HEROES OF THE TANACH

In these beautifully crafted discussions of our ancestors in the Tanach, HaRav Shlomo Aviner - Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, and Rav of Beit El – clearly elucidates the traits and potentials which we have received from each of our ancestors. These heroes are not only the foundation of our Nation, but the foundation of each of us individually as well. When we read about their experiences and their responses, we learn what is inherent within our national and personal soul.

Heroes of the Tanach

Foundations of our Soul

Explorations of our Ancestors in the Tanach

by HaRav Shlomo Aviner

©

Copyright 5769

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

The chapters about women in the Tanach from HaRav Aviner’s book “Aishet Chayil” were translated from the Hebrew by Lazar Sarna with the assistance of Tova Sarna Segal and Naomi Sarna.

The chapters about men in the Tanach from HaRav Aviner’s book “Nesichei Adam” were translated by Mordechai Friedfertig.

Edited by Orly Friedfertig

Computer typeset by Moshe Kaplan

 

This book is dedicated

“Le-Ilui Nishmat” – in loving memory of

Ha-Rav Gavriel Noach and Rivkah Holtzberg HY”D

The beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, India

who were tragically taken from us in a terrorist attack

on their Chabad House

28 Mar Cheshvan 5769

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

 

  1. Adam
  2. Chavah
  3. Avraham
  4. Sarah
  5. Yitzchak
  6. Rivkah
  7. Yaakov
  8. Rachel
  9. Leah
  10. Moshe
  11. Miriam
  12. Shimshon
  13. Devorah
  14. Rut
  15. David
  16. Mordechai
  17. Ester

 

Author’s Biography

 

Introduction

 

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohen Kook, explains that we must view the history of our ancestors in light of the great principle “the action of the fathers is a sign for the children” (Ramban on Bereshit 12:1, Tanchuma – Lech Lecha 9 and Sotah 34a).  Crucial to our understanding of this statement is the idea that our forefathers are not separate entities from their children, but rather form a continuum with them. They are the root of Klal Yisrael. Their actions are “signs” for their children (i.e. for us), because we are in fact one entity with them. We are bound together, sharing a single essence which flows throughout time, from one generation to the next. When we learn about our forefathers and their actions, we learn about ourselves and our actions, for they are one and the same.

In these beautifully crafted discussions of our ancestors in the Tanach, Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner – Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, and Rav of Beit El – clearly elucidates the traits and potentials which we have received from each of our ancestors.  These individuals are not only the foundation of our Nation, but the foundation of each of us individually as well.  When we read about their experiences and their responses, we learn what is inherent within our national and personal soul.

May Rav Aviner’s discussions help actualize the strengthens which are embedded in our very essence.

Mordechai Friedfertig

In the heart of Jerusalem between the Walls

 

ADAM

  1. Rabbi Banah was a Great Man
  2. The Impurity of the Graves of the Righteous
  3. The Level of Eliezer, Avraham’s Servant
  4. The Level of Avraham and Sarah
  5. The Level of Adam Ha-Rishon
  6. The Level of Existence

 

 

  1. Rabbi Banah was a Great Man

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Banah would mark graves (Baba Batra 58a).  Rashi explains that he was a great and important person and was therefore given permission to enter the graves of the righteous, while it was forbidden for others to do so since the righteous are greater in death than in life (Chullin 7b).  He would enter the burial caves, measure their internal length and then measure them from the outside.  Next he would make a plaster marker to indicate that the place is impure, thus deterring the pure and the cohanim from walking there and becoming impure.  Rashi states that a job such as this could only be performed by an important person, since a grave is a holy and awe-inspiring place.  One must enter in a proper manner, with the recognition of its holiness and not in the spirit of a builder, an archeologist or a tour guide.  On the face of it, it seems as though Rabbi Banah was entering the cave to measure, but we must understand that these measurements were not of a technical nature, but rather a serious matter for the sake of a mitzvah – a deed that could only be performed by a great and noble individual.

 

Question: Who is considered a great person?

Answer: Someone we rely upon to perform a holy task, who truly recognizes the task’s greatness.  Entering a righteous person’s burial cave is like coming into his home, as the Gemara says: “the righteous are greater in death than in life” (Chullin 7b).  Therefore, just as a person does not knock on a Rabbi’s door, enter and begin to look around, so too would they not do so after his death.  Not everyone may enter the burial cave of the righteous.

 

Question: Is it disrespectful to visit the graves of the righteous?

Answer: Visiting the grave is a different matter.  This is similar to listening to a Rabbi’s class.  Just as everyone may listen to his class during his lifetime (which is similar to visiting him), so too may everyone visit his grave after his death.  Visiting his grave is a way of cleaving to his spirit.  Measuring a grave is like trespassing in a private home.  This may only be done by a great person with an incredible awe of Heaven, guarding the honor of the Torah scholar, and only for the sake of a mitzvah, such as preventing cohanim from becoming impure.

 

  1. The Impurity of the Graves of the Righteous

The Gemara specifically points out that Rabbi Banah was marking the graves at the Cave of Machpelah.  We thereby learn that the Cave of Machpelah transmits impurity.  Various points are clarified by this Gemara: 1. There is a dispute in the Gemara whether the graves of non-Jews transmit impurity.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) says that the graves of non-Jews do not transmit impurity throughout a structure (referred to as “Tumat Ohel”) (Yevamot 61a). Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are, for this purpose, placed within the same category as non-Jews because they lived before the giving of the Torah, i.e. before the laws of purity and impurity were given.  If this is so, we can conclude that the Cave of Machpelah does not transmit impurity.  Rabbi Banah’s actions, however, imply that the Halachah does not follow the Rashbi – after all, if the cave did not transmit impurity, he would have no reason to mark it off.  But this is not correct.  The Halachah does follow the Rashbi, but the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 372:2) writes that it is proper to be strict and not to enter areas where there are non-Jewish corpses.  Another explanation: Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are not in this category of non-Jews since they were prophets and great people. In this case, their graves would transmit impurity.  2. We must also discuss the opinion that the graves of the righteous do not transmit impurity, as quoted by some Rishonim (Rabbis of the Middle Ages), since the righteous are called “living” even in their death.  Our Gemara about Rabbi Banah, according to Rashi and its simple meaning, is a clear proof that the graves of the righteous do transmit impurity.  The decision of the majority of Achronim (later authorities) – both Sefardic (including Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef) and Ashkenazic – is that they do transmit impurity and it is therefore forbidden for cohanim to enter the Cave of Machpelah, Kever Rachel, etc.  While there are some authorities who are lenientin this matter, they represent a tiny minority and our Sages are not pleased with those who enter these holy places.

 

  1. The Level of Eliezer, Avraham’s Servant

When Rabbi Banah arrives at the Cave of Machpelah, he finds Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, standing in front of the door.  Rabbi Banah asks him: what is Avraham doing now?  He responds: He is lying in Sarah’s arms and she is checking his head.  Rabbi Banah says: Go tell Avraham that I am at the door.  Eliezer says: you should know that there is no evil inclination in the World to Come.  In this world, it is immodest to enter when someone is lying in his wife’s arms and is checking his head, but there is no evil inclination there.

 

The commentators explain that we are obligated NOT to understand this story according to its simple meaning.  We are to understand that Rabbi Banah’s marking of the graves was either through “Ruach Ha-Kodesh” (Divine inspiration), a dream or intellectual introspection.  SO did Rabbi Banah really mark off the graves or not?  It is possible that he did not.  Rather the meaning of “marked off graves” is that he measured the spiritual levels of the earliest inhabitants of the grave. He defined who Avraham is spiritually, who Sarah is spiritually, who  Eliezer is spiritually, and who Adam is spiritually.  But why was Rabbi Banah so involved with evaluating the spiritual levels of the dead – why not “measure” the living?  Because for as long as a person is alive, we do not know what will become of him.  Yochanan, the Cohain Gadol, became a heretic at the age of eighty (Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 11, 9).  Only when a person dies do we know who he is, as it says: “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Kohelet 7:1).  The well-known parable explains (Midrash Rabbah ibid.): There was a celebration for a new ship setting sail.  On the same day, an old ship laden with merchandise was returning to the port to unload for the last time.  One clerk went out to look at the old ship.  They said to him: “What are you doing – the celebration is for the new ship which is now leaving the dock?!”  He said to them: “We do not know what the fate of the new ship will be.  Perhaps it will sink, perhaps bandits will take it over…As for the old one, who has finished her role, we know what she accomplished.”  Only after a person dies it is possible to summarize who he was and what he did in his life; this is what Rabbi Banah was doing.  It is also possible to explain, according to the simple meaning of the text, that he was marking off the graves, i.e. checking and measuring them, as his name – Rabbi Banah – suggests: “Banai” means a “builder.”  He did not simply enter and measure, rather he entered, contemplated, and became connected to these righteous people, awed by their holiness.  He thus merited understanding their identity and greatness, either through a revelation in a dream (Ben Ish Chai) or through a deep intellectual understanding (Maharal).  After all, as Rashi explained (see above), Rabbi Banah was a great person.

 

Rabbi Banah arrived at the Cave of Machpelah and meet Eliezer at the entrance.  Before you are able to understand Avraham, you must first understand Eliezer.  Eliezer is the one who drew from the Torah of his teacher Avraham and gave it to others to drink (Rashi on Bereshit 16:2).  Eliezer was the external Avraham.  First and foremost, we must understand that Eliezer was a great person.  Eliezer was in effect Avraham’s Rosh Yeshiva, who spread Avraham’s Torah outward.  Eliezer was a Canaanite convert, one of the people whom Avraham converted and brought to faith.

 

Question: If he was such a great person, why did Avraham leave him with Yishmael during the Akeidah?

Answer: Eliezer was extremely important.  He spread Avraham’s Torah and Avraham entrusted him to choose a wife for Yitzchak, the woman who would be the continuation of the Nation of Israel.  But at the Akeidah, Avraham said to him: “Stay here with the donkey” (Bereshit 22:5).  Our Sages explain: “A nation similar to the donkey” (Yevamot 62a), i.e. in relation to the Akeidah, you – Eliezer and Yishmael – are on the level of a donkey.  This does not mean that their entire lives are on the level of a donkey, but when compared to the powerful level of the Akeidah, they were donkeys.  If they had seen Avraham taking his son to be slaughtered, they would have gone crazy.  They would have crumbled, become heretics or killed Avraham.  They were incapable of being exposed to this great light.  In its wake, they were donkeys.

 

In order to understand Avraham, we must first understand Eliezer.  Eliezer was an idealist, an important individual, a student of Torah and he stood at the door.  Where Eliezer ends, Avraham begins.  Compared to Avraham, he was like a donkey.  The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, chap. 29) explains that Avraham rode on a donkey, as did Moshe Rabbenu, and the Messiah will do the same.  This means that they are able to overcome the material world (the Hebrew word for donkey – “Chamor” – is similar to the word for material – “Chomer”).  Avraham was completely liberated from the material world.  Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, was important but was still mired in material reality.  Avraham rose above this reality.  He was on a different plain.  This is the reason that he did not marry off Yitzchak to Eliezer’s daughter.  Our Sages state: “You are cursed and my son is blessed and the cursed do not become attached to the blessed” (Bereshit Rabbah 59:9).  But if Eliezer was cursed, how did he serve as Avraham’s Rosh Yeshiva?!  We must understand that everything is relative.  The curse of the material still grasped him, while Avraham was on a much higher level.  It is difficult to explain who Eliezer was but when you understand Eliezer’s level, you can understand that Avraham was more supreme than him: he was a spiritual giant.  This is the beginning of understanding Avraham.  Our Sages explain that the verse (Yehoshua 14:15): “The biggest man among the giants” refers to Avraham Avinu (Massechet Sofrim, chap. 21).

 

  1. The Level of Avraham and Sarah

What was Avraham Avinu doing?  “He was lying in Sarah’s arms,” while she was checking his head.  Even before we begin to understand the details, we must see what unites these two acts: they are both signs of affection.  And by the way, the “Nimukei Yosef” says at the beginning of the Gemara in Baba Batra (and this ruling appears in the Shulchan Aruch) that it is forbidden for a person to publicly display acts of affection towards his spouse.  We see from here that if Avraham and Sarah were not deceased it would be forbidden for them to act in this way.  He does not state that it is a strict law, but that it is not proper etiquette, since there are occasions that it is permissible to be lenient.  If one’s wife is tired or sick, for example, she may lean on him in public.

 

We thus see that there is great affection between Avraham and Sarah.  This is the most blatant fact.  This is a spiritual remedy for the sin of Adam and Chavah, who had their love destroyed.  Adam was cursed through an economic destruction, as it says: “You shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow” (Bereshit 3:19), and Chavah was cursed through the destruction of the relationship between husband and wife: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (ibid. 16).  These two curses are not artificial, external matters, but are implanted with the sin itself.  The sin is what caused the curse.  We see that the damage in the relationship was manifest in two ways: 1. Adam only gave his wife a name at a later period, i.e. he did not know her name.  Knowing someone by name is the foundation of a relationship.  If people call someone “Hey, redhead” – this testifies that there is a lack of relationship.  After all, this person has a name!  2. When Hashem asks Adam what he did, he answered: “The woman whom You gave to be with me” (ibid. 12) – she is guilty.  He throws the blame on his wife (Rashi ibid.).  Hashem did not even relate to this claim, and punished them both.  Our Sages say in the Midrash that Adam was ungrateful.  Instead of thanking Hashem for the wife he received, he blamed Him for her.  In contrast, Avraham and Sarah symbolize friendship and love even though they experienced difficult times.  Sarah did not give birth for many years, but she did not demand from Avraham: “Give me children” (see Bereshit 30:1).  It is written that anyone who calls on Hashem to judge his case against another is punished first (Rosh Hashanah 16b). We see that Sarah did call on Hashem to judge between herself and Avraham, as she said: “Hashem will judge between me and you” (ibid. 16:5).  But we also see that Avraham did listen to her.  We must therefore differentiate between a one-time unfortunate event and an over-all relationship which is full of love and affection.

 

Our Sages state that Avraham was secondary to Sarah in prophecy (Shemot Rabbah 1:1).  She was a great prophet and had a better understanding.  This is the beginning of the spiritual remedy of Adam’s sin.  Adam’s economic destruction was also repaired by Avraham, who was extremely wealthy.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains this idea (Orot, Yisrael U-Techiyato 26).  He says that the beginning of trust between one person and another is the trust between husband and wife.  If there is trust between husband and wife, there is trust between one person and another, and from this there is trust among the Nation, between Nations and between worlds.  Repairing the tear which is found in the world begins with a husband and wife.  Avraham Avinu therefore loved all of humanity, as it says about him: “All the families of the earth shall bless themselves through you” (Bereshit 12:3).  This love began between him and his wife.

 

Avraham laid in Sarah’s arms, which points to her supremacy.  She was like a support for him.  From one perspective, Sarah was more important, as we mentioned, since she was a greater prophet than Avraham.  But she was checking (i.e. searching the contents of) his head, showing that Avraham was greater than her in the “head.”  He was secondary to her in prophecy, but he was greater in Torah.  Avraham kept the entire Torah before it was given, as it says: “Because Avraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My mitzvot, My laws and My Torahs” (Bereshit 26:5).  In all matters relating to the head – the power of thought – Avraham was greater, and in everything relating to the body – to reality – Sarah was greater.  Sarah was greater in bringing theoretical matters to reality.  Sarah therefore makes the decision of how the reconcile the two issues: 1. “All the families of the earth shall bless themselves through you” which includes Yishmael, and 2. the issue of whether or not to remove Yishmael from their household, which, for the love of Yishmael, Avraham did not want to do.  The same relationship existed between Yitzchak and Rivka, as is seen in her decision regarding Esav, whom Yitzchak loved.  The Vilna Gaon explains the midrash that Esav’s head is buried in the Cave of Machpelah in this way: Esav’s head – his supreme element – has a portion that is endowed with the holiness of our Forefathers (see Likutim at the end of the book “Sa’arat Eliyahu and brought in Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 142).  Rivka tells Yitzchak that Esav’s head will come to the Cave of Machpelah the future, but that in the present, it is forbidden for Esav to receive his blessing!  Yitzchak was correct in seeing Esav’s holiness from the perspective of absolute truth, which will appear in the future, but in practice Rivka was right in seeing that this blessing was to be delayed.  The Torah encompasses all worlds; it applies from the beginning of the world until its end.  Prophecy, on the other hand, relates to the here and now, as Rashi explains: prophecy is a temporary measure according to reality (Rashi on Chullin 137a).  Avraham therefore relied on Sarah.  He lay in her arms, for she was greater in the practical reality.  But she lovingly related to his head, where he was supreme.

 

  1. The Level of Adam Ha-Rishon

After Rabbi Banah entered, looked around and left the cave of Avraham and Sarah, he wanted to enter to enter the Cave of Adam Ha-Rishon, which is also in the Cave of Machpelah.   The Gemara continues: when Rabbi Banah came to Adam Ha-Rishon’s grave, a voice from Heaven said:  ”You saw the form of Avraham, who has My form [via those who came before him, but] you may not see My form itself [as embodied in Adam, who was created directly in G-d’s image]” (see Rashi ibid.).  This means that you may not look at Adam Ha-Rishon, since his level of holiness is above intellect, prophecy and all understanding.  Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi explains in the Sefer Ha-Kuzari (1, 95) that the Master of the Universe is the mother and father of Adam Ha-Rishonim.  A normal person has three partners in his creation, but Adam only had one Being who created him: the Master of the Universe.  Adam is therefore not a person like us, but something entirely different.  Just as Avraham is on a completely different level than Eliezer, so too is Adam Ha-Rishon on a completely different level than Avraham.  We do not possess the ability to understand Adam Ha-Rishon.  Our Sages say that the soul of Adam Ha-Rishon includes all the souls of the entire world (Tanchuma – Ki Tisa 12, Shemot Rabbah 40:3, Tikunei Zohar – Tikun 50 p. 92).  Adam ‘s prophecy was also above Moshe’s prophecy (Orot Ha-Kodesh 1, p. 280).  Moshe Rabbenu needed to separate from his wife, since he received constant prophecy.  Even a righteous and pure individual is not completely liberated from the material world.  A person who ascends the Temple Mount is therefore required to ritually immerse after a seminal emission (unrelated to “Tevilat Ezra – Decree of Ezra” which always requires immersion in a case of emission), even though it occurred through a holy and pure marital encounter.  In contrast, Adam was a prophet without separating from his wife.  “They were naked…and they were not ashamed” (Bereshit 2:25).  This is clearly not our level.  Even after the sin, when his level of holiness decreased, he is still on a more exalted level than us.  He is more G-dly.  He is “The man”.  There is a dispute among the commentators whether Rabbi Banah saw Adam before or after the sin, but we must nevertheless understand that he is the person whom G-d created, the image of G-d in man.

 

Rabbi Banah thus wanted to mark off the cave — meaning that he wanted to teach the world who Adam was.  A Divine voice told him: “The inner cave is the same size as the outer” (ibid.), i.e. you do not need to enter for this purpose, you can measure from the outside.  Rabbi Banah checked and made an enigmatic statement: “Two caverns, this one above that one, the upper one is the same size as the lower.”   There is a dispute as to what he meant: are there two caves with one cave inside the other or is there one cave on top of the other?  Rashi explains that Rabbi Banah was saying that there is Adam Ha-Rishon the way he really was (the inner/lower cave) and there is Adam Ha-Rishon to us (the outer/upper cave).  We want to know who Adam is in order to learn from his ways and to know how to act, since we are called “Adam” (man) and we are his continuation.  The Divine Voice answered: you only need to learn the essence of Adam Ha-Rishon as the father of humanity.  There is no need to understand his entire essence.  We can compare this to a Rabbi/student relationship.  In order to learn in a Rabbi’s class, there is no need to know the Rabbi’s inner, personal essence.  It is enough to know how he acts outwardly.  There is no way for you to understand the objective Adam Ha-Rishon, it is sufficient to know him subjectively.  As we said, Eliezer is the “outward” Avraham Avinu, and through him we can understand the inner Avraham.  But we do not have the tools to do the same with Adam Ha-Rishon.  It is forbidden to relate to matters which are too deep.  These are the secrets of Torah.  The first parashah of the Torah is in this category and its understanding is only revealed to select individuals (Chagigah 11b).  There are also Torah secrets which no one knows.  Therefore, do not touch the grave of Adam Ha-Rishon – do not measure inside.

 

“Rabbi Banah said: I saw the heels of Adam Ha-Rishon – they were like the sun.”  It is possible that he looked at them before he was admonished not to look.  The heel is the lowest, the lowliest and the most base part of a person.  The sun is the most powerful splendor in the world and it blinds.  Rabbi Banah said the lowest and most physical part of Adam was filled with splendor and it blinded anyone who tried to look at it.  Even his heels were full of Divine light.  It is written that in the future “Holy to Hashem” will be written on the bells of a horse (based on Zechariah 14:20.  see Orot 2, p. 311).  This is the same thing that is written on the “Tzitz” worn on the Kohain Gadol’s forehead when he enters the Holy of Holies.  In the future, all reality will be elevated – even the bells of a horse.  This was Adam’s level before the sin.  The level of humanity after the Resurrection of the Dead will be like Adam’s level before the sin, since sinning is death.  It is detachment from the Tree of Life.  Before sinning, even Adam Ha-Rishon’s heels were like the sun, the most supreme part of the material world.

 

Question: Did Adam Ha-Rishon live in this world or the World to Come?

Answer: He lived in this world.  He ate the fruits of this world, but his physicality was completely spiritual and this is the entire goal of the world.  A completely spiritual world is the World to Come.  The purpose of creating the physical was that there would be sanctification of Hashem’s Name in the lower world.  Our purpose is “Be Holy” (Vayikra 19:2) here in the lower world.

 

  1. The Level of Existence

The Gemara continues: “Anyone compared to Sarah is like a monkey compared to a person.”  All people, even righteous individuals and Rabbis, are monkeys when compared to Sarah.  We must understand that there are different levels in reality.  In order to understand Sarah’s greatness, the Gemara explains this idea to us in a negative way, which is often the case with great ideals that are difficult to explain.  Everyone is a monkey compared to Avraham and Sarah.  If you understand Eliezer’s level, Avraham was greater.  If you understand the level of all of humanity, they are monkeys compared to Sarah.  “Sarah compared to Chavah is like a monkey compared to a man.”  All of us are like monkeys when compared to Sarah, but Sarah compared to Chavah is like a monkey compared to a man.  Chavah is not an actual person.  She is a soulful being, the person who was created by G-d Himself.  The Gemara says: “Chavah compared to Adam is like a monkey compared to a man.”  The “Ben Ish Chai” raises a difficulty based on the Arizal (in Sha’ar Ha-Kavanot, Derush Rosh Hashanah): He brings the statement of our Sages that Adam Ha-Rishon could not look into the face of Chavah.  Just as Rabbi Banah was blinded by Adam Ha-Rishon, so was Adam Ha-Rishon blinded by his wife.  If this is the case, there is a contradiction.  The Gemara says that she was like a monkey compared to him, but here it is implied, if he could not look in her face, that she was more supreme.  The “Ben Ish Chai” explains that there is no contradiction.  Adam was greater than Chavah before the sin, but she was greater than him after the sin.  The sin affected Adam more than it affected Chavah.  In this world and in our time, the same is true.  A righteous man is more supreme than a righteous woman on account of the power of the Torah.  But when a man sins, he descends to a greater extent than when a woman sins.  A man can climb higher, but he can also deteriorate to the lowest level.  Perhaps a woman is not able to climb as high, but her fall is also much less.  In the Torah, the most evil people are men and not women.  There are hardly any evil women.  It is true that there is Izevel (Jezebel), and Vashti and Zeresh, but there are many more righteous than sinful women.  In the communal transgressions – the sin of the Golden Calf and the sin of the spies – the women did not participate.  And the women did not sink to the forty-ninth gate of impurity in Egypt.  At the same time, the two great ones who rose to save the Nation from Egyptian slavery were men: Moshe and Aharon.  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, explains that a woman is more G-dly, and a man is more human (see the book “Bat Melech,” p. 15).  A woman possesses more Divine abilities, and a man possesses more human abilities.  A woman is therefore more stable and less prone to spiritual descent.  Although Chavah caused the sin and influenced Adam to sin, we can ask: why was he enticed? Is it possible that he was there when the snake spoke to her?  Our Sages ask: where was Adam at this time?  Why was Chavah left alone facing the snake?  When the Master of the Universe asks him: “Where are you?”  It is not a geographical question, but a spiritual one.  Adam was greater than Chavah before the sin, but she was greater than him afterwards.  Another interpretation: At the beginning, Adam Ha-Rishon was a combination of two people, as the Gemara (Berachot 61a and Eruvin 18a) explains the verse: “Male and female – He created them” (Bereshit 5:2).  Later, they were separated.  If so, the male alone when compared to Adam Ha-Rishon (the combination of male and female) is like a monkey before a man.

 

One of the commentators asks: If this is true, why does the Gemara say that Sarah was like a monkey compare to Avraham?  He explains that it is true that Avraham was greater in Torah, but as is known, Sarah was greater in prophecy (see Rashi on Bereshit 11:29).  Rabbi Banah came to all of these understandings either through “Ruach Ha-Kodesh” (Divine inspiration), a dream or intellectual introspection.

 

The Gemara continues: “Adam compared to the Divine Presence is like a monkey compared to a person.  The Divine light which sparkles within a person is like a monkey compared to the Divine light which sparkles throughout G-d’s creation.  This Divine light, which dwells in the entirety of existence, is the Divine Presence.  There was a Divine light even before G-d’s spiritual creations, as we say: “You existed before the world was created and You exist after the world was created.”  This is in opposition to philosophies which minimize the Divine light for the Divine light within man.  These beliefs state that G-d is man and man is G-d.  Although this is true, since there is a Divine light within man, there is a much more supreme Divine light than man, which came before man.  I once spoke with a Buddhist and I told him that we cleave to Hashem.  He asked me: “What is cleaving to Hashem?  Hashem is man.  The way to cleave to Hashem is to cleave to yourself.”  This is similar to the top of the glue which sticks to the container: man cleaves to himself.  But it is not true.  The Divine light in G-d’s creation is far more supreme than the Divine light in man, and the Divine light in existence is like a monkey compared to the Divine light which is above existence.  Someone who does not understand this is a Pantheist, which is the philosophy of Spinoza, who said that everything is G-d.  This is incorrect.  Although the entire world is full of Divine light, the Master of the Universe was before the world and is above the world: “Who reigned before any form was created” and “after all has ceased to be” (from “Adon Olam”).  To a certain extent, we can reach the Divine light within existence but we have no concept of the Divine light before or above existence. This is something that even Adam Ha-Rishon could not understand.

 

The Gemara brings examples to clarify this matter: “The radiance of Rav Kahana is a semblance of that of Rav.  The radiance of Rav is a semblance of that of Rabbi Abahu.  The radiance of Rabbi Abahu is a semblance of that of Yaakov.”  We know that Rav Kahana was the student of Rav, but can we compare the two?!  They were worlds apart.  The Maharal explains that Rav Kahana was a morsel compared to Rav.  “The radiance of Yaakov is a semblance of Adam Ha-Rishon.”  Yaakov was similar to Adam Ha-Rishon.  Although we are all like monkeys compared to Adam Ha-Rishon, there are different levels among the monkeys.  The Maharal explains in his introduction to “Beer  Ha-Golah” that in our times people think that they are the great Torah scholars of the generation but they do not understand the difference between themselves and their Rabbi, and they do not understand the difference between their Rabbi and the “Rishonim” (the earlier ones).  The “Rishonim” understood this concept well.  The student understood that he was nothing compared to his teacher, and everyone knew that they were absolutely nothing compared to the ancient ones.  “If the early Sages were like sons of angels, we are like people; if they were like people, we are like donkeys” (see Shabbat 112b).

 

 

Chavah

  1. In the Image of G-d
  2. And they Were Not Ashamed
  3. Male and Female He Created Them
  4. Mother of All Living Things
  5. The Snake
  6. Ingratitude
  7. And Where Was Adam
  8. Four Curses
  9. A Secret and a Parable

 

 

  1. In the Image of G-d

Chavah is greater than all women.  Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, Chanah, Devorah, Ester and the other women of the Tanach, all of them are wonderful, great and noble.  The fact is that we cannot raise ourselves to the level of their quality.  Yet we do have some relationship and bond with, and an understanding of them.  Not so with Chavah: She is beyond all possible human understanding, and beyond the scope of our comprehension and insight.

 

Chavah and Adam are an eternal couple.  The Gemara tells the story of Rabbi Banah who went about marking gravesites so that Cohanim would not accidentally stumble across them.  On his way, he would enter burial caves to mark off their boundaries.  The story relates that he entered the Cave of Machpelah and saw Adam: I looked at his two heels and they resembled two spheres of sun (Baba Batra 58a).  Adam’s heel, the lower part of it, glowed with a blinding light, which no ordinary human could endure.  The spiritual light of Adam, shining even from its lowest level, is beyond the ability of man to see.

 

Some understand the Gemara in its plain sense.  Rabbi Banah, who put his entire soul into fulfilling this mitzvah of marking graves, earned at that very moment a profound insight into, and a realization of the essence of Adam.  We however are not able to understand a thing; and from the low level which we occupy, we are blind in reason and philosophy.

 

Regarding Sarah our mother, Rabbi Banah said that there are many fine women in the world, wonderful and righteous, but in contrast to her: Compared to Sarah, everyone is like an monkey compared to a man; but Sarah compared to Chavah is like a monkey compared to a man (Baba Batra ibid.). Regardless of Sarah’s greatness, compared to Chavah she is like an monkey to a man.

 

We know there are different theories, nothing more than imagination, which suggest that man descended from the monkey: Man at one point was on the level of the monkey, but slowly evolved to a higher level.  Essentially, it does not make a difference to us if we were once monkeys: What is important is that now man is a man and not a monkey.  On the other hand, assuming this theory were correct, it follows that if we were once monkeys and we evolved into man, we should expect to evolve even further: We are assured throughout the Torah that man certainly does not remain in a static state, but moves forward without interruption.

 

Our Sages tell us that compared to Sarah, we are all monkeys.  Compared to Chavah, we are the archetypal monkey.  Chavah is a woman, the mother and prototype of all women.  She is the foremost woman, a woman in her purest and ideal sense.  The eternal ideal woman is defined in the Torah in these words: The image of G-d (Bereshit 1:27).  And this is not a superficial description.

 

Man in the image of G-d is man at his purest: God made man upright (Kohelet 7:29).  Note that it says, the inclination of man is evil from his youth (Bereshit 8:21).  It does not say that G-d created man as an evil being.  On the contrary, He made him upright: “But they sought many intrigues” (Kohelet ibid.).  Chavah was created from a rib, that is, she shares the same essence: She is upright.  In life, there are problems, complications and failures.  And for this very reason, G-d brought us into the world.  Our task in this difficult and convoluted world filled with a multitude of obstacles and pitfalls is to reveal the essence of the creation of G-d: That man is upright. Chavah is already at a level of righteousness.

