Do not lose your ability to be critical. Believe in the miracles publicized in the Written and Oral Torah. Believe in miracles that science has proven. But don’t be like the fool who believes everything he hears.



Mysticism – Indolence – Fraud

Question: People avail themselves of all sorts of mystical channels to solve their problems: astrology, praying at the graves of the righteous, reading tea leaves, mystics and miracle workers, energy transfer, battling the evil eye, etc. Is there any truth to these things?  People claim that mysticism can solve all your ills, and the fact is that it works!  What is certain is that many people are attracted to these things.  After all, mystical Torah secrets exist in this world!  Not everything is rational in life!

Answer: Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, said that not everything people say is true, and that only the fool believes everything.  At the same time, you can’t deny everything.  Some of it is true.  One thing is certain: the spread of such things does enormous damage to mankind (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, Bereshit pp. 310-313).

Indeed, the result is great harm, involving man’s becoming accustomed to indolence and idleness, fantasies and illusions, and to distancing himself from hard work.

Our Sages taught us the way of the Torah, that “Man is born for toil” (Iyov 5:7), as Ramchal explains in Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 9).  Everything is toil.  Even prayer is toil, and not sensory reverie.  Even spiritual elevation is toil, and not a free gift of pleasure from a charismatic personality…

In a word, people have created an alternative Torah-bypass route, devoid of toil.
There are several ways to tell a fraud, and one way is monetary.  A true healer does not seek money from the unfortunate.  Rather, his goal is to be benevolent.  Quite the contrary, he distributes money to them.  You can tell false mysticism when they demand money for holy water, standing bank orders in exchange for rectification of the soul, and even your political vote in exchange for all the blessings of this world and the next.

They’re big experts in “Kabbalah” [Hebrew: “receiving”] and what they receive is money, and usually they hand out no tax receipt, and many of them have been sued by the tax authorities.

Wisdom is generally lacking as well.  There’s nothing holy about them, and they carry no approbation from the great halachic authorities.  Undoubtedly, people are attracted to this out of curiosity, idleness, or disappointment with science.  Obviously, I’m not talking here about blessed scientific curiosity, but about unhealthy curiosity.  Magic is always captivating.  Without a doubt, science occasionally disappoints us. Certainly, it doesn’t have answers for everything, and there are cracks in its surface.  Yet we mustn’t make it out to be worse than it is.

One can have no claims against the child for having a childish mentality, for believing in magic.  Yet people have to get over that.  They have to grow up and shake off that mentality.  Alas the flight from common sense cuts across national and sectarian boundaries.

Does mysticism work?  Certainly!  This is because 80% of illnesses cure themselves spontaneously.  A third of pains disappear with the help of sugar-pills and placebos. To verify the efficacy of a treatment, you need a controlled, random study, being carried out identically in two different places.  Certainly the mystical secrets of the Torah really exist, yet none of the things described above fit that category.  The secrets of the Torah constitute profound wisdom which deals with the most profound questions: G-d’s rule over the world, the meaning of life, reward and punishment, etc.

By contrast, all of this nonsense and fraud is enormously superficial.  The problem is not that the practitioners in question are not rational.  Certainly there are things that transcend the intellect.  Yet none of the things described above are secrets of the Torah.  They simply are not Torah, but another pathway, an alternative religion.

Instead of serving God, instead of Mitzvot, they invent things that are not part of the Torah, and that sometimes diverge from the Torah.

Certainly our Sages mentioned paying visits to the graves of the righteous, yet even the dead admit that this is not the main thing in the Torah.  The evil eye is mentioned as well, but not in the shallow meaning that people attribute to it (see Ein Aya, Berachot 20).

Certainly Ruach Ha-Kodesh – Divine intuition – exists, but it does not easily rest upon a person, but only following the protracted journey described in Mesillat Yesharim, consisting of achieving nine distinct spiritual levels, each one higher than the one preceding it: caution, alacrity, wholesomeness, separation from sin, purity, saintliness, humility, the fear of sin, and holiness.

It is well-known that many people believe in astrology, the evil eye and reading tea leaves.  Yet we, disciples of Avraham and disciples of Moshe, say, “Have complete faith in Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim 18:13), and gradually, the Torah’s light will spread.




Genuine Spiritual Aids


People often times turn to Rabbis asking for “Segulot” [spiritual aids or shortcuts] to help the sick.  Besides going to the doctor, they look for spiritual tricks, recitation of a particular verse, or an amulet, just so there is some change for the better.  Unfortunately, they are searching in vain for something that does not exist.

Some will respond: “Who says?  My aunt had no children, she used a ‘segulah’ and now, thank G-d, there are children around her table.”  Yet someone else had a childless aunt who used no “segulah,” and children were born to her anyway.  The fact is that ten percent of barren couples experience spontaneous cures without knowing the cause.