 

Both Adam and Chavah are emanations of the hand of G-d.  G-d was their father and G-d was their mother.  They were never children.  The Midrash says that they were created at the physical age of twenty (Bereshit Rabbah 14:7).  They were created without living through the fragility of childhood.   A child is thoroughly loveable; while prone to foolishness, it is not sinful (Shabbat 119b).  It has a sense of worth, and a drive to quickly reach for the peak of perfection, not the intermediate stages.

 

  1. And They Were Not Ashamed

Chavah does not appear on the list of the seven prophets referred to by our Sages (Megillah 14a); and the apparent reason for this is that she is beyond the scope of prophecy.  Adam as well is beyond prophecy for we are told that G-d spoke to Adam and to Chavah: And they heard the voice of the Hashem, G-d (Bereshit 3:8).

 

There are eight levels of human consciousness, eight channels that connect to reality: emotion, imagination, logic, Divine inspiration, prophecy, prophecy of Moshe our teacher, prophecy of Adam and prophecy after the Resurrection of the Dead (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 1, p. 280).   Ordinary prophecy is sporadic rather than continuous, and deals with various issues.   The highest form of prophecy is the prophecy of Moshe our teacher because it is continuous.   But in order for it to be so, Moshe had to live apart from his wife.  The bond between man and wife, even though holy and everlasting, contains elements of the physical that interfere with the appearance of prophetic insight.  Since Moshe our teacher constantly had to be receptive to the prophetic message, he was forced to separate from his wife (ibid., p. 279); Aharon and Miriam did not understand this.  Adam and Chavah, however, did not live apart: G-d related all this to them.  Their materialistic and physical reality was intensified seven-fold, but was not a barrier to their hearing the message of G-d; so that their state of experiencing and they were not ashamed (Bereshit 2:25) was a matter of absolute purity.

 

Chavah was created in the image of G-d.  Various scientific theories hold that millions and billions of years ago, monkeys and their ancestors appeared on earth. In the beginning there were monkey-like men, men that had a monkey-like appearance, precursors of anthropoids, and other species of primitive beings.  Anthropologists do not know exactly when modern man appeared, although they theorize he appeared in stages.  At first, he appeared as homo faber namely man capable of figuring out how to work with his hands.  Then came homo erectus, a man-like creature that walked bent over; later, homo sapiens appeared, namely a man with the ability to reason.  Then came intelligent man, namely homo sapiens-sapiens.  The same theorists are not able to determine exactly when he appeared, but based on their estimate, he appeared sometime between five thousand and ten thousand years ago.

 

We however know exactly when he appeared: Five thousand seven hundred and forty-five years ago [counting back from (the date of publication) 5745]. When Adam appeared, he was in the image of G-d.  The so-called men who preceded him were not in the image of G-d; and they are of no interest to us (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 105).  The highest stage of man’s appearance is that in the image of G-d.  Everyone compared to him, and everyone compared to Chavah, are merely monkeys.

 

  1. Male and Female He Created Them

The notion of Adam’s creation in the image of G-d is emphasized in the Torah by reference to the complete equality between the man and the woman: In the image of G-d He created them; male and female He created them (Bereshit 1:27).   Although there are psychological and physical differences between the genders, these are minor compared to the shared attribute of being in    G-d’s image.  Rashi focuses on the words regarding Adam: “And He called her woman, because she was taken from man” (ibid. 2:23).  The language imitates the meaning.  The words man [ish] and woman [isha] are identified by the commonality of their root; and this is a sign that the Torah was given in the holy language (Rashi, ibid. based on Bereshit Rabbah 18:4).  In other languages, the words man and woman do not resound as masculine and feminine based on a common root, and it does not matter.  Language reflects the innate perception of a people.  Among other nations, when two types are contrasted, each is seen as a different type of creature.  Among Christians, a woman is considered inferior to man; and their evidence of this is that woman was created after man.  This is a strange proof, since it is possible to conclude the exact opposite from the same premise.   And this is what our Sages taught us: It is written: “And Hashem, G-d, fashioned [vayiven] the side (Bereshit 2:22); from which they derived that a woman has additional understanding (binah).

 

If she is endowed with greater understanding, why is woman not obligated to study Torah?  Man, who does not possess greater understanding, must increase his learning for that very reason.  But woman, who does have greater comprehension, understands even though her learning it not diligent and steady.  The Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague) explains that a person who has a natural aptitude in something, can accomplish with ease.   Someone without that natural aptitude must apply extraordinary effort.  A woman has a natural aptitude, while man must strenuously apply himself (Maharal, Derush al Ha-Torah pp. 27-28).  Furthermore, effort spent in studying Torah does not add to knowledge, to the depth of the soul, to cleaving to Torah.  Man is a stubborn creature, reluctant to listen, and so must be struck in the ‘sinews’ (Rashi on Shemot 19:3) to go about his learning rationally.  Someone endowed with a natural aptitude for Torah is not dependent on the ‘sinews’ in order that an internal change occurs; and he absorbs it with greater ease.  Woman, as we are taught, listens more, which reflects her profound human sensibility.  Therefore she can feel for and connect to and be filled with Torah in ways different than man.  Man attains commitment by way of learning, while woman absorbs instruction from life.

 

Let us return to our discussion.  Why are we told that G-d fashioned the rib, when it was already fashioned?  Rather He fashioned something additional to what was in man, an additional stage.  The matter from which Adam was created was the earth, which is the most basic material, and woman was created out of man.  The matter from which she was taken was already spiritual; and was fortified, through the creation of something additional (Sichot of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah #9, Ish Ve-Isha #5).  This theme appears in every generation, and runs throughout the history of the Jewish people, through the challenges and crises that plagued the Jewish nation.   Many times the men felt downtrodden, but the women were there to strengthen them.  In Egypt, Israel sank through forty-nine levels of impurity.   But they were redeemed by the merit of their righteous wives (Sotah 11b).  The women did not act improperly at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, nor the sin of the Spies.

 

The Torah relates events shrouded in secrets.  In the first chapter it says “And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d.  He created him, male and female, He created them” (Bereshit 1:27).   Yet in the second chapter, we are told that man was created alone: “It is not good that man is alone” (ibid. 2:18).  The Gemara explains that Adam was male and female, hermaphrodite, in that he had the organs of both sexes (Eruvin 18a; Bereshit Rabbah 8:1).   It discusses who was more important, man or woman; but after a thorough debate, concludes both were one in the same.

 

And as to how we know there were two beings, it says He divided them down the middle: “And He took one of his ribs” (tzelah) (Bereshit 2:21).  But does “tzelah” mean a rib?  Some understand rib to refer to the side of the Tabernacle (tzelah ha-mishkan) (Shemot 26:26 and following), namely that what He took was one of the sides of the Tabernacle.  In other words, on one side, man was created, and on the other side, woman was created, that same Chavah who had superior understanding.  She added the structure (as in Bereshit Rabbah 17:6).  The two sides together in one were like the Temple, with the Divine Presence set between them.  The reference is not simply to a side, but to complete unity; and this complete unity was split by the hand of G-d.  Every step in the world is there for the purpose of unifying: “Therefore man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24).  Men and women search for this unity in order to become one flesh.  G-d divided the universe because the whole purpose of this world is that things should come about by the labor and efforts of our hands and from that which is within us.  And this unity is emphasised in a striking manner in the Midrash, also referred to by Rashi, where it says Chavah offered Adam something to eat with her from the Tree of Knowledge.  She knew what she was doing was problematic.  Why then did she give it to Adam?  Chavah said: If we die, let us both die; and if we live, let us both live (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer chap. 13; Rashi on Bereshit 3:6).  At first glance, this attitude is self-centered.  But some understand it to mean that man and woman live through everything together, everything in complete partnership, through good and bad times.  Chavah understood they have a single existence.  Therefore what one eats, the other of the pair eats.  This reflects the unity of existence, the unity of experience – and above all – unity of will.  The will of one overflows from the individual, private side, to the general will of both, who are in essence one.  One of the Torah commentaries views the name of Chavah as an allusion to speech (Rabbenu Bachya on Bereshit 3:20), in alluding to the acquisition (lechavot) of knowledge.  She is the product of Adam’s articulation.  Their fundamental connection is through speech, through which the currents of life flow one to the other.

 

  1. Mother of All Living Things

Chavah is not a simple woman.   She is on a level higher than the Matriarchs.   She has a complete soul, a universal one, which encompasses all other souls.  She is the mother of all living things (Bereshit 3:20); she encompasses the souls of all women.  Understanding the character of Chavah means understanding a woman who is more pure and ideal, overall of greater stature, but together with these attributes, subject to complications and mistakes.  In life, we make mistakes.  Chavah’s errors relate to her spiritual conduct and ways.  Chavah’s errors are instructive, and serve as an example and a warning both for the approach and the behaviour.  For this very reason, it is important to understand why Chavah served as a prime stumbling-block.

 

Christians have a deep hostility toward women.  For example, one group finds it acceptable not to marry a woman because she is considered to be a low being.  Only the common people are permitted to marry, essentially so that they can bring more Christians into the world.  A priest does not marry a woman because she is a satanic creature who caused all catastrophes on earth.  All of the suffering in this world derives from the sin of Adam, and the satanic woman is the one who brought him to sin.  Up to this point, their concepts are distorted.   Indeed Chavah prodded Adam to do what he did.  Yet other women maneuvered in a similar way but were blessed.  Sarah plotted and prodded Avraham; and G-d said to him: “Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice” (Bereshit 21:12).  Rivkah saw to it that the blessing of Yitzchak would not fall to Esav, but to Yaakov; and Leah saw to it that she would become the wife of Yaakov, from which arose the entire Jewish people.  Consequently, female initiative was not necessarily a negative thing.

 

  1. The Snake

The story of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is beyond understanding, and no one knows the meaning of the words in their plain sense.   Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra says regarding the Tree of Knowledge: A wonderful secret (his introduction to his commentary to the Torah).  The matter is deep, filled with infinite secrets.

 

Among our Sages, there are various opinions as to what sort of tree this was.  Some say that it was indeed grapes, or wheat or figs (Berachot 40a; Sanhedrin 70a-b).  The snake at that time walked upright on two legs. Certainly, this was no ordinary snake; it was not a dinosaur because it spoke.   Our Sages say that the snake was the Satan, the evil inclination (Baba Batra 16a).  Understandably, all these entities had no power of their own, including the Satan (Iyov 1:6).  The Satan is the emissary of G-d.  He does His will.  His mission is to set up stumbling-blocks.  This world is not a simple place.  It was created full of pitfalls.  The world as a whole succeeds in the end, but individual man is liable to failure.

 

This is the Satan’s intention, which we derive from the word “mesateen” [related to denunciation].  The evil inclination in the Gemara is called an obstacle (Sukkah 52a).  The snake in reality is the force behind the stumbling-block.  And it arises by rule of the Heavenly Court.  Woman is also connected to this reality, to the potential for failure. Chavah’s name is even derived from the word denoting experience [chavayah], meaning the snake (Bereshit Rabbah 20:11; Rabbenu Bachya on Bereshit 3:20).  The cunning and drive to failure combine in a general way in woman’s nature and in her unique personality.  Every new element in existence increases her complexity.  The more complicated an instrument, the more prone it is to malfunction.  More instrumentation necessarily leads to more problems.  Woman’s creation was complex, and with this, the universe is rendered more complicated.

 

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin says that an awesome and powerful change and fall actually occurred.  In our time, the snake speaks from within us (Nefesh Ha-Chaim 1.6); in other words, the evil inclination speaks to man in the first person.  In the time of Adam and Chavah, when all were pure and clear-minded and in the image of G-d, and we were all compared to monkeys, the speech of the serpentine evil inclination came in the second person; because even in an eternal state such as this, there was a stumbling-block.   There was always the possibility of a downfall, but at that time, the potential for failure came from without.  The snake, the evil inclination, spoke to Chavah from the outside.  But in our time, the evil inclination is “I”.  The “I” is both the positive inclination and the evil inclination, intertwined and mixed up, so that sometimes it is difficult to know which of the two is speaking.  This is the awful confusion that was created after the sin of Adam and Chavah.

 

The snake was more cunning than all of the beasts of the field (Bereshit 3:1).    The Maharal teaches us that some understand the words at face value, namely that the snake was the most cunning in bestiality in the fields.  The world was steeped in savagery, animalism, materialism and bestiality; and man was not entirely free of these attributes.  The world is materialistic; and we are connected to it.  Materialism in its wide sense does not only have a physical connotation; there are materialistic elements such as egotism, arrogance, violence and savagery.  This materialism is sly and captures hearts; furthermore, the world is the field in which it works.  In truth, Adam and Chavah belong in the Garden of Eden, but the whole world is not the Garden of Eden.  It is also a savage field, and jungle.  Our role in this world is to sanctify His Name, regardless of distractions; and it is complicated.  At this point, Chavah became entangled.

 

  1. Ingratitude

G-d confronted Adam with the question: Did you eat of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat (ibid. 3:11)?  He defended himself by complaining: The woman who you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate (ibid. 3:12).  This is an odd excuse.  The command not to eat of the tree was given to Adam, and yet he passed on the responsibility to Chavah.  Surely Adam had his own mind, and the ability to reason; he could have refused to eat and prevented her from sinning.  It is easy to give excuses and evade responsibility.  As we know, the prayer of confession is said in the first person: “We sinned, we were treacherous, we stole…” – we, and not someone else.    The way to fix reality is above all to fix myself.

 

However, Adam’s words are even more meaningless in that they are not merely an excuse, but an expression of ingratitude: Supposedly since he was better off alone, he was not the one who asked for the woman; and the gift that G-d gave him was in fact his downfall.  Yet G-d did not react to his complaint; and the punishment He gave them demonstrates that He divided the responsibility for the sin between the man and woman.  The curse of the man was the earth is cursed because of your sin (ibid. 3:17).  The man and the woman were caught up in it, and both suffered as a result.  The Gemara calls the people of Israel ingrates and sons of ingrates because of the acts of goodness G-d bestowed upon them.  The sons of Adam were among the first ingrates (Avodah Zarah 5a-b).  G-d knew that Adam would be ungrateful, and for this reason, He did not immediately create a mate for him.  All of the animals were created male and female, while Adam searched among all of the beasts for a woman but did not find her (Bereshit Rabbah 17:4; Rashi on Bereshit 2:20; 20:23).  The Midrash says the reason for this was that G-d foresaw that in the future he would complain, and therefore He did not create her for him until he asked for her (Bereshit Rabbah, ibid.).  Adam and Chavah were both liable for their sin; and there was no way to place sole responsibility on her for the transgression.  Even the complaint of the woman that the snake deceived me and I ate (Bereshit 3:13) was not convincing for all the reasons just stated.  Between the words of the teacher and the words of student, whose words do we follow (Sanhedrin 29a; Rashi on Bereshit, ibid. 14)?

 

  1. And where was Adam?

Our Sages say the snake knew that if it had approached Adam, he would not have listened to him; yet the woman would have listened and approached to be persuaded (Midrash Ha-Gadol on Bereshit 3:1): That is why it approached Chavah.  The snake spoke to her heart and asked why it was forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.  And if it was not given to be eaten, why was it created (ibid.)?  The weakness of a woman comes from her strong talent for listening. Man does not have this ability.  He is stubborn, he does not listen, there is no way to persuade him.  We see here both a weakness and a strength.

 

But how did the snake know this?  Because he was the Satan, the evil inclination, the Angel of Death (Baba Batra 16a).  The snake was the stumbling-block that caused the down-fall of the one created to fail.  This is the prototype of entrapment in daily life.  The snake arose in the ordinary course of events and presented itself to Adam who for some time had been eyeing the tree forbidden to him.  Although the enticement did not affect Adam, it did affect the woman.  The snake is the same Divine messenger in the order of the cosmos.  Even though we are talking about a Divine cosmos, it does not remove our responsibility.  The wise student asked: Why did G-d create the evil inclination, known as a stumbling-block, as it says: “Do not put a stumbling-block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14)?  If a man digs a hole in the public domain and someone falls in, he is liable.  But if he digs a hole and covers it up, and he removes the pitfall, he is not liable. G-d created the evil inclination and created the Torah as a counter-balance (Kiddushin 30b; see Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Shemot, p. 299 and Vayikra, p. 189).  The light of Torah illuminates the way so that we do not fall into the pit of reality, as it says: “Those who love your Torah have much peace, and they do not falter” (Tehillim 119:165).  Adam was armed with the light of Torah, with the light of eternal reason so he could overcome the pitfalls.

 

In contrast to the superior understanding that a woman has, which is a great advantage over man, her mind is more easily swayed (Shabbat 33b); therefore it was much easier for the snake to entice her.  When the Torah commands, “You shall fear your mother and your father” (Vayikra 19 :3), it first refers to the mother and then the father; and when it says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Shemot 20:12; Devarim 5:16) it first refers to the father and then the mother.  Our Sages explain that a son naturally fears his father more and honors his mother more (Kiddushin 30-31).  In other words, a son helps his mother more, gives her food and drink, brings her in and takes her out, dresses her and covers her for her deeper acceptance, because the mother persuades him with words, as Rashi explains: She enticed him (ibid. 31a).  The mother does not order the son, but persuades him.

 

And where was Adam at that very moment (Bereshit Rabbah 19:3)?  Why did he not rise to her defense?  Why did he not prevent her from being enticed?  Yes, the enticement was a process which could have been stopped.  According to one explanation, Abba bar Kuryah said: He was busy with worldly matters and then he slept (ibid.).  The purpose of worldly matters is to promote marital intimacy, as it states in the Pesach Haggadah: “Our suffering is separation from worldly matters.”  Adam and his wife separated from each other in order to prevent her from giving birth.  According to another explanation, Rabban Amri said: G-d showed him around the entire world.  He said to him: Here is the place for planting; here is the place for seed (Bereshit Rabbah 19:3).  In other words, He showed him where it was fertile for sowing, for planting, and so on.  The second commentary is easier to understand than the first.  Adam was engaged in the cultivation of the world and in its building.  He was preoccupied with his mission, while the woman felt she was missing something.  She had no goal in life; and aimlessness attracts bad influences.   The first commentary says that man fell asleep, but not the woman: She was missing something.  She found no satisfaction in what satisfied her husband.   She expected a family; she expected to feel a beat of a small heart under her heart, but this had not yet come about.  Adam was engrossed in his own world with his dual mission of dealing with worldly and family matters.  But compared to Chavah something major was missing.  Adam’s priority in life was growing agricultural produce.  The woman raised children, a task more important than the type of growth with which Adam was preoccupied.

 

  1. Four Curses

The curses which afflicted Adam reflect the relationship between him and the material world: “The ground is cursed on your account; in sorrow you will eat from it all the days of your life.  Thorns and thistles it will yield for you” (Bereshit 3:14-18).  Chavah was afflicted with four curses related to marital intimacy: “I will greatly increase you suffering and your travail; in sorrow you will bear children; and your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” (ibid. 3:16).  Four curses, four dangers, four challenges and efforts which she had to experience in order not to become entangled and fall.  There is a “tikkun – spiritual repair” of these curses through the four Matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah – who were the continuation of Chavah, linked to Chavah, and are sparks from her source.

 

First curse: The reason for “and he will rule over you,” is very difficult; namely a man sets out the path to self-realization of his wife; he establishes the order of her life against her will.  Rashi explains: everything from him and not from you (ibid. 3:16).  The lack of an ideal and goal, the lack of meaning and holiness in life leads to this state of affairs.  The situation is reversed in the relationship between Yitzchak and Rivkah.  It says about them: and she became his wife, and he loved her (ibid. 24:67).  And further, Yitzchak was sporting with Rivkah his wife (ibid. 26:8).  The sporting and the love denote the opposite of “and he will rule over you.”

 

Second curse: “And your desire will be for your husband.”   Rashi says: Even so, you will not have the boldness to demand it by saying it (ibid. 3:16).  A woman has a desire but her husband treats her with coldness.  Man plots his path but does not invite the participation of his wife.  He is not hindered even if he has no assistance.  Two worlds.  This then is the curse which was acquitted by Yaakov and Rachel: “And Yaakov kissed Rachel and he raised his voice and wept… And Yaakov loved Rachel… And Yaakov worked seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days for the love he had for her” (ibid. 29:11-20).  This is a powerful love.   Yet love is not everything.   Rachel said: “Give me children; if not, I am a dead woman” (ibid. 30:1).  The love between a man and his wife must find its context within the family in order to make life’s horizon glow through the advent of children.

 

Third curse: “In sorrow you will bear children.”  Rashi explains: this is the pain of childbirth (ibid. 3:16).  The difficulty of childbirth vanished for Leah who gave birth to many children.  But simply being on this level did not satisfy her.   Even though there are children, daily life must be illuminated with the great eternal ideal.

 

Fourth curse: “I will greatly increase your suffering and your travail.”  Rashi interprets this to refer to the blood of impurity and the blood of virginity (ibid.).  “Your suffering” – the difficulty of rearing children; “your travail” – the difficulty of pregnancy.  It is all a matter of pain; everything is complicated and difficult.  Then Sarah accomplished it all: “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure” (ibid. 18:12).  Sarah was not subject to time; she gave birth contrary to the laws of biology.  Time did not affect her: She transcended the borders of reality.

 

A question arises: Why is Sarah seen as being on the comparative level of a monkey in contrast to that of Chavah: Did she not repair the curse?  The answer is that Sarah and the other Matriarchs of the Nation were engaged in the work of bettering the world; and they showed us the path of betterment. Much time will pass until all of mankind will rise to the level of Chavah.   And seeing that this is not the end of the road, there are even higher levels.

 

  1. A Secret and a Parable

Some consider that Chavah, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah were one woman, one power, one stream of life.  Chavah was overall of the highest order where many barriers stand in the way; and little by little, with the passing of generations, they are overcome.  It does not matter whether Chavah was real person or if she is simply a parable.  The story of Creation is filled with secrets.  One does not learn…the story of Creation with two students at the same time.  “In the beginning, G-d created” is the deepest of secrets.  For this very reason, the first portion of the Torah that we teach children is “Lech Lecha” [the third portion] and not Bereshit [the first portion] according to the instruction of our teacher Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen Kook (see Ha-Torah Amecha p. 221).

 

Now, if the Torah portion about Adam and Chavah is simply a parable, then the parable is truer than truth.  If Chavah was not a real woman, then she is the paradigm of the collective souls of all the women who ever existed, since she is more real than the generic woman.  Our master, Rav Kook, writes: There is absolutely no difference if there really were such a thing as a golden era when man enjoyed much material and spiritual wealth, or if in reality he worked his way up from the bottom, from the lowest level of existence to the highest; so that he progressed upward (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 163).  It makes no difference if in the past there was a golden era of an everlasting material and spiritual Garden of Eden; or if in the beginning there were primitive creatures that gradually arose, evolved and developed toward perfection.  We only need to know for a certainty that man, even if he has ascended to great heights, and is ready for every honor and benefit, once he destroys his path in life, he is capable of destroying everything he has, and of damaging himself and his immediate descendants and a great number of generations to come.  We learn this from the presence of man in the narrative of the Garden of Eden, and from his sin and expulsion (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah ibid.).  Even if man rises like an eagle, sin lies at the door (Bereshit 4:7).  He has the sole and continuing responsibility for his actions, and like everyone who rises above him, must be careful and watch out for a downfall, and damage to himself and all generations.  This message is very important to us. Many people pass over the issue of whether the Garden of Eden was real, or was a parable.

 

Our understanding on the subject is the opposite of the Christian view.  Christians are wrong in thinking the world is a prison, that the sin of Adam and Chavah caused the entire world to fall into decay, evil, thorns and thistles, that man has no possibility of saving the world, that all is corrupt, broken, defective and cursed.  They entirely despair of this world, and it is only after death, in the world to come, that there is a possibility of living.  We totally differ with the Christian view (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 163).

 

However, the pure understanding of the joy of life and its light found in the Torah, is rather based on the certain guarantee of the past when Adam was very fortunate; and it was only the event of the sin that shook him from his path (ibid.).  According to the Torah, life is positive: and choose life for yourself (Devarim 30:19).  Everything is good.  This is not a prison but the Garden of Eden. In the meantime, we do not see it now, but the aim of the world is to become a Garden of Eden, and certainly there was a Garden of Eden in the past.  We are commanded to do good, and when we do good, we will reap the benefits here.  The proof of this is found in the beginning of the Torah.  This is the certain guarantee of the past for the future.  We should not distance ourselves from the good.  Nothing is insurmountable: But it is complicated.  If there is a stumbling-block, it must be taken care of so that man can return to his level (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah ibid.).

 

But if we say there was no Garden of Eden, that it is simply a parable, and that the world simply evolved, where is the proof that man will succeed?  Our master, Ha-Rav Kook, says: The idea of evolution without support from the past makes the world afraid that it is stuck in the middle of its road or that it will be forced to turn back, and that there will not be any safe place; it is said that happiness is a fixed characteristic of man: All the more so for material man, since he combines body and soul (ibid.).  Why is the inherent nature of man to control, to be egotistical and bestial?  Heaven forbid that the doing of good is momentarily passing, so that man deteriorates to the level of an monkey or perhaps an enlightened monkey, but still a monkey from the moral aspect.  Therefore man being in the Garden of Eden for us confirms the positive aspect of the world (ibid.).  The process of evolution continually works on him to strengthen his path…and the perspective of the past stimulates his courage in the face of fear, because he will take to heart the awesome humility of the past.  He will know that in corrupting his conduct he will tumble into dark depression, and in correcting his private and social ways, a great light spreads and illuminates upward without the end right before him (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 2, p. 543).  We know that the Garden of Eden existed, that Chavah occupied the highest possible level.  Chavah was confused, as we are all confused, but it is possible to better the world; it is our duty to better it since we are assured that the world will reach a state of perfection.

 

The central and primary idea, whether we consider it to be a parable or whether it actually happened, is that man is responsible for his actions regardless of his level.  The second principle is that there is certain guarantee that the world can be perfected, for there was once perfection and then corruption.

 

The expression “Baal Teshuvah” (one who becomes observant) expresses a similar idea.  It indicates that a person who was estranged and has now returned through repentance, was in fact close, distanced himself and again returned.  Adam and Chavah were near, but we distanced ourselves and then returned, and as such we are all “baalei teshuvah.”  The fact that there was really a Garden of Eden and that Adam and Chavah are buried in the Cave of Machpelah provide us with security and assurance, and the strength and energy to perfect the world.

 

Our master, Ha-Rav Kook, then concludes: On its own, it is worthy of being true both as fact and as legend, although it does not matter to us (ibid.).  If that is the conclusion, then in Chavah there are two truths: The truth, absolute, moral, philosophical, mightily spiritual, so that it is the basis of all truths.  The second truth is more circumscribed: This is the truth of history, of fact, which in no way poses a difficulty for us.  The character of Chavah, the highest and most majestic, cast in all women, whether Jewish or not Jewish, from the first of the generations to the last of all generations, the power of this archetype affects all of them, even though between them, they are ancestral monkeys compared to her.  And this hidden power eventually will reveal itself.  This is the certain truth about her of which there is no doubt.  Regardless of the historical question of whether Chavah did or did not exist, we can address this question by understanding the words of the Torah in various ways.  We believe that Chavah existed and that she is buried in the Cave of Machpelah.  Since the concept of Adam and Chavah is so great and mighty, it deserves to have been real.  The most significant concept is the reality of the spirit and the soul, of the soul of Chavah, including all of the souls from the beginning of existence to the end.

 

 

 

 

 

AVRAHAM

 

  1. The Wisdom of Avraham
  2. Character Traits and Actions
  3. Avraham’s Faith
  4. Calling out Hashem’s Name in the World
  5. The Great Man among the Giants
  6. The Students of Avraham Avinu

 

 

  1. The Wisdom of Avraham

Avraham Avinu is the greatest of the spiritual giants.  How is it possible to dare talk about him?  When we learn Chumash, there is certainly no choice but to mention his name.  To simply discuss Avraham Avinu is chutzpah.  But our generation has much chutzpah and we will therefore be brazen and speak about him.  The Nation of Israel had many spiritual giants, but Avraham Avinu is the greatest of them.  All of the giants who followed him are giants because they are standing on his shoulders.  If we did not believe in Torah, it would be impossible to believe that a person such as this actually existed in history.  When I arrive in the World to Come, I will not be brazen enough to approach Avraham Avinu and say “Shalom.”  I will stand at a distance and stare, and this too will be a brazen act.  I will stand in fear and trembling at a distance.  I will also not dare to approach other giants.  Only one giant will I be brazen enough to approach: Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook.  I will dare to do this since I met him during his lifetime, but I will not do more than that.

 

Hashem could have begun the Nation of Israel from the ground up, with primitive generations slowly advancing spiritually. This is what occurred with the other nations of the world.  Those nations look at their past with some embarrassment, apologetically and even arrogantly, but most of all with happiness that their current state has improved and developed beyond that of the primitive generations.  Hashem could have created the Nation of Israel in the same way, but His wisdom dictated otherwise.  The Nation of Israel began from a giant about whom it is said: “When will my actions reach [the level of] my forefathers’ actions?”  In contrast, the non-Jews say: “When will my actions not be like my forefathers’ actions, but much better?”  For the Nation of Israel, there is someone to look at and say: “Look at this one and sanctify yourself” (Rosh Hashanah 20a).  Our education is not only built on words and general concepts, even if they are spiritual, ethical and supreme ones.  We believe that a person will grow spiritually greater when he sees a living model before him, who serves as a guide, teacher and Rabbi.  Avraham Avinu lives within us and we say about him: “Look at this one and sanctify yourself.”  Our Sages state that every Jew must look at himself and say: “When will my actions reach my forefathers’ actions?” (Tana De-Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 25), i.e. the actions of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.

 

The prophet Yeshayahu says: “Listen to me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek Hashem” (Yeshayahu 51:1).  One who is searching for justice and ethical integrity, one who is searching for recognition of the Divine: “Listen to me..: Look at the rock from which you are hewn, and to the pit from which you are dug.  Look to Avraham your father and to Sarah who bore you” (Yeshayahu 51:1-2).  Someone who is searching for these things only has to do one thing: Look at Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu.  Avraham and Sarah are the same thing.  Everything we learn about Avraham Avinu is the same for Sarah Imenu, except for minor differences.  Avraham is the male paradigm and Sarah is the female paradigm for one identity.

 

What then is Avraham Avinu’s greatness?  Avraham Avinu was a giant in what distinguishes man from beast, as explained in the book “Moreh Nevuchim” (1, 2) – the intellect.  Animals also have emotions, imaginations and desires, but only people possess intellect – technological intellect and spiritual intellect, ethical and supreme intellect.  Rashi asks on the verse: “And man became a living being” – aren’t animals also living beings?  He explains that this is true but the soul of the human being is greater since it possesses knowledge and speech (Rashi on Bereshit 2:7).  Knowledge, speech and intellect are identical concepts.  Avraham Avinu was a giant of wisdom.  This was his unique path.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains in his commentary on the siddur, “Olat Re’eiyah” (vol. 1, p. 269), that the prayer “Shemoneh Esrei” begins: “the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of Yaakov” instead of mentioning them altogether: “the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov” since each of the forefathers had a different path to the Master of the Universe.