It is impossible to build one’s life on “Segulot!”  If someone has financial, health, or family problems, the answer is this: “Repentance, prayer and tzedakah ward off the evil decree!” One should pray to G-d, recite psalms, recite the regular prayers printed in the prayer book with feeling, from start to finish. All of this takes great devotion.  And, he should repent!  Yet people then ask: “How should one repent?  Should one pray at the Western Wall?” Certainly the Western Wall is a holy place, but a person has to repent for his sins, those between man and G-d and those between man and man.  He should give tzedakah to the poor, increase his kind acts to everybody, to his friends and neighbors, near and far, and to his parents, his children and his spouse.  He should give of his money and his advice, his time and his energy. He should visit the sick, etc…

“Repentance, prayer and charity ward off the evil decree!”  These are our spiritual resources, and there is no need to look for all kinds of strange things.  Where are all of these strange things mentioned?  In the Torah?  In the Tanach?  In the Mishnah?  Is it written that when our great Sages had troubles, they used “Segulot,” with mezuzot and amulets?  Where have we heard of such a thing?  Not in the Torah, not in the Mishnah and not in the Talmud.  Rather, they prayed and they repented and performed kind deeds.  “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall never be purged with sacrifice nor offering.” (Shmuel 1 3:14).  The Rabbis ask how is it that Abaye and Rava, who were from the line of Eli, lived long lives?  They answer that Rava learned much Torah and performed many kind  deeds.  “A living Torah and lovingkindness” have the power to ward off a decree as harsh as dying young.  Torah learning is certainly  a genuine spiritual aid.




Addiction and Free Choice


Concern: My name is Rivka.  I have experienced extremely hard times, including the loss of a loved one.  I now have a terrible addiction, which I do not want to detail.  I have been to all types of treatments, but they have not helped.  I am not sure I even have any hope.  I am completely in despair.

Answer: The common denominator of all types of treatments for addictions, such as for drugs, alcohol or gambling, is that the treatment is not in place of the will to be cured.  First and foremost, you must change your outlook on yourself and on life.

Western Culture is a culture of benefit and over-indulgence, i.e. one should give into his inclination whatever they might be.  You should change your spiritual direction, and believe in yourself that you have the strength to overcome this inclination, you have free choice and with great effort you can get out of this and return to the light.

Look how much the Torah emphasizes how Rivka Imenu, for whom you were named, received a distorted education from all direction: her father, brother, and locale – and she was able to escape it.  Betuel (her father) was a murderer and tried to poison Eliezer (Targum Yonatan on Bereshit 24:33).  Lavan was a murderer and wanted to murder Yaakov Avinu (Midrash Ha-Gadol on Bereshit 31:22).  Both of them were idol worshippers (Rashi on Ber, 24:31, 31:19).  And Lavan had chutzpa to speak before his father (Rashi on Bereshit 24:50).  Lavan was greedy and when he saw the jewelry which Eliezer brought, he ran to his father (Bereshit 24:30 with Rashi).  Lavan was called “Doubly Evil” (Sanhedrin 105a).

In contrast, Rivka was completely kind (Rashi on Bereshit 24:14), modest, and pure.

This teaches you that there is free choice.  It is possible to free yourself from the evil inclination and to climb higher.  This is unlike the expression of weakness in Western Culture: “This is how I am.  Accept me for me.”  Look at the determination of Rivka: “And they called Rivka and asked her: Do you want to go with this man (Eliezer)?  And she said: “I will go!” (Bereshit 24:28) – Even if you don’t want me to go (Rashi).

It is true that a person lives with a body and he is limited by it but the soul is always free.  It is an unparalleled Divine wonder.  We have the power to overcome all obstacles.

Be strong and courageous.




When is the Messiah coming?


If someone tells me that the Messiah is coming on a particular day, I won’t believe him. Rather, today, like every other day, I will wait for him, because, “I firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah, and although he may tarry, I daily wait for his coming” (#12 of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith).

And if today passes without his coming, I will then know that this was not the day, and I will wait for him tomorrow, and every other day. The Rabbis said, “Come and listen: If someone says, ‘I hereby declare myself a Nazarite on the day that the son of David arrives,’ he is then allowed to drink wine on Shabbat and festivals, and he is forbidden to drink wine on weekdays” (Eruvin 43a-b.  Rambam, Hilchot Nezirut 4:11).

If by ten years from now, the Messiah has not yet arrived, I will continue to put on Tefillin, to eat Kosher food and to keep the Shabbat. I will continue to wait for his arrival, and I won’t engage in calculations. “Believing in the Messiah means believing and saying that he is going to come, and not thinking that he is going to delay. ‘If he delays, wait for him’ (Chabakuk 2:3). One should not set a time for him to arrive nor seek logical Torah proofs of when that will occur. The Rabbis said, ‘blast the spirit of those who calculate the end’” (Sanhedrin 92b.  Rambam’s introduction to Perek Chelek, 12th foundation).

And if in thirty years he has not yet arrived, I will continue to send my children to religious schools, and I will still go to Daven and learn Torah. I will continue to wait, with absolute faith, for “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Blast the bones of those who calculate the end, for they would say: ‘Since that deadline has passed without the Messiah coming, he is not going to come any more.’ Rather, we must wait for him, as it says, ‘If he tarries, wait for him.’ Now one might ask, ‘We are waiting for him, but is G-d not waiting for him?’ It therefore says, ‘And therefore will Hashem wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have compassion upon you’ (Yeshayahu 30:18). Now, since we are waiting and He is waiting, what is holding it up? Strict Justice is holding it up. Yet since it is being held up, why should we wait? To receive reward, as it says, ‘Happy are all those who wait for him’ (ibid.)” (Sanhedrin 97b).