 

There are different types of wisdom in the world: mathematics, physics, etc., but Avraham Avinu was a giant in the greatest of wisdoms: the wisdom of the world.  He investigated questions such as: why are we in the world?  Why were we created?  Who created us?  Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that Avraham Avinu’s trait was the attainment of understanding through deep examination and philosophical and critical introspection.  “And with it, he lovingly called in the name of Hashem to inform everyone about Him” (Olat Re’eiyah ibid.).  Intellect provides the ability to transmit messages to others.  Emotion, imagination and desire are non-transmittable.  Intellect can be translated into words and transmitted from one person to another.  If the explanation is unclear, it can be explained again and again until the message is absorbed.

 

Yitzchak possessed a different trait – “the fear of Yitzchak” – awe of Hashem.  Should we understand from this, G-d forbid, that Avraham Avinu did not possess awe of Hashem?  He certainly possessed it.  He had awe of Hashem through his wisdom.  But didn’t Yitzchak possess wisdom?  He certainly had wisdom, but it flowed through his awe of Hashem.  A hint of this idea is found in the fact that Avraham established Shacharit (the morning prayer) and Yitzchak established Minchah (the afternoon prayer) (Berachot 26b).  The Tosafot ask: If this is so, how can the Gemara (Yoma 28b) say that Avraham prayed Minchah?  Answer: After Yitzchak established it, Avraham also prayed it.

 

Avraham thus possessed great wisdom.  He learned on his own from the time he was a small child.  For a time, he ran away from home and learned in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever.  Shem and Ever were spiritual giants, but they were hidden from the world.  In every generation, there were a few who were believers.  The Rambam lists them: Chanoch, Metushelach, Shem and Ever (Hilchot Avodah Zarah, chap. 1).  They were loners, hidden within their yeshivot, and one could come and learn from them if he so desired.  Nimrod, the great warrior in the name of evil and heresy, a sort of Hitler of yesteryear, did not fear Shem and Ever, but he did fear Avraham Avinu.

 

Question: Isn’t it written that King Shlomo was the wisest of all men.  Was he wiser than Avraham Avinu?

Answer: He was the wisest of all men.  The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (21b) says that no prophet arose like Moshe – no one arose like Moshe among the prophets, but someone did arise like Moshe among the kings.  Moshe Rabbenu was the greatest in prophecy but King Shlomo was greater in kingship.  In this area, he was greater than Moshe Rabbenu and even greater than Avraham Avinu.  Avraham was not a king at all, and Moshe Rabbenu was the beginning of kingship.  The verse: “He became king over Yeshurun” (Devarim 33:5) refers to Moshe Rabbenu, but King Shlomo was the greatest of all kings.  At the end of his book “Or Le-Netivotai,” Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, records dreams which he dreamt.  He writes that he once dreamt that he wrote an article about the way to run a state according to Torah, and showed it to “Abba z”l” (Maran Ha-Rav Kook).  Maran Ha-Rav looked at him and said: “You need to show it to King Shlomo.”  “I brought it to King Shlomo,” our Rabbi wrote, “And he agreed.”  If so, the proper way to run a state is by the example set by King Shlomo.  The administration of a state is obviously not detached from other areas of wisdom.  We see in the book of Kohelet how this wisdom is connected to many other areas of wisdom, but it is also a wisdom in and of itself.

 

  1. Character Traits and Actions

Avraham Avinu’s wisdom was revealed in acts of kindness or, more precisely, in positive character traits.  Character traits are the general and actions are the details.  Connecting the two is the uniqueness of Avraham’s wisdom.  Wisdom unconnected to action is Bila’am’s wisdom, who was a great sage, as it says: “He knows the supreme knowledge” (Bemidbar 24:16), not for the sake of improvement but for the sake of evil.  Even wisdom can be used in both directions, as it says: “whoever you bless will be blessed and whoever you curse will be cursed” (Bemidbar 22:6).  Bila’am chose to utilize it for evil.  In contrast, Avraham Avinu used wisdom for good.  Ha-Rav Naftali Hertz Vizel proves in his book “Gan Na’ul” that whenever the Tanach uses the term “chacham” (sage) it means a righteous sage.  A person may be learned, a professor or a philosopher but if he is not righteous, he is not called a “chacham.”  In Shut “Noda Bi-Yehudah,” he brings a quote which refers to a particular individual as an enlightened person, a researcher and a “chacham.”  The “Noda Bi-Yehudah” writes to the person who was writing: “Do not call him a ‘chacham.'”  A “chacham” is someone whose entire wisdom is revealed in Torah, mitzvot and acts of goodness.  This is in fact Avraham Avinu’s wisdom: wisdom which leads to kindness, acts of goodness and to the entire Torah.  Avraham Avinu learned the entire Torah before it was given.  How?  Through his conscience.  The “Ba’al Ha-Tanya” explains that Avraham Avinu’s Torah learning did not include the details (Likutei Torah, Shelach, ma’amar 2).  Avraham did not light Chanukah candles, did not read the Haggadah on Pesach or celebrate Sukkot.  He did not live in the details but in the general concepts.  He may have observed the details or not, but the essence is that he learned Torah through his faith and out of the faith he built his character traits.

 

Our Sages say that Avraham had four hundred chapters in his tractate of Avodah Zarah (“Idol Worship”) (Avodah Zarah 14b).  We have five chapters and we understand them with difficulty.  Where is Avraham’s Tractate Avodah Zarah with four hundred chapters?  We do not know.  It disappeared.  Only one book remains which Avraham wrote: “Sefer Ha-Yetzirah – The Book of Creation.”  It was passed down orally until Rabbi Akiva wrote it down and arranged it.  Avraham Avinu was a great warrior against idol worship, since idol worship is a metaphysical and ideological error which results in horrible unethical corruption.  This is certainly not difficult to understand since there are so many gods and a person can always find a god for whatever he wants to do.  This is not permissibility, it is much more.  In idol worship, everything is holy.  Even illicit sexual relations can be performed in a Temple and called “kedeshot” (holy women) – everything is holy.  In idol worship, any human inclination is permitted and holy (see Yerushalami, Avodah Zarah 1:1).  But we say: “Hashem is one.”

 

  1. Avraham’s Faith

At the beginning of his journey, Avraham Avinu was a philosopher.  Philosophy is intellectual investigation.  Everything must be proven, and anything which is not proven does not exist.  Avraham went on to be higher than a philosopher.  He was a believer, a believer in Hashem.  When Hashem said to him: “Take your son” (Bereshit 22:1), he took his son although there is no way to explain it from a philosophical perspective.  There was no explanation from the perspective of human intellect, human ethics or societal norms. There was only belief.

 

Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains the expression in the Gemara: “He is called humble, he is called righteous, from the students of Avraham Avinu” (Berachot 6b) that the fundamental qualities of righteousness and humility are not to be arrogant and not to apply the prevailing intellect to every situation.  The commandment of Brit Milah is unclear, and the Akedah is certainly unclear.  “We must understand that a person does not live a true life based on the prevailing intellect alone, but by acts of goodness.  And Avraham Avinu, may peace be upon him, also nullified his intellect after all of his philosophizing, with simple faith, as the commentators explain in the trial of the Akedah” (Ain Aya, Berachot vol.1, chap. 1 #55).  There are those who think that faith in Hashem is designed for the weak and those who are empty, that awe of Hashem is for those who are afraid.  This is not true.  Faith in Hashem comes from wisdom.  The wiser a person, the greater his belief in Hashem, the greater his awe of Hashem and the greater are his acts of goodness.  The Gemara uses an expression: “A strong person who fears” (Shabbat 31b).  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that one can fear sin out of weakness of character or from general fear.  But the ultimate goal is to be strong and fear sin (see Ain Aya ibid.).  Avraham Avinu possessed positive character traits, feared Hashem and nullified his intellect precisely on account of his wisdom.  Through intellect and wisdom, one reaches humility and the understanding that something exists above wisdom.

 

The things we have learned about Avraham Avinu up to this point are surprising.  We do not usually discuss Avraham Avinu from the perspective of wisdom but from his loving-kindness and positive character traits.  We must understand that his positive character traits flowed from recognition of Hashem and understanding.  There are other paths to refining one’s character traits – the paths of emotion, imagination, desire, fear, societal pressure or societal influence.  There are many paths and they are all good, but the supreme path is through knowledge.  The Rambam therefore named his collection of laws of positive traits as “Hilchot De’ot – the Laws of Knowledge.”  A person knows more and more until knowledge takes his entire personality captive.

 

This is how Avraham Avinu proceeded and ultimately created a revolution.  He revolutionized wisdom, and out of this came a revolution of positive character traits in the world.  Human history is divided into two parts: before Avraham Avinu and after Avraham Avinu.  In a completely different, secular realm, Greek philosophers talk about the period before Socrates and the period after Socrates.  Some things are pre-Socrates and others are post-Socrates.  In contrast, Chabad Chasidim talk about the period before St. Petersburg and after St. Petersburg.  The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi known as the “Ba’al Ha-Tanya,” was arrested on suspicion of treason, brought to the jail in St. Petersburg, acquitted and released.  Chabad Chasidim therefore divide history into the periods before St. Petersburg and after it.  But we are the students of Avraham Avinu and we divide history between the periods before Avraham Avinu and after him.  In world history, pre-history is until Avraham Avinu and history begins with Avraham Avinu.  Nursery school children and first- and second-graders therefore must begin to learn Torah from Avraham Avinu.  Pre-history from Adam Ha-Rishon and Noach must be occasionally mentioned only for the sake of general intellect.  The essence of history begins with Avraham Avinu.  Before Avraham Avinu, all humanity deteriorated to a horrid state until the flood, not to mention what occurred before humanity, as our Sages state: Hashem built worlds and destroyed them (Kohelet Rabbah 3:14).  Each new world created was better than the previous one.  How many worlds did Hashem build and destroy?  I saw that one Kabbalist wrote that Hashem spent seventeen and a half billion years creating worlds and destroying them.  This is interesting, since scientists estimate that the Big Bang occurred fifteen billion years ago.  If so, the exact time was seventeen and a half billion years ago.  All history is thus divided between seventeen and a half billion years before Avraham, and the time from Avraham Avinu onward.  The sun, by the way, has enough energy for another five to ten billion years.

 

Question: Hasn’t the world only existed for approximately five thousand years?

Answer: Our world has only existed for a little over fifty-seven hundred years but Hashem built worlds and destroyed them beforehand.  Our world is beautiful.  I love our world.  It is better for a person in our world than in all the other worlds which Hashem built over the seventeen and a half billion years and then destroyed.  Our Sages state that the first word in the Torah, “Bereshit” (In the beginning), begins with the Hebrew letter “bet” which is closed on its right side to teach us that we should not search for what came before.  It can be compared to a king who built a castle in a place that had been a garbage dump.  A journalist came [The midrash does not say a journalist but “a person came” but we understand what type of person…] and asked: “Wasn’t it disgusting here before?”  The king threw him out: “You’re disgusting!  Get out of here!  What does it matter to you that it was disgusting before?!  Now it is not.”  It is forbidden to remind a newly-observant person of his past actions.  Now, we are not only in a much better world, but we also have the great fortune to live after the appearance of Avraham Avinu.  There is therefore no reason to dwell on what preceded Avraham Avinu, it is insulting and extraneous.

 

It is written at the end of Pirkei Avot (6:9) that Hashem acquired five possessions for Himself in His world: Torah, heaven and earth, Avraham, Israel and the Temple.  If this is so, where did Avraham stand?  He stood with the Torah, with heaven and earth, with Israel and with the Temple.  The Mishnah brings as a proof that Hashem acquired Avraham from the verse: “He blessed him, saying: Blessed is Avram of G-d, the Most High, who acquired heaven and earth” (Bereshit 14:19).  Who acquired heaven and earth?  G-d, the Most High, acquired heaven and earth.  Midrash Shmuel on Pirkei Avot says: This is not so, Avraham Avinu is the one who acquired heaven and earth!  But did Avraham Avinu create heaven and earth?  Certainly not, but Avraham Avinu gave meaning to all of heaven and earth.  There is no meaning to the creation of heaven and earth without Avraham Avinu (see Bereshit Rabbah 12:9).  Everything was suspended after creation to see if Avraham Avinu would come into existence or not.  If Avraham did not come, there would be a need to destroy all of humanity.  Midrash Shmuel thus says that if Hashem acquires heaven and earth, He acquires Avraham Avinu all the more so, since all of heaven and earth is not worth anything without Avraham Avinu.

 

  1. Calling out Hashem’s Name in the World

There were thus catastrophes before Avraham Avinu.  At the time of the flood, Hashem blessed Noach, but Noach did not elevate humanity.  He only elevated himself.  His sons were not even exactly on his level.  The Rambam describes at great length in the first chapter of Hilchot Avodah Zarah (Laws of Idol Worship) how humanity deteriorated in the generation after the flood to the point that there was a lack of recognition of the Master of the Universe.  The world became so primitive, materialistic, base, lowly and evil that everyone only knew the form of trees and stones, and their “sages” were ignorant.  Only a few select individuals knew Hashem: Chanoch, Metushelach, Shem and Ever.  The world continued on this way until the birth of the Pillar of the World: Avraham Avinu.  From the time he was weaned – maybe two or three years old, his mind began to wander.  As we said, Avraham’s greatness was his wisdom.  There are wise children and foolish elders.  His thoughts began to wander and he began to think day and night, and he was surprised: how does this cycle constantly continue if there is no one controlling it?  The cycle is all of nature.  He did not have a teacher, and was living in Ur Kasdim among ignorant idol worshippers.  Avraham continued to ponder until he reached the true path from his own proper understanding.  He came to everything through the power of his own wisdom.  He knew that there is only one G-d, and that He controls the cycle. He created everything and there is no other god but Him.  He also knew that the entire world was mistaken, and that this error was caused by the worshipping of stars and forms until the truth was lost from their body of knowledge. At the age of forty, Avraham came to know his Creator.  Thirty-seven years of investigating, learning and pondering.  He began at the age of three and reached his conclusions when he was forty.  It took him thirty-seven years.  The Gemara says that Avraham knew his Creator at the age of three (Nedarim 32a).  There is no contradiction here.  The “Kesef Mishnah” explains that he began to know at the age of three and his recognition of the Divine was complete at the age of forty.  “A forty year old reaches understanding” (Pirkei Avot 5:21).  The Rambam continues that once he knew, he began discussing this with the people of Ur Kasdim and explaining to them that they were on the wrong path.  He broke the idols and informed them that it is only proper to worship G-dBecause he began to influence them with his proofs, King Nimrod wanted to kill him.  He was the king of the idol worshippers, the king of heretics, the king of those who rebel, the king of evil.  He threw Avraham Avinu into a fiery furnace, into a crematorium, exactly like Hitler.  He threw him in alive, but “Baruch Hashem” a miracle occurred for him and he escaped unharmed.  He then went to Charan and began to inform the entire world that there is only one G-d and it is proper to worship him.  He would go from city to city and from country to country calling to the people until he came to the land of Canaan…and when the people would gather around him and ask him about his words, he would offer an explanation to each of them according to their understanding until they returned to the path of truth.  Each person required a different explanation, a different reason, a different proof. Each person according to his path, according to his soul.  He gathered thousands and tens of thousands of people and he implanted in their hearts this great essential teaching (faith in Hashem) and he wrote many books.  Four hundred chapters disappeared, all except “Sefer Ha-Yetzirah – the Book of Creation.”  But the ideas were not lost – they were absorbed into the Oral Torah.

 

Question: Where are these people?

Answer: All these people seemed to have disappeared.  They are not the Nation of Israel.  They are good people who were absorbed into the nations of the world, beside the Nation of Israel.  They are part of the covenant of Avraham.  They are not the Nation of Israel.  The Nation of Israel is the offspring of Yaakov.

 

The Rambam explains that this chain continues in the Nation of Israel: Avraham taught it to his son Yitzchak.  Yitzchak sat, taught and cautioned others.  Yitzchak taught Yaakov and appointed him to teach, and he sat, taught, and strengthened those who gathered around him.  And Yaakov Avinu taught all of his sons, and he chose Levi and appointed him as the leader.  All of his sons learned and taught but Levi was the head.  He placed him in a yeshiva to teach them the way of Hashem, and to observe the mitzvot of Avraham.  He commanded his sons that the leadership should not depart from the offspring of Levi, so that the teachings would not be forgotten.  This idea gained strength amongst the children of Yaakov, and those who gathered around them, and there became a nation within the world who knew Hashem.  The Nation included Yaakov’s children and those who gathered around them from the nations, and the Nation’s uniqueness was that its essence was faith in Hashem.  Those who gathered around them were good and pleasant people but they are not the Nation of Israel.  They are the righteous people from the nations of the world, similar to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre, with whom Avraham took counsel, who were righteous non-Jews.  There are also righteous non-Jews today and they are the students of the students of these people who gathered around.  The Rambam continues: When Israel extended their stay in Egypt, they learned their ways and worshipped idols like them, with the exception of the tribe of Levi who stood firmly by the mitzvot of the forefathers and never worshipped idols.  The Nation of Israel sank to the forty-ninth gate of impurity, walking among them and experiencing the spiritual death of idol worship.  Because of Hashem’s love for us, and to keep the oath He made to Avraham Avinu, He made Moshe Rabbenu, the master of all of the prophets, and sent him to take the Nation of Israel out (Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah – Laws of Idol Worship 1:3).  Hashem thus loves us because He loves Avraham Avinu.  We are the Nation of Avraham Avinu.  The qualities of Avraham Avinu, the faith of Avraham Avinu, the character traits of Avraham Avinu, were absorbed into the Nation of Israel in the iron furnace of Egypt.  Because of Hashem’s love for and promise to Avraham Avinu, He took us out of Egypt by Moshe Rabbenu.  Avraham Avinu is us and we are Avraham Avinu in the form of a Nation.  He is in the form of an individual and we are in the form of a Nation.  We said earlier that Avraham is the male paradigm and Sarah is the female paradigm.  The paradigm of an individual is Avraham and the paradigm of a community is the Nation of Israel – “the Nation of the G-d of Avraham.”

 

Our Sages say that Avraham Avinu walked the length and breadth of the Land of Israel.  Why?  So that it would be easily conquered by his children (Baba Batra 100a).  Since Avraham Avinu is us, his cleaving to the Land of Israel made it easier for us to conquer.  Avraham is the seed and we are the tree, we are the fruit.  Everything within us comes from Avraham Avinu.  When we learn about Avraham Avinu, we learn about ourselves.

 

  1. The Great Man among the Giants

Those who look at Avraham Avinu as an equal commit a grave error.  This is called learning Tanach “Be-Gova Einayim” (literally, “at the height of the eyes”).  This is first and foremost an intellectual error.  This shows that they do not understand anything, they did not learn anything and they did not grasp anything.  They do not understand who Avraham Avinu is.  The second error results from the first.  It is an educational error.  If we look at Avraham Avinu from the correct perspective and follow after him, we follow his light.  But if Avraham Avinu is the same as us, even when we follow him, we will remain in the same place.  We will not be elevated and exalted.  We will not have a guide.  We will lack the “Look at this one and sanctify yourself.”  This is thus a double error.  The educational error comes in tow since all of the personalities in the Tanach are spiritual giants.  Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein relates in the preface to the last volume of his responsa, Shut Igrot Moshe, an incident which occurred in his city in Russia.  A man became ill with a horrible sickness: his tongue swelled up within his mouth, he was unable to speak and he eventually died.  A day before his death, Rav Moshe came to visit him and the man asked that everyone leave the room. He had something private and of great importance to discuss with the Rav.  He explained that he had given a class and had discussed Lot’s older daughter who named her son Moav – from father.  She was the progenitor of the Moabite People, which means that she is the ancestor of Rut, who is the great-grandmother of King David, from whom the Messiah will descend.  How could it be, he had asked, that this woman, who had no shame, and therefore publicized her illicit and immoral behavior by giving her son a name that would ever recall here sinful act, was granted such honor?  He spared no words in denigrating her behavior.  He continued: “That night, two elderly women appeared to me in a dream. Their heads and faces were covered, and they said they were Lot’s daughters.  They had heard my complaint about their behavior and came from the World of Truth to convey to me a justification for their actions.  Since it was well-known that Avraham Avinu, their uncle, was an individual for whom miracles were commonplace, they feared that people might say that their sons were conceived by immaculate conception.  There were no men around, so how else could they have been conceived?  In order to prevent another religion such as Christianity from being established by this misunderstanding, they decided to publicize the source of their conception.   Their motives were pure and lofty.  Since he had spoken ill against them and defamed their character, he was to be punished as the spies in the wilderness were punished. Their tongues swelled, and they died an unusual death.”  Ha-Rav Feinstein says that this seems correct.  We are not speaking about the daughters of Lot.  We are speaking about our great and holy people, and all the more so the giant of the giants.  This expression refers to Avraham Avinu: “The great man among the giants” is found in the Book of Yehoshua (14:15).  Our Sages say that his full stature was equal to seventy-four men.  This is an exact figure.  How much is the great man among the giants?  Seventy-four (Massechet Sofrim 21:9).  Everything with us is exact.  The midrash says that that he was as strong as seventy-four men, and he ate and drank like seventy-four men, and the drinking refers to wine!  This midrash appears in a work “Midrash Peli’ah” (Surprising Midrash) which quotes midrashim that are difficult to understand (piskah 17).  There is an explanation of this midrash in the name of Rabbi Eliyahu Vilna, which I have not been able to locate in the works of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna), but it certainly follows his genius.  He quotes the verses: “Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders of Israel ascended…they gazed at G-d, ate and drank” (Shemot 24:9, 11), i.e. seventy-four people.  What does “eat and drink mean”?  Purification of the physical until “they gazed at G-d.”  “And Avraham Avinu fed this food to the angels, whose food is the splendor of the Divine Presence,” i.e. supreme, spiritual food.  This means that Avraham was like the seventy elders, Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, in relation to the purification of the material.  King David also purified the physical.  He had an evil inclination which he killed by fasting (Yerushalmi, Berachot 9:5, Tanya chap. 1).  Avraham Avinu however did not kill his evil inclination but purified it.  He is therefore called Avraham which has the gematria (each letter has a numerical value) of 248, since all 248 of his limbs served Hashem.

 

  1. The Students of Avraham Avinu

As we stated, Avraham Avinu’s wisdom was revealed in the purity of his character traits. This is in contrast to Bilam, who had wisdom but did not purify his character.  Therefore, “What is the difference between the students of Avraham Avinu and the students of Bilam?” (Pirkei Avot 5:19)  Avraham Avinu had a “good eye,” he loved everyone.  Bilam however had an “evil eye, he hated everyone.”  Why is it written: “What is the difference between the students of Avraham Avinu and the students of Bilam?” and not “What is the difference between Avraham Avinu and Bilam?”  Answer: a person is recognized through his students.  Tell me who your student is and I will tell you who you are.  Avraham Avinu is recognized through his student Moshe Rabbenu and all of the spiritual giants of the Nation of Israel who are his students.  Everyone of the Nation of Israel at this time is a student of Avraham Avinu.  As we said, we therefore begin by teaching little children about Avraham Avinu.  A successful teacher is not one who has a student who knows more about Avraham Avinu after the class, but one who has a student who is more like Avraham Avinu after the class.  Avraham Avinu is imprinted in our personality and soul, but we must exert effort in order to bring the potential Avraham Avinu out from within us.  The connection to the Land of Israel begins with Avraham Avinu.  Positive character traits begin with Avraham Avinu.  And the love of Israel begins with Avraham Avinu.  Our love of Israel does not begin with Moshe Rabbenu, since if that were so, it would be possible to say that we only love someone who learns Torah.  Our love of Israel begins with Avraham Avinu.  The Nation of Israel is Avraham Avinu.  We are saturated with the spirit of Avraham Avinu, the treasured character of Israel, which itself began with Avraham Avinu.  The treasured character of Israel appeared during the Exodus from Egypt, but it was absorbed from Avraham Avinu in the fiery furnace.  We are the Nation of Avraham Avinu.  Moshe Rabbenu is the student of Avraham Avinu.  Someone who is as wise as Moshe Rabbenu, but is not the student of Avraham Avinu, becomes Bilam.  “Our Sages say: ‘A prophet like Israel never arose again in Israel’ (Devarim 34:10) but someone did arise like him among the nations of the world,” namely Bilam (Bemidbar Rabbah 14:19).  Is Bilam similar to Moshe?  There are similarities, but the great difference is that Moshe Rabbenu is the student of Avraham Avinu and Bilam is not.  And if he is the opposite of Avraham Avinu, he is also the opposite of Moshe Rabbenu.

 

We have thus merited meeting a spiritual giant.  We must think about him all the time, look to him all the time.  Every act that a person performs must be considered from the perspective of what Avraham Avinu would have done in this situation. We must act in consonance with Avraham Avinu.  May we merit fulfilling the command “Look to Avraham your father and to Sarah who bore you.”

 

 

Sarah

 

  1. Chavah’s Continuation
  • Supreme Teacher
  • Hagar’s Torment
  • In the House of Pharaoh
  • Rejuvenation

 

 

  1. Chavah’s Continuation

Better a good name than good oil, and the day of death than the day of birth (Kohelet 7:1), says King Shlomo.  The character of a man during his lifetime is unclear.  It is hard to determine the truth and facts of his conduct, for as long as he lives, things can change.  Therefore, as long as there is breath in his nostrils, his guiding principle is: Do not trust in yourself until the day you die (Pirkei Avot 2:4).  To what may we compare this?  To a port readied for the launching of a new ship destined for the high seas.  A certain guard was filled with joy upon witnessing the docking of an incoming ship.  When people asked about his expression of joy, he told them, I don’t know what will happen to this departing boat—perhaps it will be commandeered by pirates, or will sink in the middle of the ocean.  This incoming boat, however, has already completed its voyage, and for this I am happy (Kohelet Rabbah ibid.).  This is the essence of eulogy.

 

When our mother Sarah died, Avraham found it appropriate to eulogize her intentionally in front of the Hittites.  Why did he choose to speak to them of Sarah?   What interest did they have in listening?  Rather, after describing Sarah’s virtue, he requested that they sell him the gravesite of the Cave of Machpelah for her.  They responded in a flattering way: In our choicest grave may you bury your deceased (Bereshit 23:6).  Avraham thanked them for the honor; but this was not his request, and they knew it.  He specifically wanted the Cave of Machpelah.  The negotiations were lengthy and complicated until the end.  After great effort and painstaking bargaining, they agreed to sell him part of the gravesite.  Avraham knew that the Hittites, in their offer to him of their choicest grave, were not as honest as they pretended to be.  Both they and Avraham knew that the Cave of Machpelah contained the graves of Adam and Chavah (Eruvin 53a; Zohar 1, Chayei Sarah 127:1; Zohar Chadash Rut 69:2), and this is the reason for Avraham’s persistence.  Avraham wanted to bury Sarah there, and this was also the reason for the eulogy he delivered before the Hittites.  He told them who his wife was. Sarah was the continuation of Chavah – the mother of all living things (Bereshit 3:20).  Chavah was the foundation of history, the tangible link after with our mother Sarah, despite the many generations which passed between Chavah and Sarah.  Sarah, the wife of Avraham became the new foundation of history.  From the time of Adam and Chavah, the world became confused because of human corruption.  The Hittites had difficulty understanding this because they themselves were a corrupted people, the sons of sin.

 

However, our mother Sarah was not on Chavah’s level.  Adam and Chavah were people on a completely different level; they emanated directly from the Master of the Universe, not from mere mortals.  It stands to reason that nothing said of Adam and Chavah can be said of ordinary people; this is a meta-human, meta-historical level, filled with secrets and mysteries surpassing the understanding of the ordinary man.  The Gemara tells of Rabbi Banah who would mark off graves so that they would not be a trap of impurity for Cohanim.  When he happened upon the Cave of Machpelah, he saw Adam and Chavah there.  He said of Adam that even his heels shone more than the sun (Baba Batra 58a).  This wise man comprehended with his mind and the depth of his understanding, the nature of Adam and Chavah; and after concentrating, he received an inner enlightenment about who they were.  The lowest portion of man, the heels of his feet, sparkled with blinding spiritual light.  So we learn of the extraordinary level of our mother Chavah.

 

It says in the Gemara that four women were wondrously and uniquely beautiful: Sarah, Avigail, Rahav, and Ester (Megillah 15a).  But in the same place where it speaks of the greatness of Adam and Chavah, it says that Sarah compared to Chavah was like a monkey compared to man (Baba Batra 58a), and as such, Chavah belonged to another world.  Our mother Sarah was a continuation of Chavah, the mother of all living things, and with this she was the beginning of the regular and new world.  Sarah was the woman closest to Chavah.  She was not only the wife of Avraham.  From the beginning, her name was Sarai because she was the princess of her people, but at the end she was called Sarah, princess of the whole world (Berachot 13a) – she was the dominant figure of and model for the whole world.

Our Sages say: There are only four matriarchs: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah (ibid. 16b).  The four matriarchs, along with Chavah, are all one spark, one flow, one stream.  But Sarah is the one who continues the foundation of the man’s beginning. She is the model for all, the source of all Israel – not only of the Israel born from her, but the source of converts as well.  Every convert is called the son of Sarah, despite his not being her biological son. “And Sarah was barren; she had no children” (Bereshit 11:30).  There is a seeming redundancy: If she is barren, certainly she has no children.  Rather, she did not have children born of her womb, she did not have physical children, but she had many spiritual children, the converts of all generations (Arizal, Sefer Hagilgulim).  All of Israel emanates from Sarah, likewise all the converts who joined the Nation during every generation, even though they are not directly linked by a biological chain.

 

  1. Supreme Teacher

Sarah, like Chavah, was the mother of all living things, the woman who generated the world at the beginning.  This not only refers to a biological start; but also to a start from an educational perspective, for Sarah was the supreme teacher.  Education is a great responsibility.  She converted the women (Bereshit Rabbah 39:14; Rashi on Bereshit 12:5) with a powerful responsibility which she undertook.  Even in her own home she was a supreme teacher, for the foundation of education is naturally within the tent.  In the song of Devorah, Yael is blessed: You shall be blessed from the women in the tent (Shoftim 5:24).  Our Sages interpret this to mean these “women” were the matriarchs (Horayot 10b).  This teacher, who was sensitive to the atmosphere in her home, firmly decided: Drive out this maidservant and her son (Bereshit 21:10).  The son of a maidservant was not fit to live with her son.  She was not prepared to put up with his conduct.  His mother was teaching him idol worship: She had reason to drive him from the home (Zohar 1, Vayera 118:2; see Rashi on Bereshit 21:9).  Our father Avraham reacted to this request.  He did not understanding how Sarah, the epitome of loving-kindness, could put forward such a demand, and appear to be so cruel.  The Master of the Universe corrected him: Everything that she tells you to do, you should obey (Bereshit 21:12; see Shemot Rabbah 1:1).  She decided matters of the household.  She understood more than he. A woman has a higher intelligence in dealing with complicated and unique life situations; a man has a higher intelligence in understanding simple and theoretical situations.  But the reality in the home is complicated and delicate, not plain and theoretical.  Sarah, knowing what had to be done, was so certain that she did not consult with Avraham.  She exuded power and deep confidence.  The truth is clear, exact and not in doubt.  A man can express himself clearly, and be persuasive, but only if he has confidence in the truth and can transmit it to others.  Sarah was a prophetess, one of the seven in Israel (Megillah 14a), and the power of a prophet is to understand the depth of a given reality.  Avraham was also a prophet, but as Rashi notes, Avraham was second to Sarah in prophecy (Rashi on Bereshit 21:12). Therefore, G-d told him to obey her.  A woman is more adept in prophecy than a man.  Our Sages say that Sarah was called “Yiscah,” the one who gazed with the Divine Inspiration (Megillah 12a; Rashi on Bereshit 12:29).  She would look and understand matters with Divine inspiration, and so it is said, “We have not found that G-d speaks with any woman except with Sarah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 7a).  Avraham fulfilled Sarah’s will after he received Divine permission, and Sarah did everything that Avraham taught her.  They listened to each other, as we will see below, and in this lay their strength – they were one.

 

  1. Hagar’s Torment

The eviction of Yishmael was not the only thorny issue in Avraham’s home.  It is written that Sarah tormented Hagar (Bereshit 16:6); yet it is difficult to understand because on first glance, this treatment was not proper.  Certainly the truth is that the matter did not arise from her jealousy over Hagar’s pregnancy, because the Master of the Universe would not agree to this (Zohar 1, Vayera 118:2).  After all, she was the one who had brought Hagar to Avraham and delivered her with these words: May you be happy when you cleave to this holy body (Bereshit Rabbah 45:3).  Pharaoh, the father of Hagar, gave her to Sarah as a maidservant (ibid. 45:1).  Pharaoh figured that the home of Avraham and Sarah was a very special place; for he said that it is preferable his daughter be a maidservant in this home rather than the head of another home.  Sarah did not relate to Hagar as a maidservant and therefore she designated her to cleave to her husband not as a concubine but as a real wife.

Understand that Egypt at that time was the pinnacle of human civilization that had lasted several hundred years until the time of Shlomo; of him it was said: The wisdom of Solomon was greater…than the wisdom of all the ancients and than all the wisdom of Egypt (Melachim 1 5:10).  Indeed Shlomo also married the daughter of Pharaoh (ibid. 3:1) to bring her under the wings of the Divine Presence (Yevamot 76a; Rambam, Laws of Sexual Prohibitions 13:14), in order to sanctify the Holy Name throughout the world from the borders of Israel (Malachi 1:5).  He believed in proselytizing people, exploiting their potential and talents, and applying them for the benefit of the people of Israel for later cleansing and purification (Yalkut Reuvani, Shachechat Leket, p. 19; Tzidkat Ha-Tzadik #244).  King Shlomo, like Avraham our father, was deeply involved in this issue.

However, why did Sarah keep Hagar at a distance with the same insistence and certainty she displayed in persuading Avraham to marry her?  The reason for this was the arrogance of Hagar.  She wanted everyone to know clearly who she was and who Sarah was. It says in the text: and her mistress was despised in her eyes (Bereshit 16:4).  She lorded over her that Sarah had been married to Avraham for almost fifty years, and had not conceived. Here comes Hagar and becomes pregnant immediately.  Hagar’s outward manner did not reflect her inner character.  She put on the airs of a righteous woman but was not one in fact (Rashi ibid.; Bereshit Rabbah 45:4).  Sarah’s worth fell in Hagar’s estimation.  Sarah steadfastly stood on her honor and her position, and this is what tormented Hagar.  It was not a matter of mistreatment but of Sarah standing her ground, not out of arrogance but out of responsibility.  Sarah did not strike Hagar but tormented her with words, telling her that the son she bore was not the offspring that should have stemmed from Avraham: The continuation of the line will stem from me; I am the mistress of the house, not you.  This is the truth that had to be told, in spite of the fact that it pained Hagar and caused her to suffer. Hagar was pregnant, yet the prescribed order had not been reversed: The promise of G-d was the basis of her torment.

 

This situation continued throughout the generations (See Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, pp. 117-118).  We, the descendants of Sarah, say to the descendants of Hagar: “Understand that you can dwell in our Land and live in our country.  But do not forget who the masters are.”  This declaration on the surface may be painful and embarrassing, but it is the truth: We are the descendants of Sarah who is the source, and they are the descendants of Hagar.  Furthermore they are many and powerful, which is the reason for their arrogance.  But each nation has its place.  We learn from Sarah that the experiences of the fathers are a sign for the children (Ramban on Bereshit 12:6; ibid. 12:10).

There is no contradiction between the story of Sarah and the fact that she is the mother of all mankind: She was a person who felt responsible and worried about everyone, just like our father Avraham who was concerned about all humanity and negotiated with the Master of the Universe on the punishment of Sodom (Bereshit 18:23–33).  Avraham converted men, converting them to belief, ethical rectitude and connection to G-d.  He wandered throughout the land, journeyed southward (ibid. 12:9) to speak with many more people (See Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship 1:3).  He wrote many books of which only one remains, profound and mysterious, the Book of Creation [Sefer Ha-Yetzirah] (See Kuzari 4:15).  His helpmate all these years was Sarah who converted women.

Our Sages question how the letter “yud” happened to be detached from her name, transforming it from Sarai to Sarah.  The name Sarai has a personal possessive meaning, my princess [Sarai].  Later she was transformed to the princess of the whole world [Sarah].  The “yud” that I removed from Sarai remained for many years until Yehoshua arrived, at which point I added it to his name (Sanhedrin 105a).  Sarah sent away Yishmael after an exhaustive and responsible deliberation.  There was no possibility of guiding him with a gentle hand: It had to be done with forethought.  Yehoshua, who attained the Jewish heights, deserved the inclusion in his name of a portion from Sarah our mother.  As long as Hagar did not understand what her place should be, there was no place for her in Avraham’s house.  Much later, the text relates that Avraham married another woman whose name was Keturah (Bereshit 25:1).  Some say that Keturah was Hagar and that she had repented.  Yet she did not enter the tent of Sarah (Bereshit Rabbah 61:4); Rashi on Bereshit 25:1).  She came to know her specific place.

 

  1. In Pharoah’s House

The difficult relationship between Sarah, Hagar and Yishamel gave way to a much larger complication beginning in the house of Pharaoh.  Avraham and Sarah were tested through an awesome trial. When they came to Egypt, Avraham asked her to identify herself as his sister. Sarah extended her full trust to him.  In the same way that Avraham accepted her instruction in regard to Hagar and Yishmael, so she listened to what he said on this matter. Sarah was taken to Pharaoh’s house; this was an enormous test for Avraham, but an even greater test for Sarah.  It is not clear why Avraham made his request of identification to Sarah, since his words were completely accurate.  She was in fact his sister [niece] on his father’s side (Rashi on Bereshit 20:12).  This situation repeated itself twice more, once in Avimelech’s house (Bereshit, chapter 20) and then between Yitzchak and Rivkah (ibid. 26 6-11).

 

Our father Avraham tried to convey a message to the Egyptians: His wife was his sister, as it says in Shir Ha-Shirim (8:1):” O that you would be like my brother who sucked the breasts of my mother.”  A sister has a stronger connection than a wife. Sometimes the bond between husband and wife is not ideal, pure and innocent because of the impediment of sexual desire.  Between brother and sister, the bond is forever free of sexual desire.  For Avraham our father, his wife was indeed his sister. Avraham never considered whether his wife was beautiful or ugly (Baba Batra 16a).  Basing the value of a woman on her beauty seemed to him to be an insult.  He never related to her on the basis of a desire destined to arouse esthetic pleasure or physical passion.  His relationship with her did not stem from her external features; rather it was a spiritual bond.  It was a relationship of brother and sister.  Their level was higher than the level of male and female between animals, and even between husband and wife; but sexual desire was ingrained in Egyptian culture and corrupted it.  When Avraham went down to Egypt, he found the inhabitants were driven by animalistic lust.  Men stared at women in the street. He had to come to certain conclusions and to do something to adjust to the circumstances.  As he said to her: “Behold, I know you are a beautiful woman to look at” (Bereshit 12:11).  Our Sages say that Sarah was one of the four most beautiful women in the world (Megillah 15a).  And one of the commentators on her name “Yiscah” says it is derived from “everyone looks [socheen] at her”: Everyone looks at her because of her beauty (ibid. 14a).  The Nodah Bi-Yehuda (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Landau) asks, why are we told of Sarah’s beauty (Responsa Nodah Bi-Yehudah Kama, Orech Chaim #24)?   He answers: To indicate how holy Avraham was.  Despite the obvious beauty of Sarah, her merit was not based on that attribute, which is what a man naturally looks for in a woman.  It was now time to explain to the depraved men of Egypt who used their women purely for pleasure or servile work, what the relationship between men and women should be. His request to Sarah was: “Please say that you are my sister” (Bereshit 12:13).  In the house of Pharaoh, the situation was the reverse.  Pharaoh related to his sister like a wife.  Since the Pharaohs considered themselves to be the sons of gods, they did not marry women outside the family; in fact they married their own sisters.

 

The test that Avraham and Sarah overcame was awesome.  Our Sages say that an angel told Avraham our father that he did not need to fear for Sarah, and gave him the assurance that he would pass the test in peace (Bereshit Rabbah 41:2).  And Sarah answered: Avraham went out with a promise, and I went out in faith. Avraham went out of the prison (according to Matanot Kehunah) while I was in the prison.  G-d said to her: Everything that I do in this situation, I do on your account (ibid.).  Sarah did not understand that the test was designed to strengthen, to mold and draw out the best from us.

 

Sarah was the daughter of Haran (Rashi on Bereshit 11:29), a person who had failed a crucial test.  When Nimrod ordered Avraham to bow down to fire, or to jump into it, Avraham answered that he was ready to jump into the fire.  When he asked Haran whether he was on the side of Avraham or Nimrod, he avoided answering and did not have the courage to state his position.  When he saw that Avraham had survived, he said his position was the same as Avraham’s; he threw himself into the fire and he was burned alive (Bereshit Rabbah 38:13; Rashi on Bereshit 11:28).  Haran was a person who sat on the fence, wanted to join the winning side.  Sarah’s father did not have the strength to withstand the test, but Sarah did.  As we see from this tremendous test, one must come out with bold clarity, for a significant betterment of the world.

 

However this was not the nature of the relationship between Adam and Chavah.  Chavah gave Adam harmful advice; and when asked by the Master of the Universe why he ate of the forbidden fruit, he blamed the woman who “You gave to be with me” (Bereshit 3:12).  It was easy for him to place the blame on her.  G-d responded that this was an expression of ingratitude (Avodah Zarah 5b; Rashi on Bereshit 3:12).  Here he received the most special gift in the world; and now he was evading his responsibility.  His excuse was not accepted, the consequence of which was that both he and Chavah were punished. Their relationship became entangled.

 

As between Avraham and Sarah, there was no entanglement on a personal level.  The great test they had overcome cured the confusion that Adam and Chavah suffered.  Sarah, according to our view, was the most insightful woman (see Zohar Chadash Yitro, Mahadurat Peirush Ha-Sulam, p. 35 #133), who came closest to the level of Chavah, and who also withstood this test better than Chavah.  She remained strong.  Pharaoh was the one who received severe plagues both in body and soul (Bereshit 12:17; and see Rashi).  Pharaoh understood that this woman did not belong to him and that he had to return her to Avraham our father.  This event was not merely a private matter between Pharaoh and Sarah.  This was an event with ramifications in history for all mankind, and beyond, for the universe.  Pharaoh had wanted Sarah as soon as she had reached the borders of his kingdom.  Everyone recognized Sarah, for they praised her to him (ibid. 12:15).  She was the first among all women he wanted to marry; but G-d was not in accord.  The foundation of the world would not stem from Pharaoh and Sarah, or from Avraham and Hagar, despite the fact that Avraham and Sarah demonstrated a lack of patience in the ideal enterprise of establishing the offspring who would redeem the world.  They had to wait for the realization of the Divine promise, even though Sarah was already old, and the miracle delayed in coming.  One cannot hurry along a process before the time is ripe. It is forbidden to deal with “approximations.”  The giving of Hagar to Avraham was premature.  Hagar was not an appropriate wife, and Yishmael did not follow the appropriate path.  He was the result of an imperfect act.  When one is ignited by the pursuit of Divine devotion, a person often hurries and suffers little patience. But the result is one of approximation; in other words, almost, close, not a perfect result; and often one hinders and destroys.

 

  1. Rejuvenation

Avraham and Sarah had no problem waiting until they received the promise of the Master of the Universe.  We the children of Avraham and Sarah also wait, and sometimes it appears as if the promise of the Master of the Universe is slow in coming to realization.  At the beginning of the history of the people of Israel, everything progressed well, quickly and successfully.  The people of Israel left Egypt and conquered the land of Israel.  The judges judged the people, and later the kings arose to rule over the people of Israel.  That stage then ended.  The people were exiled to Babylonia and awaited redemption.  At the time of Ezra, the people awakened: Later they merited the victory of the Chashmonaim.  But then the great destruction of the Temple recurred.  And we have been in limbo for almost two thousand years.  But we are promised that the redemption will come to the world: But until when must we sit and wait for it?  Maybe there is a short-cut?  Rather, what happens to the fathers is a sign for the children (Ramban on Bereshit 12:6; 12:10).  When Sarah was freed, we were freed.  A powerful event happens, and its repercussions continue.

 

Avraham our father received the news that he would soon be remembered, so he laughed because the matter was impossible: It was contrary to the rules of nature that a ninety-year-old woman and a hundred-year-old man could give birth to a son.   Furthermore when he checked his astrological signs, he saw he was not destined to have a son.   According to his astro-biological signs, he could not father a child: So the Master of the Universe told him, Abandon your astrological calculations (Rashi on Bereshit 15:5).   Free yourself from the laws of nature: They do not govern you.   You govern them.

 

Neither are we, the people of Israel, the children of Avraham and Sarah, governed by the laws of history.   According to these laws we should not exist.   It was said of us that we would disappear off the historical map.   But we are here despite all laws and the natural order of things.

 

Avraham our father laughed about our victory over the laws of nature and our ascendancy over the natural process of the world.   Sarah also laughed, but when she was asked why she had laughed, she denied it because she was afraid (Bereshit 18:15).  She was afraid to give praise, which is why there was a defect in her laughter.  The conduct of Sarah was quite puzzling: She had lied to the Master of the Universe; and this lie was a shameful act.  The holy author of Ohr Ha-Chaim explains that Sarah’s denial stemmed from her attribute of greatness: She had such a great fear of heaven that she did not have enough strength to give praise.  Her lie came from a great internal confusion which arose from a fear of G-d (Ohr Ha-Chaim ibid.).   Sarah laughed within herself: “After I have withered, shall I again have smooth skin” (Bereshit 18:12).   After aging, shall I return to my youth?   We therefore find in Sarah old age and youth together.  For young parents, who are at the peak of their physical and spiritual strength, it is easier to bear a child.  A person must be of higher mettle to give birth at an older age.  When a man is at his peak of wisdom, his spirit is steady and less stormy than the spirit of a young man.  The Baal Shem Tov was born to his father in his old age, before his physical desires had waned (Sefer Keter Shem Tov).   When Sarah was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old; and when twenty, she was like a seven-year-old.  Seven years old with regard to beauty and purity; twenty years old in regard to having no sin; and one hundred years old in regard to wisdom and greatness (Bereshit Rabbah 58:1; Rashi on Bereshit 23:1)

 

Sarah’s grandchildren, old and young, were as one.  They also had the ability to renew their youth.  We are the oldest people in the world but also the youngest of all, for we are newly born.  For two thousand years, it seemed that nothing would develop, yet now we laugh.  He that sits in the heavens shall laugh.  “Hashem shall hold them in derision” (Tehillim 2:4).  The strength to renew the young is hidden within us; the source is Sarah our mother.  From her we also inherited wisdom, trust, strength and power.  Our power is like that of Sarah, to boldly hold what we believe in, and if necessary, to support others in their beliefs.  We are her children and we aim to cleave to her path: At one hundred like twenty, at twenty like seven.

 

“Listen to me you who follow after righteousness, you who seek Hashem: Look at the rock from which you are hewn, and to the pit from which you are dug.  Look to Avraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him and blessed him and made him fruitful.  For Hashem shall comfort Zion; He will comfort all her desolate places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of Hashem.  Joy and gladness shall be found there, and gratitude and the sound of singing” (Yeshayahu 51:1-3).

 

 

YITZCHAK

  1. “Avraham begot Yitzchak”
  2. The Fear of Yitzchak
  3. “Bitul Ha-Yesh – Self-Nullification”
  4. A Hidden Tzadik
  5. “Yitzchak Sowed”
  6. A Spirit of the World to Come

 

  1. “Avraham begot Yitzchak”

Fear grips us when we discuss Yitzchak Avinu.  We fear discussing all of the spiritual giants of the world who appear in the Tanach, but all the more so when it comes to Yitzchak Avinu, about whom it is said: “the fear of Yitzchak” (Bereshit 31:42).  Yaakov Avinu refers to the Master of the Universe as “the fear of Yitzchak” (Bereshit 31:42).  It appears that the fear of the Master of the Universe is also the fear of Yitzchak himself.  Rivka Imenu also feared Yitzchak.  The first time that Rivka saw him from afar, she fell off her camel (Bereshit 24:64).  The Netziv says that all of her life, along with the love, peace and friendship she shared with him, Rivka also feared him.  She was therefore not brazen enough to tell him directly that it was preferable to bless Yaakov over Esav.  Rivka feared him even though she was full of strength.  After all, when Eliezer came as the agent of Avraham Avinu, Betuel did not want Rivka to go with him.  Eliezer was extremely patient and said: “Let us call the young woman and ask her” (Bereshit 24:57).  Betuel was certain that she would refuse to go with a stranger to a distant land.  But Rivka said: “I will go”.  Rashi expands upon the forcefulness of her words, telling us that she said: “I will go on my own, even if you do not want [me to go] (ibid.), i.e. do not start to speak to my heart, saying that you do not want me to go, for I am going anyway!”  So we can see that she was already full of strength.  Even sending Yaakov to deceive Yitzchak required great strength from her.  But when it came to things relating to Yitzchak, to stand facing him, she was full of fear.  We too are therefore not brazen enough to discuss him.  But even if we were brazen, there is not much to discuss since not much is related about Yitzchak Avinu.  Yitzchak hardly spoke and there are very few details about what he did.  The Torah relates that he sowed seeds, harvested and dug wells.  All is summarized in two verses.  This is in stark contrast to Avraham Avinu who was active in many areas.  Avraham was a warrior and conquered countries.  Avraham called out in the name of Hashem, went down to Egypt and dwelled there, and experienced many amazing things in his life.  Yaakov Avinu also had an eventful  life, though it was stormy and full of deceptions.  He received the blessing, left the Land, and was with Lavan. He survived all of these difficulties, and then returned to the Land, struggled with the angels, met with Esav, endured the episode with Shechem, and many other things.  But there are no stories about Yitzchak Avinu! It is as if he did not do anything.  Researchers of Tanach thus claim, in their shallow way, that Yitzchak did nothing of his own.  He is merely a connector, a bland passageway between Avraham and Yaakov.  He is the “son of” and the “father of.”  Some of them even claim that part of what is related about him is simply made up in order to say something about this pareve figure.

 

In truth, they grasp the point precisely – Yitzchak is “nothing,” and being “nothing” is the highest level which exists.  It is called “Bitul Ha-Yesh” – self-nullification.  Yitzchak is an unknown phenomenon: a hidden tzadik (righteous person).  A revealed tzadik is an active person, who runs from place to place, teaching, performing acts of kindness, etc.  A figure such as this is understandable.  But we are incapable of understanding a hidden tzadik.  In an enigmatic statement, our great Rabbi, the Rambam, says that every person can be as righteous as Moshe Rabbenu (Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2).  As is known, the Rambam does not use rhetoric.  He speaks straight and to the point, especially in his books of Halachah.  If he nonetheless uses rhetoric, he explicitly says: “This is homiletics!”  Therefore, if the Rambam states that any person can be as righteous as Moshe Rabbenu, we must understand it according to its simple meaning.  How so?  Can we really be like Moshe Rabbenu?!  Answer: we must pay close attention to the fact that the Rambam does not say that we can be as wise as Moshe Rabbenu, or that we can be a prophet like Moshe Rabbenu or a leader like Moshe Rabbenu, but that we can be as righteous as him.  We learn from here that any person can be righteous!  In every role in the world, a person can be evil or righteous.  We do not choose the role which is designated for us in the world.  The Master of the Universe places each person in a different place: one is poor, one is rich, one is wise, one is stupid, one is strong and one is weak.  But regardless of the circumstances in which one finds oneself, one can be as righteous as Moshe Rabbenu or as wicked as Yerovam ben Navat.  He can be a revealed tzadik about whom everyone knows and talks about, or he can be a hidden tzadik whom others do not recognize.

 

Yitzchak Avinu was thus a giant among spiritual giants.  He was a giant like Avraham Avinu and perhaps even greater, since he was both Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu.  As is known, the cynics of that generation said that Yitzchak was born from Sarah and Avimelech.  In order to combat this notion, Hashem made Yitzchak’s features identical to Avraham Avinu’s (Bereshit Rabbah 53:6).  But not only did Yitzchak’s face appear as Avraham Avinu’s, his experiences also paralleled those of Avraham Avinu: Avraham yearned to have offspring, Yitzchak yearned to have offspring.  Avraham traveled to the land of the Philistines on account of a famine. So did Yitzchak.  Avraham foresaw danger for his wife, who was taken captive —  the same occurred to Yitzchak and his wife.  Avraham had two sons who were polar opposites — Yitzchak had two sons who were polar opposites.  Avraham removed one of his sons after his wife demanded that he do so; Yitzchak too removed one of his sons following his wife’s directives.  Everyone can see the parallel life experiences between Avraham and Yitzchak.  It is less obvious though, that their inner, spiritual worlds were also identical.  Our Sages say that Yitzchak is called Avraham because Yitzchak is Avraham.  He is a type of Avraham.  There are different types of Avraham: There is Avraham who is Avraham and there is Avraham who is Yitzchak.  The Midrash explains this idea on the verse: “And these are the generations of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham begot Yitzchak” (Bereshit 25:19).  The Midrash says “And these are the generations of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham,” Yitzchak is Avraham.  The Midrash adds: “This is a deep matter,” the soul of the father flows through the son (Bereshit 63:3).  This reality applies not only when a father dies while his wife is pregnant and the son is named for him.  Even when the father is alive, his soul flows through and shines within his son.  All of the wells which Avraham Avinu dug and which were closed up by the Philistines were opened anew by Yitzchak Avinu.  This applies to the simple wells of water as well as the supreme, spiritual wells which were closed by the Philistines, because the war with the Philistines and the other evil non-Jews is always fought on two fronts: there is a military, agricultural, and settlement war and a spiritual, faith-based, supreme war.  Yitzchak opened the wells of Avraham and dug additional ones of his own.

 

  1. The Fear of Yitzchak

Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains in his commentary on the siddur, “Olat Re’eiyah” (vol. 1, p. 269), that the prayer “Shemoneh Esrei” begins: “the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of Yaakov” instead of “the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov,” because each of the forefathers had a different form of Divine service.  There is the worship of the “G-d of Avraham,” there is the worship of the “G-d of Yitzchak” and there is the worship of the “G-d of Yaakov.”  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that the main characteristic of Avraham Avinu is wisdom.  As is known, while still in his youth, Avraham engaged in intellectual investigation and asked himself who created the world.  He had great wisdom, and all of the kings from the east and west came to take counsel with him.  The main characteristic of Yitzchak is awe of Hashem – “the fear of Yitzchak.”  Obviously, Avraham Avinu also possessed awe of Hashem, since a person who does not possess awe is an ignoramus.  Wisdom leads one to the awe of Hashem: “The awe of Hashem is wisdom” (Iyov 28:28).  The Maharal in the introduction to his book “Mesilat Yesharim” says that this is “the wisdom” with the definitive “the”.  Awe of Hashem means seeing that everything comes from the source of everything.  People often think that someone who has awe of Hashem is primitive, but the Rambam does not.  The Rambam says: “What is the path to love Him and fear Him?  When one reflects…” (Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah, chap. 2).  Through introspective and deep wisdom, one is filled with awe of Hashem.  Yitzchak Avinu’s special characteristic was awe of Hashem, and through it he was filled with wisdom, since there is no greater wisdom than looking at the source of everything.  On account of Yitzchak’s deep introspection, he also possessed the ability to look positively at the Nation of Israel more so than the other of our forefathers.  The Gemara relates that in the future Hashem will turn to Avraham and tell him that He cannot redeem the Nation of Israel since they are full of sin.  Avraham Avinu will answer Him: “They should be wiped out for the sake of the sanctification of Hashem’s Name.”  Yaakov Avinu will respond in the same way.  When Hashem turns to Yitzchak Avinu, Yitzchak will answer Him: “Most people live seventy years. Deduct the first twenty for which he is not liable for sin.  Thus, fifty years remain.  Half of them are night, and therefore only twenty-five years remain.  Half the daytime is occupied with eating and drinking, when I person does not perform many transgressions.  What remains?  Twelve and a half years!  I’ll bear the sin upon myself for half of the time and You accept half of the time on Yourself.  And if you do not agree to this, I will bear responsibility for it all.  Hashem will say to him: “I accept” (Shabbat 99b).

 

Nonetheless, Avraham and Yitzchak had the same Divine worship. Their point of departure, however, was different.  Avraham began from wisdom and through it reached awe of Hashem, while Yitzchak began from awe of Hashem and through it reached wisdom.  Avraham established Shacharit and Yitzchak established Minchah. It is obviously not the same prayer.  But Yitzchak also prayed Shacharit, which his father established.  The Tosafot explain that Avraham Avinu also prayed Minchah, as soon as Yitzchak established it.  Through his own Divine service, Avraham reached the Divine service of Yitzchak.  This is all summarized in one short phrase: “And the two of them walked together” (Bereshit 22:6, 8).  The two of them walked together to the most supreme trial, to the spiritual Everest of all history.

 

  1. “Bitul Ha-Yesh – Self-Nullification”

Yitzchak thus possessed the trait of awe.  “Hashem’s treasure-house only contains awe of heaven” (Berachot 33b).  The Maharal explains that there is an advantage to the awe of Hashem in contrast to the love of Hashem.  In love of Hashem – “I love Hashem.”  In contrast, there is no “I” in awe of Hashem.  This is the advantage of “self-nullification” ((Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Yirah), i.e. a person does not act in awe of Hashem.  He nullifies himself to Hashem.  On the face of it, it is not a positive thing for a person to nullify himself.  But it all depends before whom a person is nullifying himself.  If it is nullification before another person, it is negative.  We recite a blessing over this: “Blessed is Hashem…who has not made me a slave.” As Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains (Olat Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 71), the intention is not only physical enslavement but also emotional/psychological enslavement.  But someone who nullifies himself before Hashem, enjoys the greatest level of existence.  This is “and a spirit lifted me” (Yechezkel 3:12).

 

In truth, Yitzchak also nullified himself before other people, but only those whom he recognized as agents of Hashem.  He did not search for a spouse by himself, rather Eliezer, the trusted servant of Avraham, who drew from the Torah of his teacher Avraham and gave it to others to drink, is the one who brought him a spouse, and he accepted it.  Yitzchak understood that this servant, in this area, was the hand of Hashem.  The blessing to Yaakov also came through Rivka, i.e. Yitzchak understood that Rivka arranged it.  She knew what she was doing.  In this area, the hand of Hashem acted through Rivka.  The Akedah is the ultimate example.  His father takes him based on a Divine command, and he goes: “And the two of them walked together.”  “And where is the lamb for the offering?  And Avraham said: ‘G-d will see to it Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.’  And the two of them walked together” (Bereshit 22:8).  This is self-sacrifice, the climax of climaxes of self-nullification.

 

The Chasidic Rebbe of Piacezna, Ha-Rav Kolonymous Kalman Shapira, lived during the Holocaust. Every Shabbat night he would deliver a Dvar Torah in the Warsaw Ghetto.  He would write it down after Shabbat.  For many years after the war, his Dvrei Torah remained hidden in a jar among the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto.  The Rebbe was murdered along with his entire family during the Holocaust.  His book called “Aish Kodesh – Sacred Fire” was published not long ago.  The Rebbe of Piacezna says that although Yitzchak was ready to be slaughtered, in actuality, he was not.  It is not the same thing to be ready to be slaughtered as it is to be actually slaughtered.  The Rebbe asks: was it possible to have the Akedah against Yitzchak’s will?  He answers: certainly!  Noone asked the millions murdered during the Holocaust if they were willing to be slaughtered, and yet they were slaughtered.  This is Akedat Yitzchak against their will!  The Rebbe states that this was the completion of the Akedah.  The will without the actualization of Yitzchak combined with the actualization without the will of the millions murdered for the sanctification of Hashem’s name form a whole.  He says that the millions slaughtered are not “like the Akedah of Yitzchak” or a “continuation of the Akedah of Yitzchak,” rather their deaths are the actualization of the Akedah of Yitzchak.

 

  1. A Hidden Tzadik

 

Question: How does a hidden tzadik contribute to others when he has amazing inner world?

Answer: His contribution is on the level of souls.  The secret of souls is that everyone is connected.  When a person is full of kindness, his kindness influences all of the souls.  When a person performs a good act, he exalts all of humanity – Jews, non-Jews and even animals.  When a hidden tzadik lives in society, people sense, either consciously or unconsciously, his greatness and absorb it.  The influence of a hidden tzadik on the world is therefore greater than that of a revealed tzadik.  The revealed tzadikim draw their spiritual strength from the hidden tzadikim.  Furthermore, revealed tzadikim also have a hidden part.  We know revealed tzadikim, but we do not truly know them, since they also possess a hidden righteousness, and it is greater beyond measure.  It is possible to say that the revealed part is only the excess of the hidden.  There is a statement in “Orot Ha-Kodesh” (vol. 3, pp. 347-348) in which Maran Ha-Rav Kook relates to a revealed tzadik and a hidden tzadik.  He explains that the revealed tzadik desires the best of the best and the best of society, and he acts to attain it.  The hidden tzadik desires the best of humanity and existence.  He is not restricted by time, but strives to elevate all of existence.  This does not mean that on account of his broad sight he was not involved in immediate small issues, but that this is only a small part of the overall reality.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that there is a tzadik who is both hidden and revealed, and there is an inner tension within his personality.  There is also a tzadik in which the hidden and revealed are united without tension between them.  And there is a supreme tzadik in which the revealed side and the hidden side are one.  Since he is a hidden tzadik, he also influences all of existence.