And if by eighty years from now the Messiah is not yet here, I will continue to build Eretz Yisrael, the State of Israel, the army of Israel, and I will know that there is much more I must do for all these, and then the Messiah will come.

“A king once got angry at his sheep, and he dismantled the pen and removed the sheep and the shepherd. Some time later he restored the sheep and rebuilt the pen, but he did nothing regarding the shepherd. The shepherd said, ‘The sheep are restored and the pen is rebuilt, but I have not been recalled.’ The same applies in our case. It says, ‘For G-d will save Zion and build the cities of Yehudah, and they shall abide there and have it in possession. The seed also of His servants shall inherit it, and they that love His name shall dwell therein’ (Tehillim 69:36-37). Surely the pen is rebuilt and the flocks are back, but the shepherd (David) has not been recalled. Tehillim therefore continues, ‘[A Psalm] of David, to make a memorial. O G-d, to deliver me’ (70:1).” (Rashi ibid.).

The Messiah comes at the end.

And if in 130 years he has not yet arrived, I will continue to arouse the Jews to move quickly to Israel. And if they say, “We are waiting for the Messiah, and then we will move to Yerushalayim,” I will answer, “You sin and make others sin out of malice, and you do enormous damage, for in the meantime Jews assimilate or are murdered. For ‘it won’t be time for the Messiah’s arrival until the Jews pine for him and say, ‘He’s near!’ or ‘He’s far!’ (Rambam’s Igrot Kiddush Hashem, Mossad Ha-Rav Kook 66-67). We wait for the Messiah every day, so come today!”

And if he has not yet arrived by 230 years from now (the Hebrew year 5999), they will say to me, “Be ready for the Messiah’s arrival, for he will come in the year 6000, as our Sages said, ‘The world shall last for six thousand years, consisting of two thousand years of chaos, two thousand years of Torah and two thousand years of the Messiah’ (Sanhedrin 97a-b), and unfortunately the results were what they were.”

Then I will answer them, ‘I am preparing myself for the Messiah’s arrival now, and not in the year 6000. I recall what happened in the Hebrew date of 5600 (called “Tav Resh”) when rumors spread throughout the Jewish People that the Messiah was coming, based on the verse, “The sound of the dove [Tor – Tav-Vav-Tesh] is heard in our Land” (Shir Ha-Shirim 2:12). At that time, the Rabbi of the Warsaw Jewish Community, Ha-Rav Yaakov Gezundheit, ascended the Bimah on Rosh Hashanah with a Sefer Torah in his hands, and swore that the Messiah would not come that year. Apparently he feared that people would once more go crazy, as they had a few years earlier, when it was prophesied that the Messiah would come. What followed instead were the pogroms of the wicked Bogdan Chmielnicki, and the episode of Shabbtai Zvi, who filled the breach and gained many adherents. You will certainly ask, “And what would the Rabbi have done had the Messiah indeed arrived that year?” Have no fear! Questions of that sort our Rabbis know how to answer…

If the Messiah does not come by 6001, I will not despair. I will remember that Rambam did not rule that 6000 is the deadline for the Messiah’s arrival (Hilchot Melachim 12:2). Perhaps he holds that that source is just a parable or the opinion of only one Rabbi, and not the majority view, and I will continue to wait for the Messiah every day.

And if the Messiah has not yet arrived by 6100, that will not wear me down. Rather, I will devote all my physical and mental energies to serving G-d, and that is what is most important. Rambam wrote, “One should not dwell too much on Midrashim dealing with the Messiah. One should not treat them as the essence, for they lead neither to increased love or fear of G-d. Neither should one calculate the end of days. Our sages said, ‘Blast the minds of those who calculate the end.’ Rather, one should wait and believe in the principle of there being a Messiah” (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 12:2). “I daily wait for his coming.”

And if by 6200 the Messiah has not yet arrived, I will continue to keep Torah and Mitzvot, to love the People of Israel and the State of Israel, to build a family and to go to the army. If I have waited so long for the Messiah, I will continue to wait daily for his arrival.

And when he finally comes, in the year 6999… I will greet him with tears, and I will recite a blessing, “Blessed be G-d, who bestowed His glory on flesh and blood. Blessed be He who bestowed His glory on those who fear Him, blessed is the Wise Knower of Secrets, blessed be He who has sustained us and brought us to this time.”

And I will immediately set out for my army unit, without waiting for the orders (see Rambam, ibid., 11:4).

At last! The Messiah’s arrival! We waited so long! Yet it actually feels like a short time. So much do I crave his coming that the wait feels like just a few days.  I can hear the sound of the great Shofar. I see Eliyahu the Prophet. He will say, “Thank you for the generations you waited daily. His arrival is thanks to you.” “Happy are all those who wait for him.”