 

  1. “Yitzchak Sowed”

The meaning of “the fear of Yitzchak” is not that Yitzchak Avinu went around gloomy all day, bent over and sad.  It is related that Yitzchak was sporting with Rivka, his wife.  Avimelech saw this from afar, and did not believe that this was his wife, since the way of the world is for a person to sport with everyone, smile at everyone, flirt with everyone and insult his wife…  Therefore, if Yitzchak was sporting with this woman, it certainly was not his wife! So Avimelech thought.  Yitzchak also worked the land.  He sowed and harvested one hundred gates, one hundred times more than everyone else.  It appears that he was a good farmer.  He dug wells, and was completely connected to the Land of Israel.  He was the only one who did not leave the Land.  Avraham Avinu was an “Oleh Chadash” (a new immigrant) and Yaakov Avinu was forced to leave the Land for many years.  But Yitzchak was born in the Land and died in the Land, and he did not leave it.  He lived in “Gerar,” which is located in the area of Gush Katif.  The name “Gerar” is preserved today as the valley next to Gush Katif.  He occasionally came to Be’er Sheva and Hevron, but he lived mostly in places in the south.  Avraham Avinu was in Beit El in Binyamin and Elon Moreh in the Shomron and also in Be’er Sheva in the Negev, while Yitzchak lived in Gush Katif and south of Mt. Hevron.  Yitzchak was a settler and suffered greatly at the hands of the Philistines.  He dug wells, and the Philistines came and said: “It is ours.”  And from then on and always, everything belonged to them…  Yitzchak did not argue with them, for he knew with whom to deal.  He dug the well a second time, and they also claimed ownership over it, as was their way.  Yitzchak knew that they hated him.  Yitzchak did not look at the world with fear and trembling.  He was a person who nullified himself towards the Master of the Universe, and he was filled with the power of action.  On the verse: “Yitzchak went to meditate in the field,” Maran Ha-Rav Kook says that the word “Si’ach” (meditate) is an abbreviation on “Sekel” (intellect), “Yecholet” (ability) and “Chaim” (life) (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 106).  Yitzchak possessed much intellect, had great ability and the strength of life.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook says: do not err and think that Avraham Avinu had the character trait of kindness and Yitzchak Avinu did not.  Yitzchak also had the trait of kindness.  After all, Yitzchak was the student of Avraham.  Yitzchak prayed Shacharit like Avraham: “To relate Your kindness in the morning,” and the trait of Yitzchak was built upon the trait of Avraham.  The characteristic of Yitzchak is above the characteristic of Avraham (see Shemoneh Kevatzim 6, #163).  The stature of Yitzchak is his self-nullification, which is referred to as the characteristic of strength.

We see the unbound trait of kindness in Yitzchak.  He loves Esav, even though he knows who Esav is.  Even though it is written that his eyes were dim, a blind person also knows what Esav is engaged in all day long.  Yitzchak knew that “Yaakov was a wholesome  man who sat in tents” and that Esav was running around in the field hunting rabbits.  If so, why did Yitzchak love Esav?  He loved him without bounds.  And even in the future when difficulties will be raised against the behavior of the Nation of Israel, and Avraham Avinu will not have what to respond, it will be Yitzchak who will defend the Nation.  Israel will then say to him: “You are our father” (Shabbat 89b).  Yitzchak possessed the trait of unbounded kindness and he therefore loved Esav.  But Esav caused great distress!  Yitzchak said that Esav will repent in the future.  We know this because Esav’s head is buried in the Cave of Machepelah. But it is not yet the future and Esav is still completely wicked.  Yitzchak constantly lived with the recognition of the future time.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains that for this reason, Yitzchak had to marry someone who did not possess supreme kindness, but someone who was practical.  This is Rivka Imenu, who is an incredibly kind person and also very practical.

 

Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, searched for a wife for Yitzchak.  He knew that the young woman did not need to know everything, and did not need to be pretty or wealthy.  What was important is that she had a good heart.  Eliezer therefore said: “Can I please drink a little water from your jug?” and she responded: “Drink, my master, and I will also give your camels a drink” (Bereshit 24:14).  She was the match for Yitzchak.  As is known, a camel drinks a huge amount of water.  Rivka went back and forth to the trough while Eliezer stood there amazed.  She could have asked for his help, but she did not.  The servant of Avraham knew that Yitzchak was a person of boundless kindness, spiritual kindness, and he saw that Rivka was a woman with pure and holy material kindness.  He therefore thought that she was the perfect match for his master, Yitzchak.  Rivka is  the one who prevents the blessing from going to Esav because it is not the current reality.  Yitzchak possesses a boundless kindness which is unaffected by time, but practical kindness is necessary to maintain proper order.

 

  1. A Spirit of the World to Come

Yitzchak Avinu is truly an example of self-nullification.  There is no greater self-nullification than the Akedah.  We said earlier that Yitzchak was not actually slaughtered.  This is not precise, however, since it is written that his ashes were piled upon the altar (Bereshit Rabbah 94:5).  It does not say that his soul departed, but that he will rise during the Resurrection of the Dead and Avraham will recite the blessing: “Blessed is Hashem who revives the dead.”  Tears fell from the eyes of the angels into the eyes of Yitzchak, and as a result he was blinded (Bereshit Rabbah 65:10).  This is the supreme completion of Yitzchak Avinu.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 135) that a person possesses two souls.  One soul is a Divine, holy soul – an image of G-d.  This is called the “super-ego” in Psychology.  The second soul is an impure, animal, base soul.  Psychology calls it the “id.”  A constant war exists within a person between the Divine soul and the animal soul, between the good inclination and the evil inclination.  This is a life and death struggle.  It is impossible to strike a compromise between purity and impurity.  Additionally, the holy soul is divided into two spirits, both of which are good: a spirit of this world and a spirit of the World to Come.  This means that there are good things in the world: to build, to perform acts of kindness, to elevate oneself, to fix, to wage war, to teach, to educate, etc.  This is the spirit of this world.  In contrast, the supreme and eternal spirit of the World to Come is above this world and time.  There is also a war between these two spirits.  It is not a war between enemies, but a war between two friends, each with a positive purpose.  After the Akedah, Yitzchak was not of this world but of the World to Come.  He was the spirit of the World to Come. But do not err: this does not mean that he did not act here.  After all, we know that he sowed and harvested and “grew increasingly large.”  He grew in this world but his sustenance was from the World to Come.  His body was here but his soul was there.  Yitzchak was here on loan, as an emissary, but he was in other world.  This strange status did not cause him to look disparagingly on what was done here.  He also worked and invested energy in this world, but all of his yearnings, thoughts, feelings and interests were for the World to Come.  We must remember that Yitzchak Avinu is our father and we are all nurtured by the power of his spirituality, holiness and purity, and we must remember to increase these ideals in our lives.

 

Rivkah

1.      At the Well of Water

  1. A Kind Eye
  2. Resoluteness
  3. Loving-kindness
  4. Barrenness
  5. Blessing of the Children
  6. And Yitzchak loved Esav
  7. Blindness and Vision
  8. Rivkah acted as Intermediary
  9. For [opposite] his wife

 

 

  1. At the Well of Water

Rivkah was one of the four matriarchs. According to our Sages, there are only four who are called matriarchs: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah (Berachot 16b).  She is one of the four foundations of Divinely inspired women of the people of Israel; and her glory resided in her own merit.  Prior to her meeting Yitzchak, who would later be her husband, she had an extraordinary character which she displayed by the well of water when she met Eliezer, Avraham’s servant.  The Torah sets out a description of the event and repeats it twice though the narration of the servant to Lavan, from which we can understand its importance and learn of Rivkah’s character.

 

Avraham’s servant assumed a responsibility.  Avraham had him swear that he would not choose a wife for Yitzchak from among the women of Canaan, but rather to my land and to my birthplace you will go (Bereshit 24:4).  The servant asked Avraham, “Perhaps the woman will not want to follow me to this land, should I bring your son again to the land from which you came?” (ibid. 24:5).  However, Avraham did not provide a solution for the situation except for the answer, “Make sure that you do not return my son there” (ibid. 24:6).  It is not clear what would have been the fate of the descendents of Israel had the woman not wanted to go with him.  Eliezer of Damascus was described by our Sages as being the head of the yeshiva of Avraham our father: “He drew and served drink from his master’s teachings to others” (Rashi on Bereshit 15:2 according to Yoma 28b). He determined on his own the sign by which he could identify an appropriate wife for Yitzchak, following which the extraordinary character of the young woman revealed itself at the well.

 

According to one of the Midrashim, Rivkah was merely a little girl, three years old (Seder Olam, chapter 1).  Based on this calculation, Rivkah was born at the time of the binding of Yitzchak, when he was thirty-seven years old; and three years later, when he was forty, he married her.  Rabbi Shmuel Chasid of Shapira explains that she was fourteen years old.  His calculation is based on the words of our Sages in Sifri (Ha-Brachah 157) that included among the six pairs whose counterparts lived the same number of years, are Rivkah and Kehat. Kehat lived one hundred and thirty-three years, as did Rivkah; according to this calculation, it is clear that she was fourteen years old when she married Yitzchak (Tosefot on Yevamot 61b).  Furthermore, the Torah in its description of Rivkah, says and the young woman was very beautiful, a virgin (Bereshit 24:16).  The Gemara says that a virgin (betulah) means a young woman (Yevamot ibid.); and there is no such thing as a beautiful young woman at the age of three, which is an age of childhood.

 

This young woman revealed herself as being very righteous when she drew water from the well for the servant, despite this being her first encounter with him. The nature of her good deed was such that she performed good deeds for others without any expectation of any reward from anyone.  If reward had been the goal, it would not be righteousness but scheming and business.  Eliezer was at the well; he could have drawn water for himself and his camels.  The young woman could have avoided serving him because it was the time when women came out to draw water (Bereshit 24:11), and there were other young women in the same place.  Yet she lowered the bucket (ibid. 24:18), even though the task required great strength; this, despite the fact that he was able to perform it himself. She got him his drink and even did more for him: “I will also draw for your camels” (ibid. 24:19).  The ten camels that had traveled from Beersheva to Aram Naharaim drank a huge quantity of water.  Nevertheless the man was astonished at her and reflected (ibid. 24:21).  He did not lift a hand to help her.  Rivkah finished the task; no one stared in amazement at the man for not helping her. She did not say anything, yet when it was over, she invited him to stay over at her house.  Eliezer received hospitality which was over and above his expectation (Rashi on Bereshit 24:23).  He thanked G-d for the woman whom G-d has designated for my master’s son (ibid. 24:44).  Rashi explains, “She is worthy of him for she performs acts of loving-kindness and she is fit to enter the house of Avraham” (Rashi on ibid. 24:14). The house of Avraham our father was a house of loving-kindness; appropriately, it should have received a young woman of loving-kindness.  Our Sages considered the sign that Eliezer set for himself: “That the girl who would say I will also give water to your camels” (Bereshit 24:46) would be the young woman specially suited for Yitzchak.  This seems to be at first glance reliance on an omen, yet it is forbidden to rely on omen.  What is an omen?  For example, when they say: In the event my bread falls from my mouth or my staff from my hand, I will not go to such and such place today because if I were to go, I will not get what I want (Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship 11:4; Ravad, ibid.).  Similarly, if a black cat crosses my path, I will have an unlucky day.  The Maharal explains that an omen is a premise without reason.  By contrast, a person who sets out a premise based on logic is not considered to be acting on the basis of an omen.  Eliezer established the premise that a young woman who displays righteousness is suitable for Yitzchak. Since this was a logical premise, it in no way constituted reliance on an omen (Gur Aryeh on Bereshit 24:14).

 

On the surface, it seems that the encounter with Rivkah was a coincidence. Eliezer met the young woman when she was preparing to draw water for him and his camels, as if by coincidence: “Hashem, G-d of my Master Avraham, I pray You send me good fortune” (Bereshit 24:12). But there is no such thing as an accident. The so-called coincidence happened through G-d incognito, in a hidden manner. Lavan himself was grateful and said: “This matter stemmed from G-d” (ibid. 24:50).

 

  1. A Kind Eye

Eliezer gazed at the young woman and saw that she was very beautiful (ibid. 24:16). As the young woman’s beauty was not in itself sufficient to render her suitable for Yitzchak our father, he examined her attributes and discovered that she was a righteous person.  Eliezer, the best and most experienced teacher, was so stirred that he immediately determined she was fit for Yitzchak.  This great man was captured by the charm of righteousness of the young woman he met.  The Kli Yikar (on Bereshit 24:14) clearly comments on a passage of our Sages: Any bride who has a kind eye does not required inspection [bedikah] (Ta’anit 24a; Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:1).  Namely, a kind eye is a characteristic of Avraham our father, who looked on everyone kindly (Pirkei Avot 5:19).  This means loving everyone, having a desire to do good and teaching merit to everyone.  Avraham our father wanted to do good for everyone.  His home was open to all four directions of the world in order to welcome guests (See Socher Tov on Tehillim 110; Yalkut Ha-Makiri on Yeshayahu 41:2).  When the Master of the Universe prevented visitors from coming to see him after his circumcision, he sat in the doorway of his tent and sent Eliezer to welcome them in the distance (Baba Metzia 86b).  His nephew Lot declared, “I want neither Avraham nor his G-d” (Rashi on Bereshit 13:11; Bereshit Rabbah 41:7) for monetary gain. He added sin to iniquity when he chose to live in Sodom among wicked and sinful people (Bereshit 13:13 and Rashi ibid.). Avraham knew all this, yet when he heard he had been taken captive, he armed his trained men (ibid. 14:13), he immediately mobilized his men in order to save him.  When G-d informed Avraham that he was about to destroy Sodom, he did not rejoice over the impending deaths of the wicked inhabitants; rather, he haggled with the Master of the Universe, arguing that perhaps there were a number of righteous people on whose account Sodom could be saved (ibid. 18:23-33).

 

The people of Israel, the descendants of Avraham our father, are merciful, shy and charitable (Yevamot 79a).  By contrast, the Givonim were cruel: Therefore there was some doubt about their conversion (ibid.).  The Gemara says a cruel person should be examined, because he is not an offspring of Avraham (Beitzah 32b; Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Relations 19:17; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer, 2:2, Be’er Heitev ibid. #5 in the name of the Beit Shmuel).  The descendants of Avraham our father forgave with a good heart, a trait which has passed down throughout history.

 

A story is told about a Jewish doctor who lived in Switzerland during the First World War.  Once, late at night, a woman knocked on his door and asked him to urgently examine and treat someone in her house. Take note that she lived in an area of town some distance away; but came to him even though there were excellent doctors in her area.  When he wondered about this, she told him: “You are a Jew and so you have a good heart.  Surely you would not object to getting up in the middle of the night” (See Le-Netivot Yisrael, chapter 2, p. 247; Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, p. 168; Vayikra, p. 184; Part 5, Am Yisrael #25; Part 44, Haggadah Shel Pesach #19).

 

A friend told me he once worked in student admissions at a university in the United States.  A young woman, Indian, approached him to say that she specifically wanted to marry a Jew because it was well known that Jews have a good heart and therefore make good husbands.

 

Rivkah’s charitableness gave her the potential of being a direct continuation of Sarah.  Our Sages say that the whole time that Sarah lived, a cloud was hung at the door of her tent; with her death, the cloud lifted.  But with the advent of Rivkah, the cloud returned.  Once Yitzchak saw that she would carry on the good work of his mother, immediately Yitzchak brought her to the tent of his mother Sarah (Bereshit 24:67; Bereshit Rabbah 60:17). We see a direct link from Chavah, the mother of all living things, to Sarah, and from her to Rivkah as it is said, “The sun rises and the sun sets” (Kohelet 1:5). When The Holy One Blessed Be He caused the sun of Sarah to set, He caused the sun of Rivkah to rise (Bereshit Rabbah 58:2).

 

  1. Resoluteness

Let it not be said that Rivkah was a simple maiden who allowed a stranger from far off to take advantage of her good-heartedness; or that she was a young woman with a weak personality who did not know how to refuse. The contrary is true: Rivkah was among the strongest. She lived among wicked people in a place where all were swindlers like her father and brother. She was educated in the homes of the wicked, but remained righteous. She was not weak; rather, her character stood on principle. Our Sages say that Rivkah was like the rose among the thorns (ibid. 63.4).  She could not be overwhelmed by her brother or father; but she maintained her beliefs, especially after her marriage to Yitzchak. She established the structure of the home. She was such a strong wife that she was not swayed by her surroundings. Her father and brother knew this, so that when Eliezer sought her hand in marriage for Yitzchak, they said: Let us call the young woman and ask her (Bereshit 24:57). Even though Rivkah was a very young woman, and the convention was that a daughter did what her father wanted, this was not the case of Rivkah. Betuel and Lavan had no interest in sending Rivkah away, and they tried to stall her from going as long as possible. They declared that this matter comes from G-d (Bereshit 24:50), but took the necessary steps to delay (Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel): “Let the young woman stay with us a year or ten months” (Bereshit 24:55); and we will try to direct her as to how to answer their request. Lavan and Betuel hoped that Rivkah would be afraid to go far away with a stranger, and to marry someone she had not yet seen. They therefore asked with guile and surprise: “Are you going to go with this man?!” (ibid. 24:58). Yet she responded with one word decisively: “I will go” [Aylech] (ibid.). This was her opportunity to extricate herself from her evil surroundings, and all the more because of what she apparently heard about Yitzchak. Rashi explains her resolute answer, saying: “For myself, even if you do not agree.” The Midrash adds: “I will go even if it is against your will and contrary to your interest” (Bereshit Rabbah 60:12).

 

Rivkah did not hesitate.  She was at ease with the matter and was firm in carrying out difficult acts with resoluteness.  Some say this was her defining characteristic, although resoluteness was also prevalent among the other Patriarchs and Matriarchs.  In Judaism, doubt is not an ideal.  Some think that it is praiseworthy to be doubtful, but the true ideal is to be decisive.  A doubter is one without courage.  One can think and consider, as long as there is a decision at the end of the day.  A person unaccustomed to making decisions for himself should “Find yourself a teacher and avoid doubt” (Pirkei Avot 1:16).  If a person is not endowed with spiritual and intellectual powers to arrive at a decision, let him seek help from someone greater than him. Later, our mother Rivkah made the decision for the benefit of Yaakov.  He asked and clarified, but in the end, did as she had instructed.  He was not a person lacking in character whose movements were dependent on others; rather, the debate and clarification explained things and made it possible to decide and accomplish.  All of our forefathers worked with resoluteness.  The Torah contains no instance of doubting, of a decision followed by a second thought.  Weighing information can take a long time; there are fateful decisions, complications and difficulties.  Logic does not operate as a spontaneous instinct.  A person needs time to consider, think and decide.  Rivkah, however, firmly decided to go with Eliezer, but it appeared that this thought had been percolating inside her for some time.  She was like the rose among the thorns, for she knew she had absolutely no interest in marrying one of the wicked men in her area.  Her response was rapid and determined, though perhaps it was due to a pre-meditation that had taken a long time.

 

A story is told about a famous painter who was commissioned by a seller of chickens to paint a chicken for his sign.  The sign was to hang on the front door of his store to attract customers.  The seller chose the well-known painter because he was interested in a life-like and faithful painting.  The painter estimated that it would take a full year to prepare the painting, and stipulated a large amount for his remuneration.  The seller was taken aback, but agreed to it.  By the end of the year, the painting was not finished and was charging more.  Finally, the painter announced that the painting was ready.  But when he removed the wrapping, the seller saw that the canvas was empty.  The painter then applied some paint on the spot and within a minute, he had painted an extraordinary chicken.  The seller of chickens felt he had been deceived; he had paid the painter for more than one year and here he painted the sign in a couple of minutes.  But the painter explained to him that during the year he only put his mind to chickens: He had watched chicken coops, ran after chickens and observed them for days on end. It was only after all this effort that he was competent to draw the wonderful chicken.

 

Over the years, Rivkah contemplated her surroundings, reflected and came to conclusions.  This is a positive attribute, provided it does not stem from empty headedness, in which case, it is nothing more than being brazen, strongly asserting opinions with nothing backing them up.  On the other hand, resoluteness that comes from great, vast and deep understanding, is courage.  The decisiveness of Rivkah stems from the highest ideal of loving-kindness, according to the first story which the Torah relates about her and upon which Rashi (on Bereshit 24:14) and the Maharal (Derech Chayim on Pireki Avot 1:2) comment.

 

  1. Kindness

The kindness of Rivkah was filled with resoluteness.  She drew water for Eliezer and gave no thought to the impression this act created.  This is the mark of kindness: Lack of premeditation.  She married and henceforth all of her kindness became focussed on one man, namely Yitzchak.  This kindness was equal to a million kindnesses.  We are not talking about an ordinary man, but a man at the center of world history, a man of the world, of the whole world.  Rivkah went from great private acts of kindness to kindness specifically directed to this man.

 

Yitzchak, who came from Avraham’s house, was also a man of kindness, although the Torah does not discuss it.  He was a private person, a secret righteous person until he was ready to be bound on the altar.  The depth of the quality and greatness of this man could not be fathomed until our Sages designated him an unblemished sacrifice [olah temimah] (Rashi on Bereshit 25:2 based on Bereshit Rabbah 64:3).  He was a complete unblemished sacrifice, beyond humanity, angelic, beyond angels.  According to our Sages, Yitzchak was blinded at the time of the binding on the altar.  When his father stretched out his hand for the knife to slaughter him, he did not move or stir.  At that very moment, the heavens opened and they saw that the ministering angels were crying; their tears dripped and fell into his eyes, which is why his eyes were dim (Rashi on Bereshit 27:1 based on Bereshit Rabbah 65:10).  Yitzchak was on such a high level that even the angels were not able to understand him.  Avraham built open homes in his lifetime; he invited guests, planted a tamarisk tree and called upon G-d’s Name.  Yitzchak acted in a different way; he was different from his father.  His kindness was concealed, his structure invisible and spiritual.  He operated in the world in a hidden form, as a hidden righteous person (tzadik).  This man who was connected to humanity and the world, became an unblemished sacrifice; and through this experience, spread throughout the whole world the scent of the spice of great kindness, and everyone derived pleasure from his strength. The power of this man’s being in the world brought to everyone a greater sensitivity, righteousness and kindness.  This is the nature of a hidden tzadik, who establishes an internal spiritual structure and spreads light to all humanity.  The Maharal explains that Yitzchak differed in this righteousness from Avraham, as well as from Rivkah (Derech Chayim on Pirkei Avot 1:2).  Rivkah was thoroughly kind-hearted, in her activity and conduct.  Yitzchak withdrew into himself.  All his activity was hidden, as was his awesome self-sacrifice in being bound on the altar.  This was something that happened within him, and therefore not evident to others.  Yet he caused a revolution in world history for all generations, and no one can describe its scope.

 

  1. Barrenness

Yitzchak and Rivkah are said to have different personalities and perhaps this is the reason for her barrenness.  Their relationship was such that it was not possible for them to bear children.  Rivkah gave up loving-kindness for herself so she could dedicate herself to universal loving-kindness, while he delayed for several years, almost twenty years (Bereshit 25:20-26).  Indeed, even Avraham and Sarah had no children, resulting in Sarah giving Avraham her maidservant to have offspring through her (ibid. 16:1-3).  Not so with Yitzchak and Rivkah.  He was an unblemished sacrifice; he could not do what his father did (Rashi on Bereshit 25:26). He waited; he did not even pray.  Yitzchak understood that their succession was complicated, and that difficult and intricate matters are slow in resolving themselves.  Only after twenty years did he pray.  The hidden face of G-d revealed itself even after Rivkah conceived.  Difficulties followed, for the sons fought within her (Bereshit 25:22). Even in this situation, Yitzchak did not intervene.  The struggle had no connection with his spiritual world.  But for Rivkah, it was different: “And she went to inquire of G-d” (ibid.).  Her inquiry was not a question of curiosity or despair, but a need to understand what she had to do.  This is the meaning of the phrase: “If so, why am I this way” (ibid.)?  And her situation was not simple.  The Holy One Blessed Be He announced to her the new forces that would arise from her: “Two nations are in your womb: Two peoples from your belly shall be separated; power will pass from one to the other and the elder will serve the younger” (ibid. 25:23).  The internal struggle evidenced the archetypal war between the two sons.  Our Sages says: The Holy One Blessed Be He never speaks with a woman unless she is righteous (Bereshit Rabbah 63:7; Socher Tov on Tehillim 9:7).

 

  1. Blessing of the Children

Rivkah oversaw the activities in Yitzchak’s house; she established the structure of the house; she planned and carried out her plans (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, p. 220, 232), and received Yitzchak’s support for her conduct.  When Eliezer brought her to Yitzchak, he reflected and received her.  When she went to inquire of G-d, he was in accord.  Even when she caused him to give the blessing for Esav to Yaakov, he was happy with what she had done: “For he will also be blessed” (Bereshit 27:33).  Yitzchak was a person who was under the umbrage of heaven: At the binding through Avraham our father; at the marriage arrangement, through Eliezer; and at the blessing of the sons through Rivkah.  He was a man of secrets in the order of a spirit took me up (Yechezkel 3:12), guided by the winds of heaven.  His interaction with events in the world was not at all by chance, but was guided by an understanding that events unfold according to a Divine plan.  After the reversal of the blessings between Yaakov and Esav, we do not hear of any anger or rebuke directed against Rivkah by him about her daring plan.  Esav wondered: “Father, do you have one blessing” (Bereshit 27:38)?  But Yitzchak left things as they were.  With a strong spirit, he succeeded in recognizing that whether events unfold by accident or against his will, it is the will of The Holy One Blessed Be He.  

 

The real question is why Rivkah tricked Yitzchak.  If according to her view Yaakov should have been blessed, why did she not openly discuss the issue with him?  Perhaps they would have debated the matter until he was persuaded.  It is evident that even very righteous people are not always easy to persuade.  Great scholars sat in the Sanhedrin, and one could not always succeed in persuading the other, which is why issues were decided by a majority vote.  Rivkah knew that his position on the subject of the sons’ blessings was different than hers.  She disregarded Yitzchak’s position, which was contrary to hers, because there was no possibility of persuading him otherwise.  She decided she knew that in this matter her power was greater than that of Yitzchak.  When Yaakov asked her, “Perhaps my father will feel me” (ibid. 27:12), she responded, “The blame will be on me” (ibid. 27:13): My son, I will be responsible for your curse.  I know that you must be the one to receive the blessing and not your brother Esav, even though Yitzchak disagrees with me.  And Yitzchak agreed that this is the way these things had come about.  The disparity between the views of Yitzchak and Rivkah understandably was only in regard to the blessing for material wealth which she diverted through wisdom and cunning from the hands of Esav:May the Lord grant you of the dew of the heaven and of the fat of the earth” (ibid. 27:28). Yitzchak passed on to Yaakov the supreme blessing of Avraham without any competitor (ibid. 27:3-4).  Yitzchak and Rivkah were both Divinely inspired but of opposite personalities: This is the reason for the difference in their attitude toward the sons.  He was Divinely inspired in secrecy, sublimity and simplicity, while she was Divinely inspired in a revealed way.

 

We should understand the propriety of what Rivkah did. She did not control Yitzchak and structure his life. Quite the opposite, Rivkah was in awe of him, possessed by a strong fear of the holy.  When she met him for the first time, she dismounted from the camel (ibid. 24:64).  When she saw this man, who had been bound to the altar, she was in awe, amazed at his character.  Our Sages say that what she saw in him was the image of a heavenly angel (Socher Tov, Mehadurat Buber, Tehillim 90:18). There is a reference in the order of the sacrifices of Yom Kippur to the effect that when the four-lettered name of G-d was heard issuing from the mouth of the High Priest in sanctity and purity, the people would prostrate themselves (Mishnah, Yoma 66a).  They had no specific intent in prostrating; rather, the very force of hearing the Divine Name caused them to prostrate on the ground.  When Rivkah saw the Divine Name cleave to Yitzchak’s personality, she prostrated herself.  Her sending of Yaakov to receive the blessing from Yitzchak bore witness to the fact that she believed there was power and absolute truth in Yitzchak’s blessing.  She recognized the majestic strength of Yitzchak, and was filled with awesome admiration; she set up the whole ruse so that Yaakov would be vested with the great benefit of the blessing.  Rivkah was filled with shame in standing before Yitzchak as we see described in their first meeting: So she took a veil and covered herself (Bereshit 24:65).  She was self-effacing before him, but not in all matters.  In the matter of the blessing which was fateful and affected the very foundation of the Jewish People, she was not passive; on the contrary, she maneuvered to have Yaakov receive it.

 

  1. And Yitzchak Loved Esav

Yitzchak did not receive any joy from Esav.  He understood that Yaakov was the more pious man, who lived in tents, and that being a hunter was not the ideal life.  It therefore caused him grief that his son Esav was a hunter all his life, and never dwelt in tents.  We have here an instructive approach to and Yitzchak loved Esav (ibid. 25:28).  When a son does not behave properly, one must teach him through a difficult educational process; one must love him and bring him closer.  Esav was not interested in tents, in piety, or in the right of the firstborn: “And Esav squandered his birthright” (ibid. 25:34).  But after much persuasion, Esav was prepared to support Yaakov, to ensure that venison would always be in his mouth, meaning that Yitzchak was prepared to compromise and not to hate Esav if he would concern himself with the material well-being of Yaakov (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, p. 220, 232).

 

However, The Holy One Blessed Be He said: “And I hated Esav” (Malachi 1:3).  How could Yitzchak love Esav when G-d hated him?  Rather, it is written “And I hated Esav” meaning that I hate the attributes of Esav, the immoralities and negative traits that characterize Esav.  Yet deep down, Esav was good.  The essence of Esav’s goodness was his ability to deal with the hidden world within himself.  This is the explanation of the Vilna Gaon on the dictum of our Sages that Esav’s head was buried in the Cave of Machpelah (Likutei Ha-Gra at the end of Sa’arat Eliyahu).  His head, the face, the upper part was connected to the Cave of Machpelah.  Even Yaakov understood this.  After he fought the whole night with the angel of Esav, he said, “For I saw G-d face to face” (Bereshit 32:30).  Even Esav had a Divine aspect, which will be revealed in the future, and then brotherly love will appear (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 142).

 

  1. Blindness and Vision

Esav’s essence will only manifest itself in the future; and in this regard, Yitzchak was blind.  Certainly this is not a reference to physical blindness, for generally speaking a blind person develops acute feelings and senses which enable him to orient himself in his surroundings; all the more so a great scholar like Yitzchak.  For example, the Gemara relates a story about Rav Sheishet who was blind; yet in spite of his blindness, was more perceptive than those who could see (Berachot 58a).  There are people with eyes who see nothing; and there are those whose vision is impaired, so to speak.  But they see very clearly everything that happens around them.  Rabbi Nachman of Breslov relates in one of his stories that there were seven beggars. One of them was a blind man who saved children.  At the end of the story, the beggar explains that in general no one is blind.  Rather, the whole world is ephemeral, everything is like the blink of an eye; so there are things that hide from them, and there is no connection with them. It is useless to watch things that pass and disappear.  He only sees a fixed and eternal goal and has no connection with a negative passing phenomenon.

 

In this perspective, Yitzchak our father was blind.  Yitzchak knew that Esav in his essence was good and would be good.  His fundamental core was good.  Yitzchak did not look at the momentary.  He did not base his position on things that were passing, that changed and were temporary; even if that temporariness was thousands of years.  Yitzchak’s perspective was based on the eternal.  Yitzchak was blind in regard to temporary matters.  He could see, but only things that were fixed and eternal.  For Esav, there was a place in the world.  His head was in the Cave of Machpelah. The hatred of him was the manifestation of a momentary negativity, his temporariness. His essence was good, and so Yitzchak wanted to bless him.

 

  1. Rivkah Acted as Intermediary

Rivkah had powerful insight. She knew that Esav had hidden magnificent strengths that would be revealed in the future.  But she also knew that they would not surface in the near future; indeed it was impossible to determine exactly when.  As of that time, the moment had not yet arrived; accordingly, Esav was not worthy of a blessing.  Therefore, she arranged matters so that Yaakov would get the blessing.  However, she was a person of great loving-kindness and she also sought wisdom and clarity.

 

Rivkah was one of the seven barren women, corresponding to the seven days of Creation.  She corresponds to the second day of which it is said: “And there was separation between the waters” (Bereshit 1:6; Kehilat Yaakov – erech Rivkah).  She was endowed with the strength to discern, who separates the holy from the profane, the light from darkness, and Israel from the nations (Havdalah; Pesachim 103b).  In the future, we will all be one family; in the meantime, it is not so. This is where Rivkah and Yitzchak disagreed. Yitzchak’s essence was the truth, but for all practical purposes, its time had not yet come.  In fact, Rivkah did not really differ with Yitzchak; she merely made things clear for him.  Our Sages say that Rivkah was the intermediary between Yitzchak and The Holy One Blessed Be He, so that Yitzchak would bestow the blessings (Bereshit Rabbah 67:2).  The Master of the Universe sent a blessing to Yaakov through Yitzchak.  Rivkah worked to make sure that the blessing would come to the intended.  Yitzchak agreed with her being an intermediary.  We see a similarity in the relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.  It is written in the Torah: “Eye for an eye” (Shemot 21:24; Vayikra 24:20), but the Oral Torah explains that this means monetary compensation (Baba Kama 84a; See Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Shemot, pp. 234-235).  Yitzchak wanted to bless Esav and Rivkah interpreted: In the meantime, let him bless Yaakov.

 

Yitzchak accepted Rivkah’s position.  He determined: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav” (Bereshit 27:22).  Certainly, it was easier to put on a sheepskin on his hands than to change his voice.  Some understand the voice of Yaakov as not referring to pitch. After all, Yaakov and Esav were twins and it was reasonable to assume that they had an identical voice.  Yaakov did not suspect that his father would identify his voice, but he worried: “Perhaps my father will feel me” (ibid. 27:12).  However, Yaakov’s voice had a certain way of phrasing and content to his words.  He spoke with refinement: “Please rise…Because Hashem, your G-d, brought it for me” (ibid. 27:19-20).  This was the style of conversation of Yaakov, and Yitzchak identified it, even though in reality, the hands were like the hands of Esav.  Yitzchak said: “The scent of my son is like the scent of the field” (ibid. 27:27). Up to that point, it seemed Esav would be favored, but then he continued: “Whom G-d has blessed” (ibid.).  It appears that Yitzchak understood Rivkah’s maneuver, and immediately acknowledged it.  For he accepted and agreed it had come from heaven. He perceived things through the Divine inspiration that imbued him, and he blessed Yaakov.

 

  1. For [Opposite] His Wife

One should understand that even though Yitzchak and Rivkah had opposite personalities, they were united all the way.  It is written, “and Yitzchak entreated G-d for [opposite] his wife” (ibid. 25:21). This means he stood in this corner and prayed, and she stood in another corner and prayed (Rashi ibid. based on Bereshit Rabbah 63:5), and they prayed together.  The mystics calculate that Yitzchak spoke two hundred and forty-nine words.  This refers to the words of the blessing which were not his but were spoken by G-d from the depth of his throat, leaving one hundred sixty-three words.  This is exactly the number of words which Rivkah spoke.

 

The appearance of Yitzchak and Rivkah rectified the damage done by Adam and Chavah, which had punished Chavah: “And he will rule over you” (Bereshit 3:17).  From the beginning of the world until this very day, the fact is that men dominate women, sometimes with a cruel hand.  The strength of Yitzchak and Rivkah remedied this situation.  Yitzchak in no way dominated Rivkah.  Since childhood, it was impossible to dominate her.  Even her father and brother could not control her.  Yitzchak had no interest in dominating her; on the contrary, from the beginning in the Torah it says: “She became his wife and he loved her” (ibid. 24:67).  This is not a description of a relationship of dominance, but of love.  However, Yitzchak was an inward man, an unblemished sacrifice on the altar, yet it specifically says of him that he loved her.  Even this love was secretive, internal, intimate, a deep love and it would not be disrupted for anything.  It is written that Yitzchak was sporting with his wife Rivkah (ibid. 26:8).  When the same term sporting [matzchaik] is used in regard to Yishmael (ibid. 21:9), it has a negative connotation.  In regard to Yitzchak, by contrast, it confirms his intimate and internal greatness.  Even though he was tied to the altar, the bond between him and his wife surpassed all.  The love of Yitzchak did not suffer disruption: Twenty years had passed without their having children, and not every man could have withstood such a test.

 

Rachel told Yaakov: “Give me children, otherwise I am dead” (ibid. 30:1). But the response of Yaakov is equally very harsh: “Am I in G-d’s stead” (ibid. 30:2)?  Our Sages criticize Yaakov for his answer because no one should respond in such a way to a depressed person (Rashi ibid. based on Bereshit Rabbah 71:7).  Even though Rachel did not have to speak the way she did, the problem was depressing her and she needed understanding.  Similarly, there was tension between Avraham and Sarah born of her barrenness.  Sarah wanted Avraham to send away the maidservant, which was inappropriate in his eyes. The tension was resolved when he was told: “Everything that Sarah tells you, heed her voice” (Bereshit 21:12).

 

Despite the infertility, there was no tension between Yitzchak and Rivkah. They had no children, but Yitzchak did nothing about it.  He had a true strength of love which did not wane in the face of any challenge.  Even after Rivkah sent Yaakov to receive the blessing, there was not even a hint that the incident had adversely affected the love between them. Rivkah considered that Yitzchak had an extraordinary worth and she knew the power of his blessing.  She knew that Yitzchak saw the situation through an eternal perspective, so that he had to bless Esav.  She was not capable of changing his mind but her mind was made up; therefore, she carried out her plan with a belief that it was her duty.  And Yitzchak accepted it without criticism.

 

Yitzchak’s name connotes the future.  “He will laugh” [yitzchak], in the future tense.  His perspective was directed to the future, to what would be.  He was above time and its events, yet he was also inside time “Yitzchak was sporting [yitzchak matzchaik] with his wife Rivkah” (ibid. 26:8).  That corrupt person, Avimelech, watched them from the window (ibid.).  Avimelech did not understand the meaning of the principle that a man’s wife is his sister, as it is written in Shir Ha-Shirim (8:1): “O that someone would make you as my brother.”  Avraham tried to explain it to Pharaoh, and Yitzchak to Avimelech: The latter stared through the windows of his understanding, and on that same day, he understood the quality of love that existed between husband and wife.

 

Yitzchak and Rivkah definitely had opposite personalities: He, a man of secrets withdrawn within himself who perceived and understood generations and worlds; and she, his wife possessed with Divine inspiration watching over the management of her household, with an immediate and earthly practicality.

 

The difference did not destroy the love and the bond between them; and together, they rectified the misfortune of “And he will rule over you,” which was one of the four curses Chavah received; because each one of the curses were rectified by one of the Martriarchs (see above, pp. 24-26).  Rivkah’s rectification was not done by the command of Yitzchak, but for [lenochach] or together with Yitzchak.

 

This rectification was laid down for mankind and as a fundament of life by the Jewish People who do not practice, “And he will rule over you” (see Ma’amrei Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 192).  Our role is to reveal this power of Rivkah that which is hidden in reality within us. This is an example of the dictum that what happens to the fathers is a sign for the sons (Ramban on Bereshit 12:6, 12:10); the strength of the fathers is found in the sons.

 

YAAKOV

  1. The Man whose Entire Life was Contrary to His Will
  2. The Man whose Entire Life was Distress
  3. Objective Crisis and Subjective Crisis
  4. Yaakov Avinu Repaired the Guile of the Snake
  5. Yaakov Avinu’s Bed was Whole
  6. Twelve Shades
  7. Yaakov Avinu Builds a Nation
  8. “I am Esav, your first-born”
  9. The Secret of Opposites
  10. Sensory Integration
  11. Yaakov Avinu – The Middle Man
  12. Yaakov Established Ma’ariv
  13. Everything is for the Best
  14. To be Your Servant in all Situations
  15. I Did Not Take away Free Choice

 

 

 

  1. The Man whose Entire Life was Contrary to His Will

It is possible to refer to Yaakov Avinu as “the man above crisis.”  In truth, Yaakov Avinu’s entire life was full of crises.  The definition of a crisis is anything that is contrary to a person’s will.  A person’s will can be evil or it can be good.  Life is constructed in such a way that it is not always according to a person’s will.  There are some people who only experience one crisis during the course of a lifetime, there are others who experience one crisis every year and still others who experience crises more often.  But for Yaakov Avinu, crises were routine.  He knew about crises while still in the womb.  Yaakov was set to come out of his mother’s womb first, but it transpired that his twin brother Esav came out first “with his hand grasping on to Esav’s heel” (Bereshit 25:26).  Reality was not according to his will but he did not give in, he held on to Esav’s heel.  Although he was unable to prevent it, Yaakov still knew that he was the first-born.  He therefore waited for the opportunity to straighten that which was crooked.  And then, when Esav came in from the field, Yaakov said to his brother: “Sell, this day, your birthright to me” (ibid. 25:31).  This is surprising: is Yaakov a thief?  No, he was taking what was rightfully his.  Even though he paid for it, it was still his.  He paid for it with a bowl of lentils and a grudge that gripped Esav to the point that he wanted to kill him.  All of this was obviously not pleasant for Yaakov, it was contrary to his will, but he would not give up on the right of the first born, since it was completely his.  Furthermore, Esav himself said: “What use is the birthright to me?” (ibid. 25:32).

 

Later on, the blessing was rightfully his.  And again – contrary to his will – Esav was set to receive the blessing in his stead from their father Yitzchak.  His mother, Rivka, called to him: “Your curse will be upon me, my son, just listen to my voice” (ibid. 26:13), i.e. all of the complications that are bound up with this deceptive act will be on me and my head!  This implies that if it were not so, Yaakov would have taken the blame on himself.  But Rivka exempted him.  There is certainly nothing greater than meriting Yitzchak’s curse!   Yaakov was saved from the curse, but Esav still wanted to kill him.  Not only was there grudge and hatred – “He deceived me these two times, he took my birthright and now he took away my blessing” (ibid. 27:36) – but now Esav wanted to kill him.  Leaving Israel was also contrary to his will.  Without any choice, he fled from his brother, following his mother’s command.

 

So too, when he comes to Charan, to the house of his uncle Lavan, he meets Rachel.  Rachel warns him: Beware of my father, he is a deceiver!  Yaakov responds to her: “Let your mind be at ease.  I am his brother in deception!” (Rashi on ibid. 29:12).  I know how to maneuver, how to beware of deceivers, “With the merciful you will show yourself merciful.  With an upright man, you will show yourself to be upright.  With the pure, you will show yourself to be pure.  And with the perverse, you will show yourself to be subtle” (Tehillim 18:27).  Yaakov did not intend to give in.  But an additional complication arose, also contrary to his will: Rachel had mercy on Leah, her older sister, who Lavan included in his scheme.  Rachel took the secret code, which Yaakov gave her to avoid being tricked, and gave it to Leah so she would not be shamed (Rashi to ibid. 29:25) – “And behold, in the morning, it was Leah!” (ibid.).  This is truly a major crisis and certainly contrary to his will, since “I will work for you for seven years for Rachel” (ibid. 18) – for Rachel and not for Leah.  But it was not meant to be.  The two of them will be like one: “Complete the week of this one and we will give you this one too” (ibid. 27).  Now everything was even more complicated and major tension evolved, “And Hashem saw that Leah was hated” (ibid. 31).  It was not active hatred, G-d forbid, but rather “And he loved Rachel more than Leah” (ibid. 30).  He loved Leah, but he loved Rachel more.  Loving less is not a great thing, but loving more is.  Regardless, Leah felt hated, and tension exited.

 

An additional complication – Rachel was barren.  Bilhah, her maid-servant, enters the picture, as does Zilphah, Leah’s maid-servant, and the tension grows further.  And then there is the issue of livelihood, for Yaakov works for Lavan.  As is known, Lavan was evil, “Your father mocked and changed my wages tens of times” (ibid. 31:7).  But Yaakov does not give in here either: “If he said: ‘Speckled ones shall be your wages,’ the entire flock would give birth to speckled ones and if he said: ‘Ones with rings [in their fur] shall be your wages,’ the entire flock would give birth to ones with rings” (ibid. 8).  “And Yaakov saw that the face of Lavan was not toward him as it had been yesterday” (ibid. 2).  Yaakov knew that Lavan wanted to conspire against him.  It was therefore time to leave.  This was obviously under the directive of Hashem.  Yaakov flees from Lavan, Lavan pursues and catches him, but – Baruch Hashem, everything works out this time.

 

  1. The Man whose Entire Life was Distress

The time now comes for meeting his brother Esav.  Yaakov, his wives, his sons and all of his possessions are on the way to the Land of Israel, and Esav is waiting to kill him. He has four hundred men with him.  Is Yaakov really going to continue on his way?  Why doesn’t he delay his return to the Land of Israel until the anger subsides?  Hashem commanded him to go and he is going, even into the face of danger.  As is known, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel exists even in a state of danger and it applies at all times (Ramban, additions to the Sefer Ha-Mitzvot of the Rambam, positive mitzvah #4.  Le-Netivot Yisrael of our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook vol. 1, p. 181 and p. 210 and many other places).  This is how it was throughout all of the generations: during the time of Avraham Avinu and time of Yitzchak Avinu and now during the time of Yaakov Avinu.  The new and innovative teaching that “saving life supercedes the Land of Israel” is therefore most surprising.  Who invented this strange statement?  It is obviously not a proper idea.

 

Yaakov thus heads into the face of danger on the way to the Land of Israel to meet Esav and his four hundred men.  He is also entrapped in a personal danger – he struggled with the angel the entire night and – Baruch Hashem – overcomes him, but he pays a price for the struggle: he limped on his hip.  Rachel, whom he loved so much, then dies on the way.  This was certainly contrary to his will.  And when he arrives in Shechem and desires to settle down, the episode of Dinah, his daughter, befalls him.  This is horrible.  His two sons cunningly kill all of the males of Shechem.  This is also very hard: what did you (my sons) do?  “You have troubled me to make me odious among the nations of the Land.  And I am few in number and they will gather and strike me” (ibid. 34:30).

 

Then there were wars.  This is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, but is hinted at and written in the midrash (for example, Bereshit Rabbah 81:4).  “And they travelled, and the fear of G-d fell upon the cities around them, and they did not pursue the Children of Yaakov” (ibid. 35:5).  If the fear of G-d was upon the cities, Yaakov surely “took care” of their inhabitant in such a way that fear descended upon them.  The Torah states: “Which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and bow” (ibid. 48:22 and Bereshit Rabbah 80:9).    This implies that Yaakov waged war.

 

And finally, “And Yaakov dwelled” (ibid. 37:1). Yaakov wanted to settle down in tranquility, but the anger over Yosef grasped him (Rashi ibid.).  There is no peace!  There is now tension between the children themselves.  Yosef brings an evil report to Yaakov and his brothers hate him.  In the end, Yosef disappears, “dies.”  “Do you recognize your son’s coat or not?” (ibid. 37:32).    And furthermore, there is famine in the Land.  They go down to Egpyt to get food, Binyamin is taken and then Shimon – enough!  How much distress can one person handle?!

 

The general principle is that Yaakov Avinu’s entire life was filled with crisis.

 

  1. Objective Crisis and Subjective Crisis

We already defined a crisis as an event which occurs contrary to a person’s will, i.e. everyone experiences crisis in their lives.  No one lives exactly according to his will, even though all of his desires may be good.  The first question is thus: how many?  But the more essential question is: how do you respond to the crisis?  There are two different types of crisis: an objective crisis and a subjective crisis.  An objective crisis is a crisis which occurs contrary to the will of a person and also contrary to the will of all people.  For example, a person breaks his foot, receives a cast, is limited and physically challenged.  And he then experiences the subjective crisis – how will I respond to what has occurred?  The objective crisis is sometimes quite minute and the response is huge in its force.  And sometimes it is the opposite: the crisis is truly great and the response is minimal.  Both of these are not good.  If a person’s close relative dies and he does not sit “shiva,” does not mourn and does not eulogize him – he is emotionally unhealthy.  But sometimes, people make a huge commotion over nothing.

 

The question is therefore how a person responds to a crisis: does he break, fold, despair or continue on in strength.  This follows what Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Satnov (Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh, chap. 2) writes regarding patience and how a person deals with tragedy: when a bad incident occurs to you, do not make it worse by despairing over nothing.  The world was not created for prophets who know what to expect ahead of time.  Sometimes one cannot beware of something bad occurring, but if it has already occurred, one can beware not to make it worse.

 

  1. Yaakov Avinu Repaired the Guile of the Snake

Yaakov experienced distresses and crises, but he did not panic or complain – he continued on!   From the moment of his birth and even beforehand, he continued on: “his hand held Esav’s heel” (Bereshit 25:26).  In the most complicated situations, he utilized different tactics.  The Shelah writes that Yaakov repaired the guile of the snake.  The snake was deceptive, and Yaakov Avinu also used deception.  The snake however acted deceitfully for evil purposes (see Shmuel 2 13:3 with Metzudat David, Rashi and Ralbag), while Yaakov Avinu used it for good (see Rashi on Bereshit 27:35 and ibid. 34:13).  It is true that sometimes one must use the trait of deception.  The Torah testifies about Yaakov Avinu: “And Yaakov was a wholesome man, who dwelled in tents” (ibid. 25:22).  It is rare that the Torah informs us that a particular person is wholesome or kind.  The Torah also testifies about Moshe: “And the man Moshe was extremely humble, more than any man on earth” (Bemidbar 12:3).  This is rare, since we may think that Yaakov was not wholesome.  The proof: we see various times that he deceives Lavan.  Not true!  The Torah informs us: Yaakov is wholesome: “his heart and his mouth were the same, he was not duplicitous” (Rashi ibid.).  This is not his “profession.”  His profession is to be a wholesome person!  A wholesome person sometimes needs to deceive, “And with the perverse, you will show yourself to be subtle.”  He sometimes had to dress in Esav’s clothing.  And what he has to do, he does without concern.

 

  1. Yaakov Avinu’s Bed was Whole

From where did Yaakov muster the strength to survive the most difficult and complicated situations? – with his brother, his father, his mother and his sons (which is the most difficult trial of all).  Furthermore, all of his sons were righteous!  Twelve sons and all of them were inside.  Yishmael was outside, Esav was outside, but the twelve sons of Yaakov – even though they sinned – were all inside!  This follows the statement of our Sages (Pesachim 56a and Tanchuma, Vayechi 8): Yaakov’s bed was whole.  This was unlike Avraham’s bed, which contained refuse, which came out in the form of Yishmael.  This does not mean that the refuse of Yishmael dwelled in Avraham Avinu, but the potential existed in him.  This is similar to a box of matches which has the potential to burn down a building.  The purpose of the matches is not to burn down buildings — they have a positive purpose, but one must be careful that the matches are not used to destroy on account of negligence.  This is also like a healthy person who carries a recessive genetic disease.  It is hidden.  He is completely healthy, but the hidden disease can burst forth one day.  It is possible to say that Avraham Avinu was a “carrier” of trouble, even though he himself was the holy of holies.  And this hidden trouble appeared in Yishmael.  And Yitzchak was a “carrier” of trouble which appeared in Esav.

 

  1. Twelve Shades

And Yaakov Avinu was whole.  He thus redeemed Avraham (see Yeshayahu 29:22 and Sanhedrin 19b).  He retroactively justified Avraham and Yitzchak.  He also succeeded in holding the brothers together.  Yosef brought an evil report – Yaakov listened.  The brothers hated Yosef – Yaakov waited.  He united everyone together, “he guarded this thing in his heart” (Bereshit 37:11): everything will work out in the end.  And indeed, as is known, it did work out: “Listen Yisrael, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is one” – just as there is only One in your heart, so too is there only One in our heart (Pesachim 56a).  We are united, Baruch Hashem.  Yaakov Avinu divided the brothers into their shades – this one receives this blessing and this one receives that blessing.  No one is pushed aside for another.  This is unlike with Yitzchak.  “Your seed shall be called through Yitzchak” (Bereshit 21:12) – through part of Yitzchak and not all of the descendants of Yitzchak (Sanhedrin 59b).  “For the son of this hand-maiden will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak” (ibid. verse 10).  And Esav was also outside.  But regarding Yaakov Avinu, everyone was inside.  There are different shades among them, as is clarified in the blessing of Yaakov to his sons (Parashat Vayechi), which later received an “approbation” from Moshe Rabbenu (Parashat Ve-Zot Ha-Berachah).  Each tribe and its blessing.  The Nation of Israel is assembled from twelve different shades, as Maran Ha-Rav writes rhetorically: “A war of brothers.”  There are wars between enemies and people who hate each other: us or Yishmael!  Us or Esav!  But there is also a war of brothers: The Halachah is like the Rambam or the Tosafot.  This is a war, but a war between brothers.  There is a war between the inclinations: the good inclination against the evil inclination – a war of enemies.  But there can also be a war within the good inclination: to learn Gemara or Kuzari?  To live in my parent’s house or my in-laws’ house?  I am torn – a war of brothers.  A brotherly war can also end very badly, as with Yosef being thrown into the pit and sold to the Yishmaelites.  But this is not necessarily true.  It can work out, as truly happened in the end.  Both are the words of the Living G-d: Yaakov divided each of his sons into different tribe, as did Moshe Rabbenu much later: “Each man in his camp and under his flag” (Bemidbar 1:52).

 

  1. Yaakov Avinu Builds a Nation

Without us paying attention, an additional factor exists: Yaakov Avinu is not only engaged in building his family – he is building a nation!  And what Yaakov Avinu is building now has to stand through the course of all generations.  The smallest blemish can be a catastrophe.  If a man builds a multi-story building – a small defect below can cause the building to be crooked higher up and it can collapse.  The Rambam says in “Moreh Nevuchim”: our forefathers knew that by establishing their family, they were laying the foundation to build a nation.  This is an explicit verse: “And I will make you a great Nation” (Bereshit 12:2).  Avraham Avinu knew this and Yitzchak Avinu knew this.  Avraham removed Yishmael from his midst, even though it was extremely difficult.  And Yitzchak removed Esav.  And in the end, who truly removed them – the women, who understood through their prophetic senses that these individuals were currently not to participate in building the world.  It was theoretically possible, but not in the actual here and now.

 

A great weight therefore rested on Yaakov Avinu: to build the Jewish Nation, which needed to include all of the different shades.  Yaakov was therefore married to two women.  Perhaps someone will raise the difficulty that the two wives appeared on account of a conflict and not because it was the preferred path.  He wanted to marry Rachel – “And behold it was Leah!?”  On account of this deceit, he was not going to marry Rachel?  Yaakov also married Rachel, and tension was born between the wives and their sons.  And with all of this, we see that this was completely Hashem’s will: “Like Rachel and Leah, both of whom, built up the House of Israel” (Rut 4:11)!  And this included the maid-servants and their children – all of them built the House of Israel together.  Building the family of Yaakov was complicated.  Building the House of Israel – the Nation of Israel – was even more complicated, and it therefore required all of our strengths together.

 

  1. “I am Esav, your first-born”

There is still a great wonder here.  Didn’t Yitzchak Avinu understand who Esav was?  Didn’t he see that he was evil and fundamentally corrupt?  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explains Yitzchak’s reasoning (Midbar Shur, Derish #29).  Yitzchak Avinu understood that a Nation was being born here, and its purpose was to spread a light among the nations, a Nation including not only those who learned in the House of Study.   There are times when there is a need to destroy evil by the sword and with war.  Yaakov Avinu was a “wholesome man, who dwelled in tents.”  His strength was not physical.  In contrast, Esav was physically strong. He knew how to hunt and how to wage war.  The Nation greatly needed this trait at this time.  If so, perhaps Esav was the heir?  Although Esav was evil, he could repent. In order to create a Nation, there is a need for “Esavs.”

 

But Rivka saw differently through prophecy, and taught her younger son, Yaakov.  Yaakov came before his father and informed him: I understand, father.  “I am Esav, your first-born!”  I am Esav!  When need be – I am Esav.  I am not Esav in my inner soul.  I am still gentle and wholesome within but when there is a need, I wear Esav’s clothing.  Our forefathers knew that they were building a Nation, that they were the root of a Nation.  Yaakov Avinu was the father of the Tribes as well as the actual father of the Nation.  He was thus a double man.  He possessed both his blessing and Esav’s blessing.  He had both his wife and Esav’s wife, i.e. Leah, who had weak eyes from crying since she thought that she would be Esav’s wife (Rashi on Bereshit 29:17).  Yaakov Avinu had to connect these two extremes to survive all of the conflicts.

 

  1. The Secret of Opposites

How was Yaakov able to succeed?  This secret was already implanted among his father and mother, who were completely different from one another.  This idea is explained by the Maharal on the Mishnah (Derech Chaim on Pirkei Avot 1:12): “The world stands on three things: on the Torah, on Divine service and on acts of loving kindness.”  Yitzchak’s trait was Divine service.  Rivka’s trait was acts of loving kindness.  Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, searched for someone like her for Yitzchak: “Drink, my master, and I will also give your camels a drink” (Bereshit 24:14).  She ran from him to the trough, and then to the well and back to the camels, over and over.  “And the young woman to whom I say: ‘Please lower your jug so I may drink,’ and she replies: ‘Drink, and I will also give water to your camels, You have designated her for your servant, Yitzchak” (24:14) – she is suitable for him because she possesses the trait of loving-kindness (Rashi ibid.).  Rivka was the opposite of Yitzchak in her fundamental character.  It seems like an impossible match.  They did not have children for twenty years, but when they had a child, he was armed with both of their talents.

 

Avraham and Sarah were similar.  They both possessed the trait of loving-kindness.  Avraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women.  But Yitzchak and Rivka were fundamentally different.  One should know that the more one’s parents are opposites and different from one another, the greater the child’s strength to overcome crises.  Yaakov was torn between his parents, as in the brotherly war mentioned above.  It is good to be a hidden righteous person or a revealed one – but who am I?  Where do I stand between them?  This is similar to a person standing with his legs close together – he is less stable.  If he spreads his legs a little, he has a stronger stance.  Another comparison: a person with only one eye lacks perception.  When a person has two eyes, they have greater depth.  Furthermore, the closer one’s eyes, the less depth he has.  While a greater distance between them allows for greater depth.

 

  1. Sensory Integration

An example of this idea can be seen through the wayward son (Sanhedrin 71a): “And bring him to the elders of his city…and say…our son is wayward, he does not listen to our voice” (Devarim 21:19-20).  Rabbi Yehudah says: In order for him to be in the category of a wayward son, the parents must have the same voice, appearance and stature.  The Maharal says (Chiddushei Aggadot ibid.): That is it!  If the parents are different and each pulls in his own direction, is it such a surprise that he is a wayward son?  Although the Halachah does not follow Rabbi Yehudah, we clearly learn that if the parents are different, the child is torn.  In order for the two eyes to see properly, there is a need for sensory integration.  If a person lacks this, he is drunk and each eye sees something different.  He sees double.  If parents are different, there is thus a need for integration, and when this exists, the children are firm in their souls.  By the way, the same is true from a biological-genetic perspective.  If two parents are cousins, generation after generation, the body is prevented from battling new bacteria.  If there are preexisting bacteria, there is no problem since both parents are immunized.  But regarding new bacteria, a person loses the ability to withstand them.  This applies biologically, psychologically and spiritually.

 

  1. Yaakov Avinu – The Middle Man

The Maharal (Derech Chaim ibid.) thus explains that since Yaakov’s parents were opposites – loving-kindness on the one side and Divine service on the other – he grew in the middle.  Since Yaakov Avinu was the middle man, he was capable of standing firm.  When a crisis arrived from the right, his powers from the left allowed him to withstand it, and vise-versa.  And when a crisis came straight on, he stood firmly in the middle.  The reason is that Yaakov Avinu learned Torah in two contradictory yeshivot.  He learned in the yeshiva of Avraham Avinu and he learned in the yeshiva of Yitzchak Avinu.  He also later learned in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, which is close to an “ethical university,” where he learned universal ethical wisdom, which was passed through the generations from Adam Ha-Rishon to Noach.  But he first learned in the yeshiva of Avraham Avinu and the yeshiva of Yitzchak Avinu, as it is written: “A wholesome man, who dwelled in tents” (Bereshit 25:27).  What is the meaning of “tents”?  Shouldn’t it say “who dwelled in a tent”?  No, he dwelled in two tents.  He learned in two yeshivot.  Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla explains in the book “Sha’arei Orah” (sha’ar 5, p. 57b) that Yaakov Avinu’s trait was the secret of the middle trait: it is similar to the central leaf of the lulav (“Tiyomet” in Hebrew), which holds the two sides together.  It is well-known that according to Halachah, if the “Tiyomet” is missing, the lulav is invalid.  The two sides must be connected by the “Tiyomet.”  Thus, Yaakov Avinu connected the two tents: the tent of Avraham, which is kindness and the tent of Yitzchak, which is strict justice.  Yaakov held the right and left together in the middle to the point that Avraham grasped Yaakov from the right and Yitzchak grasped Yaakov from the left.  This is the secret of the middle, which the Rambam discusses (Shemoneh Perakim, chap. 4): the middle path is the path of Hashem.  Don’t be an extremist.  Extremism damages even the most precious thing in the world.  But wasn’t Avraham Avinu an extremist?  G-d forbid. Avraham Avinu was the holy of holies.  But a child who possessed an extremist “Avrahamness” came from him – Yishmael.  And Yitzchak was the holy of holies, but a child who possessed extremist “Yitzchakness” came from him: Esav, who is Rome, who is Christianity, who is Western Civilization – who engaged in murder without pause.  And Yaakov Avinu – he is the middle path.