The Redemption from Egypt and Today’s Redemption


  1. Similarity and Difference

We are fortunate that we have merited the Redemption from Egypt and the Redemption we are currently experiencing.  There is both a similarity and a difference between these two Redemptions, as our revered teacher Ha-Rav Kook explained in the article “The Pesach of Egypt and the Future Pesach” which appears in the book “Maamrei Ha-Re’eiyah” (pp. 164-166).  The similarity is the great wonder is which each of the Redemptions occurred.  In Egypt, we were slaves, downtrodden and persecuted, and we were instantly transformed into an exalted, strong and courageous Nation.  This is an historical wonder which has no parallel.  The same applies to our Redemption: we were in Exile, a Nation scattered and separated among the nations, downtrodden, expelled, suffering pogroms, persecutions and the Holocaust.  There are no words to describe the suffering we experienced.  And we were suddenly transformed into a free Nation in our Land: a courageous Nation, a wealthy Nation, a Nation of Torah – an unbelievable wonder.  This is similarity but there is also a difference.  The Redemption from Egypt was performed “in haste” (Devarim 16:3).  The Gemara in Berachot (9a) emphasizes that we were redeemed in an instance, a miracle of miracles.  But the prophet Yeshayahu (52:11) writes regarding the Redemption of our time: It will not occur in haste.  It will occur slowly, with difficulties, problems and complications.  Our Redemption even goes backwards at times, occurs slowly, not a miracle of miracles, through natural means.  Nature moves at its own pace, without revealed miracles.


  1. Which Redemption is Greater?

It would seem that the Redemption from Egypt was greater with its revealed miracles and wonders.  After all, our current Redemption seems like a pauper riding on a horse.  Our Sages teach however that this is not so.  They say that the future Redemption is much greater than the Redemption of Egypt.  The Mishnah in Berachot 1:5 relates that Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah said: I am like a man of 70 years, but I never merited proving why one is obligated to mention the Exodus at night until Ben Zoma explained: It says in the Torah (Devarim 16:3), “In order that you shall remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt, all the days of your life” – “The days of your life” refers to the days; “All the days of your life” refers to the nights.  Ben Zoma’s proof is from the word “all.”   The Sages disagree and say that the extra word “all” refers to something else: “‘The days of your life’ refers to this world; ‘All the days of your life’ indicates the time of the Messiah.”  According to their opinion, we mention the Exodus from Egypt in this time and in the days of the Messiah, but not at night.  Ben Zoma says to the Rabbis: But the prophet Yirmiyahu says: “Therefore, behold, days are coming, says Hashem, when they will no longer say, ‘As Hashem lives, who brought the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As Hashem lives, Who raised and returned the seed of the house of Israel from out of the northern lands and from every country into which I had driven them, and they will dwell on their own Land'” (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8).  We thus learn that in the days of the Messiah, we will not recall the Exodus, because the future Redemption will be so great that its light will hide the miracle of the Exodus.  The Rabbis answer that these verses from Yirmiyahu do not mean that the remembrance of the Exodus will be forgotten, but the great miracle of liberation from the oppression of the kingdoms of the world will be the main remembrance, and the Exodus will be the secondary one (Bereachot 12b).  Ben Zoma and the Sages therefore both agree that the future Redemption will be greater than the Redemption from Egypt.  The only dispute is whether the Exodus from Egypt will be mentioned in the days of the Messiah.


  1. The Future Redemption

Why is the Future Redemption so much greater than the Redemption from Egypt? – After all, the Exodus from Egypt is the miracle of miracles and our Redemption is through a natural process.  This recalls the letter of Ha-Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap to Maran Ha-Rav Kook, found in the book “Hed Harim”: I am disappointed by the Zionist movement.  I greatly value the building of the Land and the return to Zion but we lost out on the miracle of miracles on account of them, since a person receives from heaven what he expects.  Now that we have toiled to build the Land, we have lost out on the strength of miracles and only receive weakness.  But – Ha-Rav Charlap says – I have seen that his honor does not agree.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook responds to him in his letters (Igrot vol. 3, p. 20): His honor must be very careful regarding this thought that you had.  The Redemption which comes “Kim’a Kim’a – slowly, slowly” is the strength of fortitude and not weakness.  In truth, miracles show us that Hashem has the ability to perform anything beyond nature.  But the Redemption through nature – through man – is greater.  Hashem is not under “pressure.”  Hashem does not want to transverse nature.  This is the strength of fortitude.  Hashem performed the Redemption from Egypt and we were like babies for which everything was done.  Now, we are no longer babies.  The Master of the Universe brings the Redemption through us.  There are therefore difficulties and complications.  This is does not mean that it is not the Redemption, but because this is the Redemption through natural means.  It is not that we are not on the right path.  We are on the right path, but we are not at the end.



We’ve Made Progress


Question: Today, how can it be that we are on a higher level than the Desert Generation, which merited numerous miracles and was led by Moshe?  It’s true that now, as well, in our Land, we are facing crises regarding the Torah and Eretz Yisrael, but they are nothing compared to the sins of the Golden Calf, the spies and other severe sins.

Answer: Indeed, our sages said that our own redemption will be greater, so much so that Ben Zoma declared that in the Messianic era, the Exodus will no longer be mentioned (Berachot 12b). As it says: “Behold, the days will come – says Hashem – when they shall no more say, ‘As Hashem lives, that brought up the Nation of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As Hashem lives, that brought up and that led the seed of the House of Israel out of the north country and all the countries where I had driven them.’ They shall dwell in their own land” (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8).