 

  1. Yaakov Established Ma’ariv

The Gemara (Berachot 26a) states that Avraham established Shacharit, Yitzchak established Minchah and Yaakov established Ma’ariv.  But the Tosafot explain that Avraham Avinu also prayed Minchah after Yitzchak established it.  Then what is the difference between them?  It is the emphasis that this one established Shacharit and that this one established Minchah and that this one established Maariv.  Maariv is when it is night, dark, complicated.  One must beware.  Protect us, Hashem!  During Ma’ariv, we do not connect the Redemption (mentioned in the prayer “Ga’al Yisrael”) to the Shemoneh Esrei but recite “Hashkeveinu” (a plea for protection) in the middle.  At Ma’ariv, there is an interruption (unlike at Shachrit): Beware!

 

  1. Everything is for the Best

Let us return to our subject.  Yaakov Avinu was the middle path.  He was armed with the strength of Avraham and the strength of Yitzchak, whether from his parents or his learning in yeshiva.  He was therefore prepared to stand firmly and not to stumble in any situation.  And all of his sons were also inside!  This is the most difficult of work.  But there were crises.  A crisis, as we explained, is a situation which is contrary to the human will.  How do I emotionally digest such an experience?  Do I wage war?  I will certainly wage war.  If I am sick – I go to a doctor.  If I broke my leg – I put on a cast.  But how do I not break subjectively, psychologically?

 

This is explained in the book “Mesillat Yesharim” in the chapter on righteousness (chap. 19).  There are two solutions.  There is one solution which is equally available to all and there is another which is for unique individuals.  The solution available to all: everything is for the best!  Whatever Hashem does, He does for the best.  How so?  I do not know, but it is for the best.  The surgeon causes you pain.  Do you think that he enjoys it?  G-d forbid.  He cuts your skin and by doing so, he saves your life.  After all, you know the doctor – he loves you.  If he hurts you – thank him, hug him and kiss him.  If he hurts you, it is a sign that you truly have something very severe.  If it were not so, he would not have hurt you.  Therefore, love him and do not hate him in your heart, and do not show him that you hate him.  Studies show that a high percentage of those who commit suicide are dentists, because of the enmity that is conveyed to them by the patients out of a fear of the procedure.  It breaks their spirit to the point that they are lost.  It is a fact.  This is the solution that is equal to all: everything is for the best!  You will understand in the end: Yaakov, how good it was that you fled from your brother, since you then met Rachel and Leah.  Everything will be clarified in the end, it just requires patience.  “I give thanks to you, Hashem, although You were angry with me” (Yeshayahu 12:1).  It once happened that two men went on a business trip.  One of them had to return because he got a thorn in his foot, and he cursed and blasphemed.  He later found out that his fellow’s ship sank.  He gave thanks and praise (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu 417).

 

  1. To be Your Servant in all Situations

And there is the second solution, which is at a higher level, which is for exceptional individuals.  These individuals have no personal concerns.  They are only concerned about the Master of the Universe.  And a person such as this will therefore say: what do I care about the distresses?  What do I care if it is against my will?  Isn’t the ideal to serve Hashem? What prevents me from serving Him?

 

In my youth, I once went to the mikveh with my uncle.  It was a big city outside of Israel and it had only one mikveh.  It was Erev Yom Kippur, and there was a long line to get in.  My uncle lost his patience.  The attendant looked at him and spit out: “My master, you’re impatient.”  My uncle said: “The time, the time.”  The attendant said: “Nu, what time does my master have today on Erev Yom Kippur?”  My uncle said: “My master does not understand, one needs to repent.”  The attendant got up from his place, pulled my uncle aside gently into a corner and said: “Please, repent.  Who is disturbing my master from repenting?!  Who is distracting his honor from serving Hashem?” Correct.  You can serve Hashem whether healthy or sick, wealthy or poor, hated or beloved, married to a good woman or to an evil woman, etc.

 

  1. I Did Not Take away Free Choice

Who truly prevents you from serving Hashem?  You can serve Him under all circumstances.  “A time to give birth and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (kohelet 3:2) – it is possible to serve Hashem in every situation. Nothing prevents you.  The Master of the Universe can leave you bare, without money, without family and without a house, but one thing cannot be taken from you – free choice.  It is not because it cannot be taken.  Hashem can take it away if He so desires, as he did with Pharaoh, according to one interpretation (see Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 6:3).  But Hashem does not want to do this.  There is therefore nothing preventing you from serving Hashem.  On the contrary, the Ramchal (ibid.) says that it is similar to an officer in an elite combat unit.  The combat officer loves difficult missions.  The more difficult and complex the mission, the greater he can prove his loyalty and love.

 

Perhaps I should therefore invite distress upon myself?  No, do not invite it.  It will come on its own.  You also do not know which type will come, and if you can withstand it.  Therefore, do not invite it!  If Hashem sends a distress, he also provides the ability to withstand it, but you should not “volunteer.”  Remember: Yaakov Avinu was able to withstand all of the difficulties by remaining on the middle path.

 

 

RACHEL

  1. I Buried Her By The Road
  2. Rachel And Leah
  3. The Love Of Yaakov And Rachel
  4. Give Me Children
  5. The Humility Of Rachel
  6. “There Is Merit In Your Works”

 

 

  1. I Buried Her by the Road

Our mother Rachel died on the eleventh of Cheshvan, which was the day when Binyaman was born.  The death of Rachel is not a simple or routine matter but a complicated issue which remained with our father Yaakov all the days of his life.  On the day of his death, Yaakov asked Yosef: “Please do not bury me in Egypt, for I will lie with my fathers… and I will be buried in their gravesite” (Bereshit 47:29-30).  Yaakov knew that his request would arouse astonishment in Yosef: In his case, Yaakov buried Rachel by the road and did not carry her to the Cave of Machpelah, or even to Bet Lechem.  Rashi says: “And I buried her there.  I did not even bring her to Bet Lechem to enter the land; and I knew that your heart would be set against me. But let it not be said that the rains prevented me from carrying her or burying her” (Rashi on ibid. 48:7).  Yaakov did not want excuses or justifications for his act.  This was not the reason for his leaving her there.

 

He knew that Yosef, the righteous one, was one of the great proponents of ethical conduct, as evidenced when he reacted to his brothers by saying: “And while you conspired to harm me, G-d thought to benefit me” (Bereshit 50:20).  This is what The Holy One Blessed Be He desires; everything has a Divine rationale: Look, now I have the power to save everyone.  Yosef never told his father how it was he found himself in Egypt.  Our Sages say that Yosef avoided being alone with his father so that he would not question him and thus be forced to recount what his brothers did to him (Pesikta Rabbati 3, Be-Yom Ha-Shemini). Yosef was among those who watched what they said; and he would have had no pleasure of revenge in telling Yaakov about his brothers’ conduct.

 

Our father Yaakov, who recognized this quality in his son, said to him: “No doubt you believe that on account of the rains that fell in the month of Cheshvan, I buried her by the road.  It was not at all for that reason, but for a Divine reason.  By His instruction I buried her there” (Rashi on Bereshit 48:7). Why specifically by the road?  So that when Nevuzradan would come to exile the Nation of Israel, and there would go out a great wailing of thousands of Jews including women, children and infants; and they would be broken, downcast and suffering from the oppression of the enemy, Rachel would arise from her grave to cry and plead for mercy on their behalf; as it is said: “A loud voice will be heard, Rachel crying for her children” (Yirmiyahu 31:14).  And The Holy One Blessed Be He will answer: “There is reward for your labors.…and your children will return to their own borders” (ibid. 31:15-16). The place of her burial is not by chance. Rachel is the motivating strength within the Nation of Israel. By her merit, the Nation of Israel remains strong even in the most horrendous circumstances. And so her children return to their home: And your children will return to their own borders (ibid. 30: 16). This return is not a natural process. Any other people, after undergoing sufferings and destruction, physical murder and spiritual incineration, certainly would have succumbed and vanished from the face of the earth.  But the Nation of Israel has a special power called the strength of Rachel, which keeps it alive.  We are not all the children of Rachel: Only Yosef and Binyamin are.  We are mainly of the tribe of Yehudah, yet we all say Rachel our mother.  Sarah and Rivkah are certainly our mothers; and Rachel, in spite of the strictly biological fact that perhaps she is not our mother, is our mother from the standpoint of spiritual strength.  The issue of the actual geographic location of her burial by the road relates to Rachel helping her children strengthen their resolve along the road to reach their ultimate goal.

 

Not everything in life is simple. We are not always at home, the place where we are protected from the material and spiritual standpoint.  Sometimes, we are on the road, and the roads are filled with danger. (Jerusalm Talmud, Berachot 4:4; Rosh on Berachot 9:3).  If the Nation of Israel is on the road, the whole world is also on the road.  Before going out on the road, everything is pleasant and good; and even the goal is wonderful, but it is essentially very difficult.  But how can we avoid falling, how can we survive in order to return home? For that, one needs special Divine strength which equips the Nation of Israel; and that is the strength of Rachel.  The entire personal history of Rachel, her life and death, are by the road.

 

  1. Rachel and Leah

Rachel and Yaakov lived through a sublime state of falling in love, such that seven years to his eyes were like a few days (Bereshit 29:20).  Seven years passed, and they found themselves at the end of a long road; yet everything faded away in one day: “And behold, it was Leah” (ibid. 29:25).  Leah was not on the way; Leah was already the goal, the ultimate purpose.  Despite this, Rachel was shunted by the side of the road; and all this anticipation vanished in one day. But Rachel agreed with what happen and remained resolute; for had she not agreed, she would have screamed and objected. At the end, after Rachel married Yaakov, they did not have children, but Leah did.  The entire passage of Rachel can be portrayed as a kind preparation for the appearance of Leah.

 

This theme is also played out over the generations between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel. When the Nation of Israel felt the need for a king (for in the days of the judges, A man did what was right in his own eyes [Shoftim 17:6, 21:25]), when they felt the need for a superior and central majestic personality amid the Nation of Israel, the first king who arose over them was of Rachel’s lineage, King Shaul of the tribe of Binyamin.  The excitement and joy were intense: We have a king, they said. But the prophet Shmuel cautioned them, that if the people wanted, he would help them appoint a king from the shoulder upward, over all the people.  Thi was not only from the physical point of view, but also from the spiritual standpoint.  After Shaul was appointed king, he returned to his home; and even when Shaul was with his own uncle, Shaul did not mention the matter of his kingdom, for he was extremely humble (Shmuel 1 10:16), and thus: “Hashem tore away the kingdom of Israel from you this day” (ibid. 15:28).  None of the pleas and requests for mercy helped; the kingship was wrested from Shaul because he strayed from the bond of devotion that existed between him and the Master of the Universe, since he abandoned his supreme duty.  Furthermore, this kingship was in preparation for that of David, the permanent kingship.  Rambam says that from time to time a king may stem from any of the tribes.  But on a permanent basis, only a person from the lineage of David can rule, for he is descended from the son of Leah, as it is written: “The sword shall not depart from Yehudah nor a lawgiver from between his feet” (Bereshit 49:10, Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:8-9).  The Messiah son of Yosef is a precursor to the Messiah son of Yehudah – son of David.  Even at the crowning, Shmuel the prophet hinted to Shaul that he was like Rachel: “When you leave me this day, you will find two men who are now at Rachel’s grave on the border of Benjamin” (Shmuel 1 10:2). Shmuel the prophet transmitted a great message to Shaul: When you from the sons of Rachel stand to receive the kingship over Israel, you will meet two men by the gravesite of Rachel.  And just as Rachel was a precursor to Leah, so too the kingship of the lineage of Rachel will be a precursor to the reign of the lineage of Leah.  It is not possible to do great things without preparation; this is the structure of the Divine plan.  There are things which are absolute, permanent, final; and there are things which are temporary, preparatory, and they too were required. During the transition from the reign of Shaul to the reign of David, there was enormous suffering, great pain and misfortune.  Similarly, the transition from the reign of Rachel to the reign of Leah was filled with great anguish.

 

  1. The Love of Yaakov and Rachel

At first, it seemed that the ascendancy of Rachel was something eternal. “The glory of the princess emanates from within” (Tehillim 45:14): This was a powerful love.  Certainly love existed between Avraham and Sarah, yet it is not written in Torah.  Agreed that not everything that happened was written, but there is a difference between what is written and what is not.  In regard to Yitzchak, it says: “And she became his wife and he loved her” (Bereshit 24:67).  Yitzchak had not met Rivkah before their betrothal.  Eliezer the servant of his father, was a man with a sharp eye, who drew and gave drink from the Torah of his master to others (Yoma 28b; Rashi on Bereshit 15:2), understood that Rivkah was suitable for Yitzchak.  At first, Rivkah alighted from her camel when she saw Yitzchak; but afterwards, when she became his wife, the text confirms and he loved her.  Eliezer knew exactly who was suitable for Yitzchak.

 

By contrast, between Yaakov and Rachel, a bond was created from the start.  Yaakov was filled with awesome strength: “And he rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well” (Bereshit 29:10). All of the shepherds had assembled to move the stone, yet he did it alone on his own strength.  Later, Yaakov kissed Rachel (ibid 29:11). At first glance, this was not an act of modesty.  The shepherds saw by the conduct of this person who came from the Land of Israel a brazenness, in that he kissed a young woman whom he had never met.  The shepherds considered he had immoral intentions, and that it would be good if Yaakov our father met Rachel.  There are people who recognize things without the need for a meeting.  Yaakov our father was not an ordinary man; he had the highest sense of spirituality: “And he raised his voice and cried” (ibid). Our Sages say that he cried because people were gossiping about what he had done, but had no understanding (Bereshit Rabbah 70:12).

 

Yaakov our father was a simple man (Bereshit 25:27), immersed in the goal of perfection.  He dwelt in tents (ibid.), everything for him was Torah.  He dreamed the dream of the ladder set earthward with its top reaching heavenward; and behold angels of G-d ascended and descended on it (ibid. 28:12).  A man’s dream reflected his will, his thought and his inner character.  But the Jewish Dr. Freud was mistaken in believing that a dream reflects the urges a man seeks to fulfill. Accordingly, if a person wants to revel in immorality during his lifetime, but he lacks the power or ability to act it out, he does it through his dreams.  However, there is a more interesting theory of the Jewish thinker Rambam who says that dreams do reveal the deepest yearnings of a person but definitely not yearnings toward immorality.  A person who inclines toward immorality, dreams that he is committing an immoral act.  An upright man, who is inclined toward the good, dreams that he is doing something good.  Yaakov dreamt that Divine angels were ascending and descending, a vision not based on reality.  So why dream something which is impossible to realize?  Rambam says that people often have high-reaching ambitions which are impossible to fulfil (Guide for the Perplexed 2:37).  Our father Yaakov, the most simple man who dwelt in tents, fled for his life, found himself in mortal danger.  He had no time to meditate on Divine angels; instead, he had to plan his escape. In a moment of respite, however, when he came to a place and spent the night there (Bereshit 28:11), Divine angels ascended and descended at that spot.

 

A person who dreams such dreams is not simply smitten.  At the moment he encountered the soul of Rachel, he immediately recognized it.  He suspected that these two souls, his and hers, were twins.  He had reached the level of ultimate inner elevation, a level so high that he was drawn closer.  The physical aspect did not interest him.  A man who does not recognize the whole night that this woman was not Rachel but Leah, is not a person who is interested in the physical.  This is a heavenly man.

 

The Gemara relates a story of a man whose wife had one arm, which he only discovered on the day of her death.  The Gemara teaches that she was certainly a modest woman.  Later, the Gemara returns to the story and says that perhaps she was modest. However, this is not the issue, for it is almost certain she wanted to conceal her defect.  Rather, her husband was certainly a modest man, for he never looked at her physicality (Shabbat 53b).  He was not interested in her arm because he did not get married to arms, but to a soul.

 

How is it possible that Yaakov did not realize the deception until the morning: “Morning came, and behold, she was Leah” (Bereshit 29:25)? It should be understood that Yaakov our father was completely holy.  The whole night he was able to be with a woman and not pay attention to her identity.  He was not interested in matters of body and flesh.  His love was spiritual, internal (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 240:90, Sha’ar Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun #7; Zohar 1, Vayechi 222:2).  Yaakov our father married when he was much older.  In spite of the fact that he lived in the land of Canaan, which was steeped in immorality; he remained pure all his life (Yevamot 76a; Rashi on Bereshit 49:3).  What it demonstrates is his great quality in not noticing that she was Leah until the morning.  Yaakov our father was an exalted person.  Avraham our father shares the same purity in that it was only during his descent to Egypt that he said to Sarah: “Behold, I know that you are a beautiful woman” (Bereshit 12:11; Rashi on Bava Batra 16a).  Our forefathers were not captivated by such external appearances.  Similarly, the love of Rachel was not based on her beauty but on the perception of the inner spark of her spiritual bond.

 

Was Rachel’s beauty spiritual or physical? Rachel was beautiful on both accounts, as it says: “A beautiful woman of no morals is like a golden nose ring in a pig’s snout” (Mishlei 11:22).  A beautiful woman who is far from the spiritual stream partakes of the quality of a golden nose ring in a pig’s snout, because values and beauty are not joined together.  “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a G-d fearing woman is the one to be praised” (ibid. 31:30), namely she should be praised for her charm and beauty (Le-Tzniut U-Le-Tahara BeYisrael, Or Le-Netivotai of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, p. 279).  Rachel had a Divine righteousness.  She brought in an additional wife [Bilhah] into her house (Petichta Eichah Rabbati 24; Rashi on Bereshit 30:3).  Leah’s quality was the greatness of her humanity and the depth of her vision.

 

Our father Yaakov was modest, entirely spiritual.  He spent the whole night with Leah but he did not look at her until the morning: “And behold she was Leah” (Bereshit 29:25).  Yaakov’s mistake flowed from the fact that the souls of Rachel and Leah were like the souls of twins.  Yaakov was a holy man, who had no desire for physical matters: “And he will bless the holy Yaakov” (Yeshayahu 29:23; Piskei Teshuva 1:124).  The bond between Yaakov and Rachel was the most sublime and glorious inner bond, for it broke through all barriers.  Certainly an embrace and kiss of this nature were forbidden, but this was a special situation.  The intensity of the relationship was so great that seven years were to him like a few days (Bereshit 29:20).  This was on a high level, yet there was someone even higher, namely Leah.

 

  1. Give Me Children

The love of Yaakov and Rachel is an aspect of the relationship between them; but was there more?  Was mutual love sufficient, and was there nothing more?  There is a higher lever, one in which love is bound to eternity.  Continuity is possible; eternity is attainable.  The span of life of man is circumscribed, but the possibility exists of a connection to eternity through the offspring.  Some element of man is passed on to his sons and daughters.  Not only is this a biological, but also a spiritual link.  The souls of a father and mother infuse their sons and daughters during their lifetime and even more after their death.  Our Sages say that a son earns merit for his father. How so? Even if the father is wicked and the son righteous, does the son earn merit for his father?  Consider that the righteousness of the son did not come to him by accident.  It came to him through the legacy of his father and mother.  This righteousness was concealed within them; the attributes of goodness were within them, but were delayed in their appearance.  These attributes are distilled in the son and provide retroactive confirmation that the attributes came from the parents.  Accordingly, a son can earn merit for a father (Sanhedrin 104a) – a son earns merit for his father.

 

It is written: “These are the generations of Yitzchak the son of Avraham; Avraham… (Bereshit 25:19).  The generations of Avraham and the generations of Yitzchak are as one.  Our Sages say that Avraham was called Yitzchak and Yitzchak was called Avraham; Yaakov was called Yitzchak and Yitzchak was called Yaakov, and they note that this is a deep principle (Bereshit Rabbah 63:3).  In other words, the basic principle is understanding the meaning of being called by a common name, which is that the father continues to live through his son.  The father’s soul travels to and reveals itself within the son’s soul until the end of all the generations.  And prepared for him, for himself, a building everlasting (Ketubot 8a; Sheva Berachot for a wedding) – for eternity.

 

The bond between Yaakov and Rachel necessarily brings us to one on a higher level, that linking Leah.  This bond did not arise from an awakening of mutual desire.  On the contrary, Leah was hated. Of course, Yaakov our father did not hate her, but “and he loved Rachel more than Leah” (Bereshit 29:30).  On account of this, then G-d saw that Leah was hated (ibid. 29:31): Rachel was loved more than her: Therefore Leah felt hated.  How did the bond form?  Through Reuven [which means “he will see a son”], “now my husband will love me” (ibid. 29:32).  Afterward, Shimon and Levi were born; [“Shimon” meaning] “For G-d heard I was hated” (ibid. 29:33), [and “Levi” meaning] “This time my husband will be with me” (ibid. 29:34).  This relationship was higher in intensity in terms of family, in its grasp on eternity.  This is the way they built for eternity.

 

After Rachel’s appearance, we see how much deeper the relationship became: Not only in the devotion between husband and wife from the aspect of mutual desire, even if it is a heavenly spiritual desire, but a mutual desire that faced eternity.  Rachel’s level was a preparatory level that could be surpassed.  It is impossible to speak of eternity before building a suitable present.  At this level, there is only knowledge of simple and basic ideas, meaning, all higher ideas are nonsense and lies.  One must start on the fundamental level in order to ascend to a higher step (See Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 258, Aliyah Be-hadraga).

 

The reign of Rachel had to come to an end.  She died on the road, for Rachel was not the ultimate goal.  Her goal was on the road; her reality was on the road; yet this is not so simple.  There had to be stamina for the road.  The Master of the Universe created Rachel’s soul with strength for the road.  She waited seven years for Yaakov, after which he was compelled by her father to complete an additional seven years.  Even after that, the problems did not end.  The bond that was created was sterile; because the secret of this relationship was limited to the state of being on the road.  It lacked something that would make it an eternal bond.  “Give me children, and if not, I am dead” (Bereshit 30:1).  I will be buried alive.  When Naftali was born, she said, “Contests with G-d I have fought [niftalti]” (ibid. 30:8); meaning, I fought the glorious fight.  But Naftali was not even her son.  When at last she gave birth to a son, she called him Yosef: “He is not enough, I must have more” [le-hosif] (ibid. 30:24).  After him, Binyamin was born, who rose above all the tribes, because he was born in the Land of Israel (Mechilta Yitro Be-Chadash 4; Ester Rabbah 7:8).  On the day she gave birth, she died, which is why he was called “Ben-oni” [orphan] (Bereshit 35:18), “Ben tza’ari” [son of my suffering] (Rashi on ibid.). This is not complete. “And it happened when she was in difficult labor…as her soul was departing, for she died” (ibid.).

 

There was nothing permanently established during the entire course of Rachel’s life; the goal was never reached. Even if it had been reached, we would have discovered that there was an even higher goal.  Rashi says that Yaakov cried when he kissed Rachel because he saw through Divine prophecy that she would not accompany him to the grave (Rashi on Bereshit 29:12, based on Bereshit Rabbah 70:12).  He knew that she would be with him yet not with him.  This was Rachel’s transient reign, which would cede its place to the permanent reign.  Romantic love must cede its place to a responsible love for the building for eternity.  And these two types of love are in essence two explanations of the phrase: “And they will be one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24).  Ramban says that one flesh is formed by way of love; but Rashi says by way of a child.  Two bodies merged through a child.  The explanation of Ramban is applicable to Rachel, to the love which was “by the road,” romantic love; while the explanation of Rashi is correct in the absolute sense, in Leah’s sense of building for eternity.  Such is the Divine plan of existence: Everything does not come together instantly in the pursuit of completion.

 

There are many difficult and complicated instances of transience, such as the building of the world, where completion is not immediate.  Even the creation of the world was gradual.  In the course of creation, each day was called “good” and only on the sixth day was it called “very good.”  Time is needed to permit the good to reveal itself in its fullness, and until then, we must strengthen ourselves.

 

Even the exile of the Nation of Israel takes a long time.  Many ask, did the prophets speak about this State [of Israel]; is this the redemption we are waiting for?  Surely, that is exactly it.  Before people talk about what is not good about the State, they should examine and analyze themselves.  In the Gemara there is an insightful story about a man who read the phrase: “Make known to Jerusalem its abomination” (Yechezkel 16:2).  Rabbi Eliezer said to him: “Before you examine the abominations of Jerusalem, go and examine the abominations within yourself.”  People examined him and discovered on him some small thing that rendered him unfit (Megillah 25b).

 

Certainly the State of Israel has not yet reached its ideal form, but it is on the way.  We speak of an ongoing process.  Every day that a person sits with his hands folded and waits for everything to come to him in peace, he will not share in the benefits, even if he joins in later.  We proceed on the road; we are forged there in order to withstand perplexing situations.  There is no short-cut; it is impossible to reach the goal without marching on the road.

 

This is the nature of reality that Rachel stands at the fork in the road. She not only stands there.  She herself is the fork in the road.  By her personal life, she teaches us the wisdom of the road.  When the Nation of Israel left the Land of Israel to spend years in exile, in the course of wandering on roads not yet cleared, Rachel stood and blessed them as they left their homes.  This is an example of the principle that the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children (Ramban on Bereshit 12:6, 12:10).  The mightiness of spirit and the greatness of the qualities of the forefathers are revealed in the sons through heredity.  Heredity is not only a matter of the color of the eyes and hair; rather in its essence, heredity connotes spiritual assets.  Rachel’s strength to stand by the road was transmitted to the kingdom of Shaul; and it was a bequest for all the Nation of Israel.

 

The marriage of Boaz to Rut was the dawn of the coming of the Messiah through David [Moshiach ben David], and the elders blessed him: “May Hashem grant that the woman who is coming into your house be like Rachel and Leah” (Rut 4:11). Boaz was a descendant of Leah, but was also blessed in the name of Rachel as the one who both built up the house of Israel (ibid.).  It was impossible to build without preparation in the interim; but completion of the building requires the absolute, the permanent.  The significance of the blessing of the elders is that Rut the convert would see within it all the active powers operating within the people: The power of Rachel and power of Leah.  Rashi explains: Even though they were from the tribe of Yehudah and of the children of Leah, they thanked Rachel who was the head of the home, and they placed Rachel before Leah (Rashi on ibid.; Rashi on Bereshit 31:4). Rachel was the foundation of the household.  On a foundation, one can build additional higher floors.  Our Sages interpret the phrase, “And Rachel was barren [akara]” (Bereshit 24:31) as Rachel was the head [ikro] of the household (Bereshit Rabbah 71:2).  Being barren is a terrible affliction; but there is a root and foundation which surmounts this affliction; and it forms the basis.  Therefore, they were grateful that Rachel was the head of the household, and they placed Rachel before Leah. They both built the house of Israel.  Our father Yaakov did not place Rachel before Leah, nor Leah before Rachel.

 

  1. The Humility of Rachel

Rachel knew her station, and knew how to act modestly and to make herself small. She conceded to Leah, and this was not an easy concession. She conceded because of her life.  Our Sages says that our father Yaakov sent gifts to Rachel, who was steeped in the ways of patience: This strengthened the bond up to the time of their marriage. But Lavan put the gifts aside in order to give them to Leah.  However, Rachel, who was worried about losing this righteous man, watched and remained silent (Tanhuma Veyetze 6).  She understood the circumstances of her position, endured the maneuvering of Lavan and kept silent. On the day of the marriage, Rachel warned Yaakov that her father was cunning and would certainly give him Leah.  Yet Yaakov said, if he is cunning, I am his brother in cunning (Megillah 13b).

 

However, Yaakov was a simple man who dwelt in tents (Bereshit 25:27), but along with this attribute, he had a penetrating view of the material world.  When he came to Shechem, he established a currency, bath-houses and market places (Shabbat 33b).  He was well versed in economics, business, in the cleansing of the body and its maintenance.  Although his head reached heavenward, his feet were firmly planted on the ground.  Yaakov recognized the hidden motives of swindlers and their reasoning.  Judges must be familiar with all the ins and outs of those who lie.  Yaakov our father was similar.  Accordingly he gave Rachel tokens by which to recognize her.  Since Rachel feared appearing scornful of her sister, she gave her the tokens (Megillah 13b; Baba Batra 123a; Petichta Eichah Rabbati 24; Rashi on Bereshit 29:25).  This was a level of concession which had no parallel.  Rachel therefore said to the Master of the Universe: And what am I: Simply flesh and blood, dust and ashes.  I was not jealous of my own misfortune. But You are the living and existing King, merciful; how can you be jealous of idol worship (Petichta Eichah Rabbati ibid.)?  Although she was jealous of her sister when the latter gave birth, our Sages consider that she was jealous of her good deeds (Bereshit Rabbah 71:6; Rashi on Bereshit 30:1).  She knew her sister had risen to a higher spiritual level; and she regretted that her level was lower.  Yet Rachel was not at all jealous; on the contrary, she was accepting.

 

The Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershom) considers that the righteousness Rachel displayed toward her sister was repaid by Leah’s offspring King David in regard to King Shaul, the offspring of Rachel.  David was supposed to have been king, and in effect was appointed king through Samuel; yet he did not want to displace Shaul.  Shaul pursued him, and several times almost killed him.  But David, despite his being forced to act insane and to live with Achish, the king of the Philistines, did not harbor ill-will toward Shaul.  Only once did he tear his robe, and regretted that he attacked the robe of one anointed by G-d (Shmuel 1 24:5-6).  All of this in spite of the fact that Shaul was subject to the law of a pursuer, which meant David was permitted to kill him [in self-defense](Berachot 62b). David was supposed to have been the king, but he did not press the matter.  He waited and was prepared to place himself in danger and to suffer.  In so doing, David repaid the debt of Leah to Rachel for the greatness of generosity she had bestowed upon her. It was impossible to immediately repay such a debt.  Many generations passed until David appeared and repaid it.

 

  1. “There is Merit in Your Works

Rachel our mother died by the road, a young woman not yet mature.  She married at the age of twenty-two and died at the age of thirty-six (Seder Olam Rabbah 2).  Everything happened in her youth.  Even the Gemara refers to her as a very young person: A child for a child (Baba Batra 123a).  She was a child, everything around her was in its childhood, in preparation.  We are all the children of Rachel; we are all always by the road.  Scholars have no rest either in this world or in the world to come, as it is said: “They go from strength to strength” [Tehillim 84:8] (Berachot 64a).  The whole world was built on struggles.  We have never achieved rest.  Man always finds himself at the crossroads seeking the way to go forward, how to strengthen his position, how not to succumb to the pressures along the way; only in so doing do we attain the position of Leah.

 

There are two sections in the Tikkun Chazot (midnight prayer of mourning for the Temple): Tikkun Rachel and Tikkun Leah.  Tikkun Rachel brings together the songs of Tehillim lamenting the destruction. Tikkun Leah is full of joy.  On those days when the prayer for mercy “Tachanun” is not said, we do not say Tikkun Rachel, and likewise on special occasions, such as the Sabbatical year [Shmittah].  In Tikkun Rachel, we cry over the troubles of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence.  By contrast, Tikkun Leah looks to the building of the future, replete with strength, spirit and courage.  But before we get to that stage, we must shore up our position.