In fact, the present ingathering of the exiles is more remarkable than the Egyptian Exodus. Then, the entire Nation left Egypt together for Jerusalem. Now, the entire Jewish People have left all the countries of the world and returned to Eretz Yisrael, as though acting in synch. Moreover, in Egypt we had Moshe. Now, there is no Moshe. Now we are sheep without a shepherd.
This has a disadvantage, but also an advantage. The advantage is that we are sheep who have done amazing things without a shepherd. The entire rebuilding of the Land, the entire return to Zion, the entire establishment of the Jewish State, all of Israel’s wars, the entire return to the Torah to Israel, we accomplished as sheep without a shepherd.

The shepherd will certainly come along, but not to solve problems that the sheep can solve alone. See Rashi at the beginning of Tehillim, Chapter 70, which employs the parable of a king who gets angry, destroys his sheep-pen, exiles the shepherd and banishes the flocks. Afterwards the king calms down, rebuilds the sheep-pen and brings back the flocks. The shepherd asks, “And what about me?” The king answers that he remembers him. Thus, the shepherd is brought back last.

When we left Egypt, we were like sheep entirely dependent on a shepherd. Hence, when the shepherd was absent, we committed the sin of the Golden Calf. On many other occasions, we were entirely dependent on the shepherd, like a boy who is dependent on his father and mother. Therefore, we sinned many times.

Now we know how to function without a shepherd, and we accomplish much. Even when we sin, it’s far from the level of sin that there was then.

All the same, our Sages say, “It is not that the Egyptian Exodus will be uprooted [from our awareness], but that our ultimate removal from the exile will be central and the Exodus from Egypt will be secondary” (Berachot ibid.). Here, however, Maharal carried out a Copernican revolution or paradigm shift in the introduction to his book “Netzach Yisrael”. There he explained that the relationship between the Egyptian Exodus and our ultimate liberation from the nations’ yoke is like the relationship between cause and effect. The cause is minor compared to the effect, and yet at the same time, the kernel of the effect is hidden within the cause.

It’s like an apple seed buried in the earth. It’s insignificant compared to a large apple tree, but the potential of a tree is hidden within. Everything we are doing now with such great talent was hidden within us when we left Egypt, just as all of the adult’s talents are stored away in him when he is a child.

Similarly, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook asked his father, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, what stage we are at in the Redemption – the start, the middle or the end?

His father responded that it depends on whether he was talking about the practical reality or the spiritual potential. In terms of the practical reality, the situation was very weak still. It was only the start of Redemption. Yet the spiritual awakening that was occurring possessed the power to usher the supreme Redemption to completion.

We should not boast about all the wonderful things we are doing now in our country, and look at eye level, or down our noses, at the Desert Generation. The Desert Generation was us, and everything we are doing now was already stored away in them. It just needed thousands of years of processing.

How fortunate we are to have been so privileged!




Has the Vine Flowered?


“Let us go early to the vineyards. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give My love to you.” (Shir Ha-Shirim 7:13)

Let us see if the Land has begun to flower. Have we reached the stage of G-d’s promise: “I will turn the desert into ponds, the arid land into springs of water” (Yeshayahu 41:18)?  Let us

go out and see whether we have already merited the prophecy of, “But you, over mountains

of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is

near” (Yechezkel 36:8). We entreat G-d. We want to return to the land, to the field, to the earth, to the farm, to the Kibbutz, to the village, to the Moshav. This, after all, is the well-known sign: “Rabbi Akiva said: you have no more obvious sign of the end of days than that of Yechezkel (ibid.): ‘But you, over mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My Nation Israel, for their return is near’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi explains: “When the Land of Israel yields its fruit bountifully, then the end will be near, and you have no more obvious sign of the end of days than that.”

The Redemption, the Messianic Era, begins with the Land yielding its fruits. In 5641, the Land began to yield fruits for its returning sons. The end of the exile began a little more than 100 years ago. The Jewish people are waiting for the Land to yield its fruits: “Let us go early to the vineyard. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom.” The exile is described as a time of “No grapes left on the vine, no figs on the fig tree” (Yirmiyahu 8:13). We chant these words in the Haftarah of Tisha B’Av.

One time our master, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, mentioned this verse on Tisha b’Av. He wept and said, “Now there are grapes on the vine and figs on the fig tree. Now we have reached the stage of, ‘the vine flowering, its blossoms opening, the pomegranates in bloom’.”

“There I will give my love to you”: G-d responds: “There, in the Land of Israel, I will give you My love.” The great repentance of the Jewish people, the great linking up between the Master of the Universe and the Jewish people occurs in the Land of Israel (Orot Ha-Teshuva 17a). Now that the blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom, there I will give My love to you.”  “The green figs form on the fig tree. The young grapes [Hebrew: Semadar] give off fragrance. Arise, my darling. My fair one, come away!” (ibid. 2:13).  “The green figs form on the fig tree”: There still aren’t any mature figs, only unripe ones. Matters still are not complete. “The young grapes give off fragrance.” The grape plants as well are very young. Rashi explains: “When the flower falls off, and the grapes become separated from one another, and each grape can be individually recognized, that is called ‘Semadar’. On the surface, this verse describes a young man enticing his fiancée to follow after him.”  The verse describes a young man inviting his fiancée on an outing. “Come,” he says to her. “This is not the time to remain at home. The winter is over. There is fresh air outside, birds and budding plants. The green figs and young grapes are forming.” The metaphor is of God telling us, “Come! Come!” As Rashi says: “‘The green figs form on the fig tree’ – The time has come for the first fruits to be brought, that you should come into the land. ‘The young grapes give off fragrance’ – The time of wine libations is drawing near.”

G-d is saying to us, “Come to the Land of Israel.” Amongst the Jewish People there were some in despair, hardly still believing. “The Israelites left Egypt well prepared [Chamushim]” (Shemot 13:18). Rashi comments, “Only one in five [Chamesh] left Egypt.” Four out of five were not privileged to leave, because they did not believe in the Redemption.  Eighty percent remained there.

In our days as well, only twenty percent of the Jewish People understand that the blossoms have budded, and those twenty percent are in the Land. Eighty percent do not understand as well, and they remain in the Diaspora. G-d is rousing us, saying, “Come! There is already a beginning. The Spring has begun.”  “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, for our vineyard is in blossom” (Shir Ha-Shirim 2:15).

All the same, a problem arises. Within the Jewish people there are Jews who do harm, little foxes, small people of small faith, a small perspective lacking in wisdom and intellect, small, destructive people. “Catch us the foxes,” these are foxes who ruin the vineyard, the vineyard of Israel. “Our vineyard is in blossom.” Our vineyard is still in blossom. It is weak.  It is only starting out. And that is the problem. Were the vineyard of Israel stronger, if they were in the full redemption, who could stand against us?! Yet everything is just starting out.  It is only a blossoming. Therefore, there are small foxes who ruin it.

There are all sorts of foxes. There are Egyptian foxes, Jewish foxes, American foxes,

Russian foxes and Arab foxes.  We have known many sorts of foxes in our history. Some were more powerful like Hitler. Others were small like Arafat. Compared to Hitler, Arafat was a minor fox. Some nations are foxes. There are elegant American foxes and there are also Jewish foxes. A fox is a sly but cowardly creature. Within every individual as well, there are inner, personal foxes.  These are our inner passions, which sometimes ruin the vineyard — the national vineyard, or the individual vineyard .The vineyard is in danger of ruin,especially when it is young. As Shir Ha-Shirim, Chapter 1 teaches, “My mother’s sons quarreled with me. They made me guard the vineyards. My own vineyard I did not guard” (1:6). But there is no need to worry.  When the vineyard becomes stronger, no fox will succeed in ruining it. When we left Egypt we were like unripe fruit. That is why we had so many problems.

And today as well, we are like unripe fruit. There is a certain logic to waiting until everyone

becomes righteous and only then to build the State, but it’s not always possible to wait. The

Belzer Rebbe met Rabbi Natan Ra’anan, the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and said to him, “All the Jews we wanted to turn into saints before they came to the Land of Israel were consumed in the crematoria.” You can’t wait. The State of Israel today is like unripe fruit. People who are not enormous saints in Torah or in their understanding of the Land of Israel or even in mundane matters are running this country. Yet

even they will ultimately “give off fragrance”. Even their deeds provide a good fragrance for

G-d. Unripe food is not the same as a fruitless shade tree. The latter will never have fruit. By

contrast, the unripe fruit will eventually ripen. You just have to wait patiently. Therefore,

unripe fruit is precious and its fragrance is good, enough so for God to tell us, “Arise my

darling! Come away!”




What do you see when you see a tree in Israel?

When you are walking along and you see a tree, what are you actually seeing? While it is certainly correct to say that you are seeing a tree, you are actually seeing much more than that, much more.

One hundred and seventy years ago, the French writer Alfonse De Lamartine wrote: “(Outside the walls of Jerusalem) we saw nothing living. We heard no sound of life. We found that same emptiness, that same silence that we would have expected to find before the buried gates of Pompei or Herculanum…total silence reigns over the city, along the highways, the villages… the whole country is like a graveyard.”

One hundred and thirty years ago, the American author Mark Twain visited the Land of Israel and he wrote: “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent — not for thirty miles in either direction. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings.  We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent, mournful expanse.  Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.  We safely reached Tabor…We never saw a human being on the whole route.  There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.  Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.  Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.  Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.  Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise?  Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?  Palestine is no more of this work-day world.”

Did you hear that? There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere, not even an olive tree!

Therefore, when I see a tree, I see the Jewish People rising to rebirth in our Land. For almost two thousand years, this Land was angry at us and would not smile at us.  Obviously, and by no coincidence, “because of our sins we were banished from our country and distanced from our Land.”

As we know, our Sages objected to making Messianic calculations. They even said, “Let the bones be blasted of those who calculate the end of days!” (Sanhedrin 97b).  If so, how can we know that the end is near?  They answered, “We have no better sign of the end of days than that of Yechezkel (36:8): ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi comments, “If you see the Land of Israel yielding its fruits plentifully, be aware that the end of the exile has arrived.”

Indeed, one hundred and twenty years ago, the Land began to blossom, and since then this sign has not proven to be a disappointment.  Our country is being built up, and despite all the harsh shortcomings visible in our public lives, we have to admit that we are rising up to rebirth, and we have to be happy, hold on and look forward.




Is This the Redemption?

Question: I’m sick of this country!  This isn’t the country we were waiting for. Even the army is no longer the “Israel Defense Forces,” but an operation based on alien ideologies that contribute nothing to the inhabitants’ security.  A third of our youth dodge the draft – and not just the Charedim – and they’re right.

Answer: I don’t believe you really think it is fair for some to be killed as soldiers while others enjoy life.  I don’t believe you really think we could survive even a moment without the army. And altogether, I don’t believe that you’ve really never heard that the redemption is meant to come gradually.  Certainly you heard it, but perhaps you forgot:

“One time, Rabbi Chiya the Great and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta were strolling through the Arbel Valley as morning approached, and they saw the breaking of dawn. Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Shimon, ‘Such is Israel’s redemption. At first it is gradual, but the further it moves along, the faster it is.” (Jerusalem Talmud, at the beginning of Berachot).

Countless times I have passed through that area, during the seven years I lived on Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee, and now, as well, that my daughter lives there in Kfar Zeitim, near the Sea of Galilee.  Were Rabbi Chiya to see all of this, he would burst with pleasure and pride at how gloriously Eretz Yisrael is being rebuilt and how plentifully it is bearing its fruits.  Indeed, this is one of the points that distinguish the intelligent from the unintelligent: the understanding that there are phenomena that do not occur all at once but involve a prolonged, painful, gradual process.

To what may this be compared?  To sunrise.  The sun doesn’t suddenly appear out of total darkness.  Rather, first comes dawn, the brightening of the east, sunrise, and at noon the sun appears in all its might.  It is the same with the start of redemption.  Light and darkness intermingle.  There are ups and downs, crises and setbacks, difficulties and complications.

And why is that?  Would it be too hard for G-d to bring redemption all at once, instantaneously?  Certainly not, but such is G-d’s will, that we should be partners in redemption, and such is the nature of people, that they are not angels but just people with weaknesses, mistakes and oversights.

Therefore, if we see problems along the way, we mustn’t despair.  We mustn’t think we have erred in our direction.  All the questions only prove that our country does not constitute the complete redemption but only its first flowerings.  Or, more precisely, we are already at an advanced stage of our redemption process.

One might say: “I can agree to the redemption’s proceeding gradually, but not to its regressing and to our losing what we have already gained.”  If so, however, my response is that G-d does not need your consent.  Moreover, you’ve forgotten that the Jerusalem Talmud brings as a first example of gradual redemption, the Purim miracle, which began with Mordechai’s exposing the plot against King Achashverosh.  Yet one can ask: Wasn’t that success followed by a decree to exterminate all the Jews, men, women and children?

The commentary on Sefer Charedim provides an answer to this: The “gradualness” referred to relates to the increase in light, yet it is also possible that within this process there will be times of great darkness.

You’ve also forgotten that when Moshe came to redeem Israel, at first the situation deteriorated and Pharaoh hardened his decrees, as Ramban explains at the end of Shemot.

The rule is this: the redemption is not a sudden burst of light like the moon at midday, but light and darkness in coexistence. We rejoice over that light on Israel Independence Day, and we weep over that darkness on Tisha B’Av, and struggle to rectify it.

Therefore, in the Pesach Haggadah, we seek a “day that is neither day nor night.”  We certainly long for a situation of total day, but we know that there is an intermediate situation of neither day nor night, and even for that we cannot possibly offer enough thanks, in comparison to the previous situation that was total darkness.  The source is the Prophets, from Zechariah 14:7: “There shall be one day which shall be known as Hashem’s, not day, and not night, but it shall come to pass that at evening time there shall be light.”  It shall not be entirely like the future redemption, nor as difficult as the exile (Rashi, Radak).


Don’t worry.  We are not stuck half-way through.  “Shall I bring her there but not assist in the birth?  Shall I begin to assist her but stop? – the word of G-d” (Isaiah 66:9).  Rashi explains: “Shall I bring the woman to the birthing stone but not open her womb to remove her fetus?  Shall I start something without being able to finish?”

Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes [with Rav Aviner’s comments in square brackets], “In the end of days, a silent movement has arisen [the Zionist Movement, quietly working to influence hearts and minds]  full of strengths and desires, full of contradictions and contrasts, full of light and darkness, and seeking to reach the shore of Jewish salvation.  It represents a small light from the light of the Messiah [yet compared to the darkness of the exile, it is an enormous light]” (Orot, Yisrael U-Techiyato 20).

Is this the country we have been waiting for?

Absolutely!  It’s not yet total light, but it has a lot of light, and it is getting brighter.




Starts and Stops in Redemption


In light of numerous setbacks in recent times, and the handing over of parts of Eretz Yisrael to the enemy, some people wonder whether ours is really the time of Redemption. Perhaps we were wrong to believe that G-d is now redeeming His Nation.  Heaven forfend!

When the Master of the Universe spoke about Redemption, He never promised that there would be no difficulties along the way.

Moshe was certainly G-d’s emissary in the Redemption from Egypt. When he set out to redeem Israel, he spoke to the Nation and they were enthusiastic. Yet when he went to speak to Pharaoh, that evildoer refused to listen. In fact, Israel’s plight worsened, and the Jews were compelled to gather their own straw. Those moments were exceedingly hard for the people and for Moshe himself.

Ramban in his commentary explains that Moshe surely knew that Redemption did not have to come in an instant, but could come gradually. In fact, some regression was likely, as indeed occurred at the time, followed by improvement.

Ramban quotes our Sages on the verse, “My beloved is like a gazelle” (Shir Ha-Shirim 2:9): “Just as a gazelle comes in and out of view, so does the first redeemer appear to them, then disappear, then reappear” (Ramban, Shemot 5:22.  Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 2:22).  The gazelle runs in the mountains, suddenly disappears and then appears once more. Later on as well, it seems to have disappeared, but it has really just moved forward, and it then reappears further along. In the same way, Moshe is the redeemer who brought good tidings and put hope and faith in our hearts. Suddenly he seemed to have disappeared. The situation grew worse, and then it got better.

At the start of the return to Zion, the Arabs perpetrated a terrible pogrom in Chevron. Not only were many righteous Jews brutally murdered, but the community was in despair, saying, “This is not what we thought would happen.” Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote an article “Return to the Stronghold!” saying, “We have to be courageous. In the terrifying event which has now occurred in Chevron, the redeemer seems to have disappeared, but he will be revealed once more” (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah, page 360).

We must not despair over what is happening. Rather, we must be courageous and persevere. This is not the first time since the start of our national rebirth that we face setbacks, and we have to consider that it will not be the last time either.

It says in Shir Ha-Shirim 2:17: “Be like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountains of Beter.” What is meant by “the mountains of Beter?” This is a mountain with a cleft [Beter] down the middle. The gazelle passes through the cleft and none can see it. It was to reassure us about those times that G-d forged His covenant with Avraham (Bereshit 15), likewise called “the covenant between the split halves [Betarim].” When we see the gazelle run, all rejoice and are enthusiastic. The true test of whether we yearn for salvation comes when we do not see the gazelle, when it is concealed in the mountain cleft.

In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer we express this yearning. Rav Kook explains that yearning for salvation includes two things:

  1. Even when it seems to us as though the Redemption is at a standstill, or actually regressing, we have to continue to believe that the Master of the Universe is moving matters forward, only we do not see it.
  2. We have to seize upon all possible means to advance redemption, what Rav Kook called “creative yearning” (Olat Re’eiyah 1:279).

When we face hardships and setbacks, we must not despair, but rather increase our strength and courage. Then, in the end, we will prove capable of the challenge.






















Ha-Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner was born in 5703 in German-occupied Lyon, France.  As a youth, he was active there in the religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva, eventually becoming its National Director.  He attended university, where he studied mathematics, physics, and electrical engineering.  At the age of 23, infused with the ideal of working the Land of Israel, Rav Aviner made aliyah to Kibbutz Sedei Eliyahu, in the Beit She’an Valley of the Galil.  He then went to learn at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav in Yerushalayim, where he met Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, Rosh Yeshiva and son of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook.  Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah became his foremost teacher, and he became one of his “Talmdei Muvhak – leading students.”  During this time he also served as a soldier in Tzahal – the Israel Defense Force, participating in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, earning the rank of Lieutenant.  At the direction of his Rabbi, he joined a group that was settling Chevron and learned Torah there.  In the year 5731, Rav Aviner became the Rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi in the lower Galil, where he spent half of his day working in the farm.  In 5737, he left Lavi to serve as the Rabbi of Moshav Keshet in the Golan Heights.  In 5741, he accepted the position of Rav of Beit El (Aleph), in the Binyamin region of the Shomron.  Two years later, he also became the Rosh Yeshiva of the new-established Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim (formerly known as Ateret Cohanim).  Located in the Old City of Yerushalayim, Rav Aviner’s yeshiva is the closest yeshiva to the Har Ha-Bayit – the Temple Mount, the holiest spot in the world.  In its more than twenty year history, Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim has produced rabbis, teachers, educators and officers in Tzahal, while also promoting the building and settling of the city of Yerushalayim.

Rav Aviner has become a ubiquitous presence in Israel.  He has published hundreds of books and articles, including Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah (talks by Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah), Tal Hermon on the weekly Torah portion and holidays and his multi-volume responsa Shu”t She’eilat Shlomo.  His talks and responsa appear monthly in the Yeshiva’s journal, Iturei Cohanim.  While his opinions are frequently printed in Israeli newspapers, Rav Aviner also contributes weekly to four parashah sheets, “Ma’aynei Ha-Yeshu’ah,” “Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah” of Machon Meir, “Rosh Yehudi” and “Olam Katan” which are distributed every Shabbat in shuls throughout Israel. He hosts two weekly radio programs, has a video blog (www.video.maale.org.il), teaches weekly classes and gives talks in many different venues.  The yeshiva also sends out weekly teachings of Rav Aviner in Hebrew, English, French and Spanish (to subscribe: toratravaviner@gmail.com) and has an English blog which is updated on a daily basis (www.ravaviner.com). In addition to these scheduled events, Rav Aviner also makes himself available to hundreds of people from all walks of life who come to him with questions via mail, telephone, fax, e-mail, text messages, his radio show and his video blog Q&A.




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