 

As long as Rachel is crying for her children, she is alive and suffering; she is not dead. As long as she responds to comfort us, she continues to exist. To comfort means to restore something lost.  So it is said about Yaakov our father: “He refused to be comforted” (Bereshit 37:35) regarding Yosef after he disappeared. The rule is that the dead should be forgotten (Pesachim 54b; Rashi on Bereshit 37:35). It is impossible to continually carry about the memory of someone deceased.  Therefore Yaakov refused to be comforted, because Yosef was not dead.  We live with the living, and are devoted to the Living G-d (Devarim 4:4).  So Rachel refused to be comforted because the Nation of Israel was not dead, of which it is said: “Your work shall be rewarded” (Yirmiyahu 31:15). Rachel’s entire effort, her entire lengthy struggle, will be rewarded: “And your children will return to their borders” (ibid. 31:17).

 

When the return of the descendants occurs, Leah’s light will start to be brilliant. However, we will have reached the end of the road by merit of Rachel’s efforts. The road is however difficult and paved with tears. Yet there is a reward at its side; hence it says: “Keep your voice from weeping” (ibid. 31:15) because “And your children will return to their borders” (ibid. 31:17). Many misfortunes have plagued the Nation of Israel, although they have not succeeded in crushing it.  We are the descendants of Rachel; and we are not crushed.  We are not only like a king in peace time who rules with courage, honor and glory.  We are also like a king in the time of war, in difficult times; we are also a king in captivity.  We are like Rachel who was not crushed during her lifetime, despite her having suffered the greatest misfortunes that could befall anyone in their personal life.  There is nothing greater than the love that binds husband and wife.  “Great floods of water cannot drown love, nor can the rivers wash it away” (Shir Ha-Shirim 8:7), because love is as strong as death (ibid. 8:6).  However, it seemed this love was extinguished, buried by the side of the road, although it was not.  For that reason, the blessing says: “May Hashem provide a wife… like Rachel and Leah” (Rut 4:11). We are not crushed; we have strengthened our stamina through all situations; nothing has eradicated us, for we are the descendants of Rachel.  It is difficult to describe the situation of exile of a people from its land, as has occurred twice to our people.  There is a terrible feeling of the end, of ruin, of destruction of the country, perhaps even of the people.  Yet Rachel stands at the fork in the road; and it is this strength of Rachel, this Divine strength, that maintained the entire nation in the time of its troubles (See Netzech Yisrael of the Maharal, end of Chapter 1).  Our Sages say, regarding Rachel’s gravesite, there are twelve stones [twelve tribes] (Midrash Lekach Tov on Bereshit 35:20), because Rachel is our mother, the mother of the whole Nation.

 

Although the Nation of Israel weeps as it goes forward, yet at the end of it all, your children will return to their borders.  Today we are fortunate to witness the realization of the children will return to their borders.  Little by little, Rachel’s tears will be dried on her cheeks.  Your efforts will be rewarded will be realized after a long interval of two thousand years.  But even now, when we are in our own Land, there is more of the road to travel: We are still on the main road.  This is a perpetual state of existence. We will continue however to move forward armed with the Divine power of Rachel our mother hidden within us.

 

LEAH

 

  1. “And behold it was Leah”
  2. The Dudaim
  3. Avigail
  4. A Righteous Woman
  5. Building the House of Israel
  6. Loved and Hated
  7. The Sons of Rachel and the Sons of Leah
  8. The Elder
  9. Yaakov – The Man with a Dual Role

 

  1. “And Behold it was Leah”

Leah forms part of the story of Yaakov our father and the Nation of Israel in an unexpected fashion.  Yaakov met Rachel, fell in love with her, and agreed to work [for Lavan] in order to marry her. It was as if Leah appeared on the scene by surprise: “And the morning came and behold, it was Leah” (Bereshit 29:25). There was error, confusion, the unexpected. Certainly in life things happen regardless of simple human planning; for in fact Yaakov had no desire to marry her.  Leah was a secretive, inward person.  Yaakov our father did not meet her; she was not a shepherdess of her father’s flock; he paid her no attention.  A surprise then appeared.  The story of the switching of Leah is mysterious.  Yaakov our father worked seven years for Rachel, the youngest daughter of Lavan.  He loved her with tremendous love, a love worth laboring for during seven years, which in his eyes were like a couple of days (ibid. 29:20).  Rabbenu Bachya asks (ibid.): Generally, when a person is in love, is not each day of waiting for the wedding equivalent to seven years?  He explains the power of his love caused the difficulty of his work to lighten and pass as in a couple of days.  Bolstered by his intense love, he waited for Rachel: How much more intense was the tragedy our father Yaakov suffered through this deception.  Rachel also loved Yaakov, but she kept silent. The spiritual process that generated this event requires a lengthy explanation.  The central question is why did Leah agree to participate in the deception.  Recall that her father insisted that such is not the custom in our country (Bereshit 29:26). There is a tremendous amount of boldness in the story. She was expected to deprive her sister, to give herself to Yaakov our father who loved her sister.  How could she face Yaakov in the morning and for the rest of her life?  Where did Leah’s enormous boldness come from? The situation was so fraught with consequence: That made the tragedy so intense, powerful and overwhelming, and caused such a deep tragedy. In that context, we can understand that she had a reason.  Leah had to be endowed with a strong sense of self-confidence to make such a far-reaching decision.  The decision must have been based on the highest ideal which transcended the plans of Yaakov and Rachel.  Leah decided she had to marry Yaakov!  The Torah does not explain this decision; and Leah, who was said to be secretive, did not even see fit to communicate her plan to Yaakov in a transparent fashion. She made a sure and resolute decision, and accordingly acted.  She knew exactly what she wanted; Rachel accepted it and revealed the intimate signals [by which Yaakov would identify Rachel] to her (Rashi on ibid. 29:25 based on Megillah 13b; Baba Batra 123a).  Rachel knew that Leah was right, as did Yaakov according to the plain meaning of the text of the Torah. He never said a word to Leah; rather, he complained to Lavan about the fraud he had perpetrated (see Bereshit Rabbah 70:19).  He was probably troubled by the question of how she tricked him: She wanted to be his wife. And it appears that her determination overcame him. He said nothing about it to her.

 

  1. The Dudaim

Leah’s strength of purpose again stands out in the story of the dudaim Reuven brought to his mother.  Rachel asked that Leah give her some of the dudaim, to which Leah answered: Is it not enough that you took my husband, will you also take the dudaim of my son? (Bereshit 30:15). There was an incongruous comparison between a husband and dudaim. What is the comparison between them?  Ramban, the Ralbag and the Zohar (Zohar 1, Vayetze 156:2) explain that the dudaim promoted fertility.  The second extraordinary thing is Leah’s complaint.  She was the one who took Yaakov from Rachel, not the other way around.  Rachel was the one who did a righteous act and raised her to the status of a wife through incomparable self-sacrifice.  Now she was upbraiding her for taking him away from her.  However, Rachel did not answer.  Leah clearly recognized that Yaakov was her husband.

 

It was clear to her that this is the way it was, that Rachel was also married to him and took Yaakov from her: she allowed her to bargain with her, and gave her the dudaim only on the condition that Yaakov would be with her [Leah] that very night.  Leah believed Yaakov had to be with her forever; but since on that night it was intended that he would be with Rachel, she gave her the dudaim, provided that Leah would receive what was coming to her, namely Yaakov. Rachel thought it over and agreed.  When Yaakov returned home, Leah went out to greet him and said to him, come to me (Bereshit 30:16).  She specified, by the price of the dudaim of my son (ibid.), adding, “For I have surely hired you with my son’s dudaim” (Bereshit 30:16).  You are almost like a hired laborer, you must work for me.  It is a strong claim.  Yaakov did not respond and did as he was commanded.  On the one hand, our Sages praise Leah because of this act, despite its immodesty, and the inappropriateness of beckoning: Come to me, since the outcome of this act was the birth of Yissachar, who was very wise (Divrei Ha-Yamim 1 12:33; Eruvin 100b). On the other hand, our Sages criticize Rachel, who readily conceded (Rashi on Bereshit 30:15; Bereshit Rabbah 72:3).  The incident of the dudaim highlights the resoluteness of Leah’s decision, a determination without fear and without limit that drove her actions.  This is the strength and the scent the dudaim gave off, a scent referred to in the Shir Ha-Shirim (7:14).

 

  1. Avigail

The same determination was displayed by Avigail, wife of Naval the Carmelite.  David sought to kill Naval, but Avigail restrained him. Even though a lot of blood had already been shed, she said: “For my lord fights G-d’s battles… may the life of my lord be bound in the bonds of life” (Shmuel 1 25:28-29).  The attempt to kill Naval was based on a personal vendetta.  David accepted what she had said and thanked her: “Who prevented me from being stained with blood and from helping myself with my own hand” (ibid. 25:33).  At the end when he desisted, Avigail said: “May G-d cause my lord to prosper, and may you remember your handmaiden” (ibid. 25:31). Avigail knew that at this time in his life, he was now well established; but one day in the future he would rule over all of Israel. So she asked of him, “Remember your handmaiden.” What were her intentions?  What is the sense of this “remembrance” that she requested of David?  In effect, she requested David to remember her and take her as his wife.  This was very daring.  Our Sages comment on what Avigail said: “With head lowered and eyes lifted like a duck” (Bava Kamma 92b). In other words, the duck is a humble animal that waddles with a lowered head, yet its eyes are constantly raised in search of food.  There is a time for modesty, but sometimes, there is also a need for boldness.  Avigail was extremely humble, self-effacing and hid herself in her work but she felt she had to marry David.  She knew this and did not try to use a contrivance.  Instead, she told him by way of an obvious hint.  This was not the time for humility. Whether it was for her own sake, or for the sake of participating in the building of the house of Israel, David and the kingdom of Israel – it was a necessity.  In this respect, Leah and Avigail are similar (Sefer Ha-Kavanot of Rabbi Chaim Vital 38:3).  Yaakov our father is the foundation of the tribes of Israel and Leah wanted to cleave to him: King David is the foundation of the kingdom of Israel, and Avigail wanted him.  The experiences of King David and Yaakov our father are similar.  Yaakov had to be a shepherd to the sheep of the wicked Lavan for twenty-two years in order to bring forth from there sparks of holiness – namely the two women: to tear them away from the house of the evil one and to build with them the house of Israel.  King David watched over Naval’s sheep (Shmuel 1 25:25) for he also had a foundation to rescue, namely Avigail. Naval’s name describes his personality [scoundrel]. The names Naval and Lavan are written with the same Hebrew letters (Sefer Ha-Kavanot of Rabbi Chaim Vital ibid.).

 

  1. A Righteous Woman

Our Sages say that Leah was righteous.  From the day The Holy One Blessed Be He created the world, no man praised Him until Leah came and gave thanks, saying: “Now I will praise the Lord” (Bereshit 29:35) (Berachot 7b). The intensity of her gratitude was very deep (see Olat Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 1 on “Modeh Ani”).  There is a well known midrash about Leah that she cried until her eyelashes fell out (Baba Batra 123a; Rashi on Bereshit 29:17) for she feared she would have to marry the wicked Esav. Esav was a very important king; his offspring were scattered all over the world; and many kings stemmed from him (end of the Torah portion Vayishlach). Yaakov was weak, a shepherd who had fled in fear of his brother, yet she wanted to marry him. Since she did not stop crying, she did not suffer a different fate. Leah never stopped worrying about Rachel. Our Sages say that Dinah had been destined to be born a male; but since Leah did not want Rachel to have less sons than her handmaids, she prayed that this son be transformed into a daughter (Berachot 60a; Rashi on Bereshit 30:21).

 

  1. Building the House of Israel

On the surface, the tactics used by Leah were not pleasant. And morning came, “And behold, it was Leah” (Bereshit 29:25). Yet when there is no other choice, and when the goal we yearn for becomes obligatory, we are compelled to resort to this type of conduct. Yaakov did the same: He bought the birthright from Esav for red lentil soup when he was hungry and tired (ibid. 25:33). The Torah portrays Yaakov as a simple man (ibid. 25:27) – he was thoroughly simple. It is not the nature of Torah to give us descriptions of people: Yet here we are forewarned.

 

Some argue that Yaakov was not simple but clever. This is not the case. His essential nature is simple innocence. But this simple man is conscious that in order to deal with the problems of life, a person cannot sit with his hands folded, waiting passively for problems to solve themselves. Leah had the same approach to life. Her eyes were tender (ibid. 29:17): This implies a deeply gentle quality. However, certain situations require forceful action. She was driven by a strong force to marry our father Yaakov.

 

Her recognition, feeling and insight was inspirational for future generations. In the Book of Ester, when Boaz was about to marry Rut, he received the following blessing from the elders: “May the Lord make this woman who enters your home like Rachel and Leah” (Rut 4:11). Was there not a more appropriate blessing? However, the verse continues: “…these two women who build the House of Israel” (ibid.). These two women built the house of Israel together. Neither could have done it alone. Though Yaakov loved Rachel more than he did Leah (Bereshit 29:30), Leah found peace with this situation, which was by no means easy: She understood that without her marriage to Yaakov, the house of Israel could not be built. Leah was secretive and knew this secret. The prophet Shmuel who authored the Book of Rut (Baba Batra 14a) confirms her inner knowledge and her actions.

 

The four Matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah – are the four mother-wife foundations of Israel. The Nation of Israel derives its strength from their power. Although Leah was the elder and married prior to Rachel, her name appears last in the order of the Matriarchs. The Matriarchs are like four cornerstones, like the four letters that comprise the Name of G-d. They are the essence of the Nation of Israel whose source is G-d. It shines in four directions, corresponding to the four directions of essence emanating from the Name of G-d. Leah is one of those directions.

 

Leah knew that she was one of the four Matriarchs and she participated in the building of house of Israel.  Rachel also fully understood this because she co-operated with Leah in this activity and sacrificed herself.  Yaakov our father was also aware, but at first did not fully understand.  “When morning came, and behold it was Leah” (Bereshit 29:25), Yaakov confronted Lavan over his treachery yet did not mention it to Leah (see Bereshit Rabbah 60:19).  If he had understood the process in its entirety, he would not have gone to complain to Lavan. Had he not understood anything at all, he would have sent Leah away because he was entitled to give her a “Get” [divorce].

 

Yaakov our father was a great man: in his dreams he saw angels of G-d ascending and descending (Bereshit 28:12; see above chapter 4, section 3).  Leah was apparently even greater than he.  She did not justify her actions.  She kept her explanations to herself. She understood that not everything requires an explanation: Some things demand years of experience to grasp.  Leah was the secretive component in the building of the house of Israel, and in marriage.

 

  1. Loved and Hated

According to our Sages, Rachel is the world revealed, the revealed world, and Leah is the world hidden, the hidden world (Zohar 1, Vayetze 154, 158:1; Likutri Hara at the end of Sapra De-Tzeniuta). Initially, Rachel’s story is clearer.  Yaakov our father saw her tending her father’s sheep, fell in love with her, and worked seven years for her.  Her story is simple and clear.  Leah’s is not mentioned, except when it refers to her eyes as tender (ibid. 29:17).  Yaakov did not feel any connection to Leah: He did not feel under any obligation to marry her even though it was appropriate.  There are two types of love.  Yaakov’s love for Rachel is immediate, simple and romantic.  When Yaakov saw Rachel, he had a great awakening of love.  But there is a deeper type of love, more secretive and eternal.  It is a love filled with power and life that has the ability to bring new creations into the world.  Romantic love is a connection between two people, a harmony, a merger, a union, a reciprocation of attention.  In the second type of love, a new strength is born through this process, one of creativity. It builds a flow of new life, a new spiritual creation.

 

A noblewoman once asked Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta what there is left for G-d to do now that He has completed the creation of the world.  Rabbi Yossi answered that G-d makes matches. In her opinion that work was easy; even she was capable of doing it.  She took a group of servants and maidservants and paired them.  In the morning, she received them, beaten, wounded and complaining. The noblewoman understood that match-making was not a simple matter (Bereshit Rabbah 68:4). The Maharal explains that match-making does not only refer to pairing men and women, but to all couplings in the world (Be’er H-olah, Be’er Revei’i, p. 83).

 

The whole world is disunited and has many parts and divisions. There are separations between man and man, opinion and opinion, between nation and nation, and vocation and vocation.  Everything is scattered and separated.  The Holy One Blessed Be He, Who is One and His Name is One (Zechariah 14:9) is the matchmaker of couples. From the moment there were only two people on earth, fighting broke out, and Kayin killed Hevel.  Two people could not find enough space for themselves on the face of the whole world. The best match of a man and his wife requires only one spark of the Eternal Matchmaker.  The harmony of a couple is not limited to the feeling of one towards the other; it gives rise to a new strength. It is able to form a new creation.  Our Sages explain that when there is no harmony between parents, the fetus senses the hostility and suffers damage even before it is born (Nedarim 20b; Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 240:3). This is hard to fathom, but it is a truth found in a hidden, deep and intricate dimension. Love and children are not two separate ideas.  Rashi explains that the verse, “And they shall be like one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24), refers to children. Offspring are revealed within love and are above it as well.  They raise love to more lofty levels.

 

Things are not always as clear or simple as Yaakov’s love for Rachel.  His love for her and union with her soul were so well suited for him, he was strengthened to the point of being able to roll the stone away from the mouth of the well (ibid. 29:10).  When he saw her, Yaakov kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept (ibid. 29:11). This was not a vulgar kiss, but a magnificent spiritual illumination formed by meeting his soul mate (Bereshit Rabbah 70:12).  The emotion that the meeting evoked brought him to tears.  A man driven by lust does not cry.  Weeping is the result of being personally moved. Nothing similar is mentioned about Leah.  In the narrative, a pointed phrase reads: “Leah is unloved” (Bereshit 29:31).  The concealed side is unloved, unlike the revealed side (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 1, p. 29, 34-35 and its sources ibid.).  The concealed aspect irritates, confuses. What is true is that both built the house of Yaakov (Rut 4:11). Yaakov did not hate Leah but loved Rachel even more (Bereshit 29:30). This is relative love. Leah was loved less than Rachel, as it is written: “If a man will have two wives, one beloved and one hated” (Devarim 21:15).  This is also a relative ruling.  According to the law, a man is forbidden to approach his wife if she is hated.  In Gemara, we find reference to those of nine qualities, nine types who are deficient in their character.  One type is born to parents who hated each other at the time of conception (Nedarim 20b, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 240:3). This disharmony is absorbed by the fetus at the time of conception.  Therefore, Leah was obviously not hated, but rather, loved less than Rachel.  This is what Rav Yosef Karo explains in his great work in the name of the Ra’avad (Beit Yosef on Tur Orech Chaim, chapter 240).

 

Leah felt hated.  She did not merit abundant love like Rachel did, a love that transcended all borders.  The love for Leah was revealed slowly and was manifested in the names that Leah gives her children.  For Reuven, Leah says: “Surely the Lord looked upon my affliction for now my husband will love me” (Bereshit 29:32).  Of course her husband would now love her: She gave birth to a son for him.  For Shimon, Leah said: “Because Hashem heard I was hated and gave me this as well” (ibid. 29:33).  This son would also strengthen the bond. As to Levi: “Now this time my husband will be joined to me for I gave birth to three sons” (ibid. 29:34).  Regarding Yehudah: “Now I will praise Hashem” (ibid. 29:35).  Although it does not specify why she was thankful, the meaning is clear from the context.  Of Yissachar it is written: “I have hired you with my son’s dudaim” (ibid. 30:16). The term hire does not seem proper: It is hard and bold. Regarding Zevulun, “Now my husband will live with me because I bore him six sons” (ibid. 30:16).  The major work of establishing the people of Israel was done by Leah our mother.

 

If we say that the matriarchs were barren because The Holy One Blessed Be He wanted their prayer (Bereshit Rabbah 45:4), it was not the case of Leah.  Why? Indeed, The Holy One Blessed Be He said that the Matriarchs lacked nothing; they were wealthy, beautiful and wise. Had He given them sons, they would not have prayed, and He desires their prayer.  But Leah was less loved.  This missing aspect of life drove her to prayer.  It is written, “And G-d saw Leah was unloved so He opened her womb” (Bereshit 29:31).

 

  1. The Sons of Rachel and the Sons of Lead

The connection between the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah are likened to the connection between the matriarchs.  Yosef, Rachel’s son, was the favorite, the shining and prominent one. He dreamt of kingdom and of power, and after his descent to Egypt, he became second in command to the king. Yehudah, the mightiest and most important of the sons of Leah, was not considered for Yosef’s position. Later on, gradually, Yehudah’s status was built up.  He was switched into a leadership position. He stood before Yosef and Yaakov our father chose him to lead [their family] down the spiritual path (ibid. 46:28; Rashi there based on Bereshit Rabbah 95:3).  He was the decisive one.

 

This is how it remained for the rest of time.  The sons of Rachel have prior rights.  Yehoshua bin Nun was a descendant of the sons of Rachel.  So were Shaul and Mordechai. These kingdoms were considered temporary. King David of Israel is everlasting.  At the beginning of his reign, Shaul was impressive.  “The Nation loved him” (Shmuel 1 9:2).  But in the war with Goli’at, he did not rise to the task (ibid. 17:11).  Those who knew David did not think highly of him – even his father scorned him and did not send him to war (ibid. 17:16).  Later, Shaul pursued him; he hid for many years while his life hung on a thread (ibid. chapters 19-24).  In order to survive, he was forced to escape to Achish, the King of Goth and to feign madness (ibid. chapter 27).  Shaul gave him Michal his daughter (ibid. 18:27), but then took her back (ibid. chapter 25:44). Many discontented soldiers joined him (ibid. 22:2), and he guarded the sheep of Naval the Carmelite (ibid. chapter 25). This was not as auspicious entry to the monarchy; not love at first sight in the same way the Nation loved Shaul. Rather, we see a gradual rise in the midst of calamity. He became everlasting: David the king of Israel lives and endures (Rosh Hashanah 25a).

The same will happen in the future.  The Messiah stemming from Yosef will be organized, earthly, regal, and skilled in economic matters like Yosef. The Messiah stemming from David will be spiritual (see Ha-Misped Bi-Yerushalayim, Ma’amrei Ha-Re’eiyah, p. 94).  The spiritual will be despised at the first stage, but it will ultimately conquer.  There will be no need for rivalry between the two sides because both will establish the house of Israel. The Holy One Blessed Be He said to the prophet Yechezkel: “Take for yourself a piece of wood and write upon it, For Yehudah. And take one piece of wood and write upon it, For Yosef, the wood of Efraim…Then bring them close to yourself, one to the other, like one piece of wood, and they will become united in your hand” (Yechezkel 37:16-17).

 

  1. The Elder

Leah did not enter the Nation of Israel in a notably impressive fashion, but she entered nonetheless. She gradually rose high enough in stature to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah with the Matriarchs (Eruvin 53a). By contrast, Rachel was buried on the road (Bereshit 35:19; see Zohar 1 Vayetze 158:1).  There was no friction between Yaakov and Leah as there was between him and Rachel, who had said to him: “Give me children, otherwise I am dead” (Bereshit 30:1).  Leah’s advent was slow and understated, which made her all the more trustworthy and faithful.  Leah was the elder, not only from the aspect of age, but also in terms of greatness and importance.  She was much greater than Rachel and Yaakov.

 

To a certain extent, Leah was like Yaakov’s mother. A man meets four women in his lifetime: His mother, his sister, his wife and his daughter.  A certain Jew who delved in the depths of the soul [Freud] analyzed this. Even without his analysis, it is clear that the four different types of relationships are objectively different. Even though the purposes of the relationships differ, there is a definite connection between them.  A man’s wife, in a certain context, is his sister; as it says in Shir Ha-Shirim (8:1): “Who could comfort me as my brother did.” Avraham declared his wife as his sister (Bereshit 12:13; ibid. 20:2), not only as a strategy to save his life, but as a message (see chapter on Sarah).

 

Leah and Rachel grew up in evil Lavan’s house and both of them were righteous and anticipated their redemption. Rachel waited, did not know where her salvation would come from. When Yaakov arrived, he initiated the relationship. He had greater qualities and drew her to himself.  She did not know that Yaakov had picked her until he kissed her and told her that he was her father’s brother (ibid. 29:12).  Leah, in contrast, knew her place. Our Sages tell us that she was supposed to marry Esav: For this reason she cried and fasted (Baba Batra 123a; Rashi on Bereshit 29:19).

 

Esav, essentially, was not evil. G-d created him righteous.  If he had been upright, he would have been a great man, but he chose to be wicked.  Our Sages tell us that Esav’s head is buried in the Cave of Machpelah.  When Yaakov’s sons wanted to bury their father, Esav came and demanded that they save a place for him, preventing them from burying Yaakov. Chushim ben Dan, who was extremely strong, suddenly hit Esav on the head and killed him (Sotah 13a), causing his head to roll into the Cave of Machpelah (Targum Yonatan on Bereshit 50:13).  The Vilna Gaon explains that although Esav was wicked, there was place close to the holiness of his fathers for his head, which was his most lofty part (Likutei Ha-Gra at the end of Se’arat Eliyahu).  In the future, brotherly love would return (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 142).  For that reason Yitzchak loved Esav (Bereshit 25:28 ). He loved the real Esav.  He recognized his great hidden inner strength and hoped that through his love his core would be revealed.  But it was impossible to save him from his evil depths. Yitzchak, the introspective man, loved the secretive side of Esav who was betrothed to the introspective Leah.  Leah knew that she was intended for this inward and lofty Esav.

 

  1. Yaakov – The Man with a Dual Role

To whom did Yaakov belong – to Rachel or Leah?  Yaakov had a dual role: He is Yaakov and he is Esav, because Esav is not Esav. Yaakov took the birthright and the blessing for both of them. He also had double the children and two wives: Rachel, who had lesser qualities than he, and Leah, who had greater qualities than he.  Leah knew this, and therefore did not beg for her life nor apologize. She established that he was her husband; she told Rachel: “Was your taking my husband meaningless?” (Bereshit 30:15).  Her reasoning was sound, because it was based on the secrets of G-d, which she did not doubt.  After Rachel’s death, Reuven moved Rachel’s bed to his mother’s tent; he was punished for disturbing the beds (Shabbat 55b; Rashi on Bereshit 35:22; 49:4). One wonders why he was punished if he was just doing what his mother had done? But there are levels. Not everyone has the right to imitate the deeds of great people.  Leah knew without a doubt that she belonged to the house of Israel, that it was her duty to marry Yaakov, and that ultimately Yaakov’s love for her would be wondrous. Leah was eternal: The eternal kingdom of Israel stemmed from her sons.

 

Tikkun Rachel is the midnight prayer over the destruction of the Temple which is the basis of all of Israel’s sorrows, the eclipse of the Divine Presence and the general state of the whole world. It is not recited on days when the prayer “Tachanun” is omitted. By contrast, the prayer Tikkun Leah is recited even on those days. This is the way of the future. The strength to build the future of course depends of the realization of the present. Yet the future transcends the present.

 

The Torah calls Leah’s eyes tender (ibid. 29:17), which is the only description we have of her. Kind eyes are an attribute of Avraham our father (Pirkei Avot 5:19).  The beauty of the eye is more internal, more spiritual.  The eye is a window to the soul. Our Sages say that when a bride has beautiful eyes, there is no need to take notice of the rest of her (Ta’anit 24a; Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:1). A person’s eyes testify to his goodness; as such, there is no need for any corroboration. They are the sparks of the inner soul. Since her eyes were tender from many tears, her perspective was deep and soft. Leah was completely tender, entirely righteous and gentle, yet responsible and firm. Especially when she was confronted with difficulty, the Torah describes her eyes, which testify to her internal self, as tender.  She was thoroughly tender.  Leah recognized her role; she was ready to bear and deal with embarrassment and hardship.  But Yaakov and Rachel already knew Leah’s character from the outset. Gradually, Yaakov grew to reach her level. At the beginning, Yaakov was lower. He did not appreciate her value and did not understand her secret. He turned his back when she showed him her face, similar to G-d’s turning His back to Moshe our teacher (Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Ha-Tefilin, chapter 2), as it is written in Torah: “And you will see My back, but My face may not be seen” (Shemot 33:23). But over the course of the marriage, Yaakov’s understanding increased; the love grew between him and Leah, and that love built the eternal structure. She was buried in the Cave of Machpelah. She was the source of most of the tribes of Israel: The source of the eternal kingdom of Israel which will continue to exist throughout the generations and the days of the Messiah.

 

MOSHE

  1. “And Moshe was a shepherd”
  2. “And he went out to his brothers”
  3. “And Moshe grew up”
  4. “But they will not believe me”
  5. Light from Darkness
  6. “How can I bear”
  7. Brothers and Friends
  8. Listen to Me, My Nation

 

 

  1. “And Moshe was a shepherd”

“And The Holy One Blessed Be He also tested Moshe with a flock.  Our Sages said that when Moshe Rabbenu, may peace be upon him, tended Yitro’s sheep in the desert, a kid escaped and he ran after it until it reached shelter.  Upon reaching shelter, a pool of water appeared, and the goat stopped to drink.  When Moshe arrived, he said to it:  ‘I was not aware that you ran away because of thirst.  You are tired.  He carried it on his shoulder.  The Holy One Blessed Be He said: You are merciful in tending mortals’ sheep, so will you tend my sheep, Israel.” (Shemot Rabbah 2:2).

 

This is the fundamental characteristic of a leader: self-sacrifice for the sake of his flock.  He is not a leader for himself but for the other.  Egocentric leaders are only concerned with themselves, as it says: “Be careful in your relations with the government, for they only draw a man close for their own interests.  They appear as friends when it is to their benefit, but they do not stand by a man in his time of distress” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).  But it says regarding dedicated leaders: “And all who are faithfully involved in the needs of the community, may The Holy One Blessed Be He pay their reward and remove from them any illness, heal their entire body and forgive their sin, and send blessing and success to all of the works of their hands, with all Israel, their brothers” (“Mi-Sheberach for the ruling government” recited on Shabbat morning after the Torah reading).

 

  1. “And he went out to his brothers” (Shemot 2:11)

“And he went out to his brother” – Pharaoh said to him: you are called my daughter’s son, and any you can name your position (Tanchuma).  What did Moshe Rabbenu choose?  Minister of the Interior?  Foreign Minister?  No, he chose to be the administrator of all of the Concentration Camps!  Moshe said to him: I request to organize your work force.  But Moshe’s intention was only to see the enslavement of Israel (ibid.) – perhaps he could help.

 

“And he saw their suffering” (Shemot 2:11) – And what did he see?  He saw their suffering, cried and said: I would die for you.  He would incline his shoulder and help each and every one of them.  If he saw an adult burden on a child, a child’s burden on an adult, a man’s burden on a woman, a woman’s burden on a man, a elderly person’s burden on a young man, a young man’s burden on an elderly person – he would put aside his royal rank and do all of the work as if he was aiding Pharaoh.  The Holy One said to him: You put aside your dealings and went out to see the distress of Israel and acted in a brotherly fashion, I will put aside the supreme ones and lower ones and talk with you (Shemot Rabbah :32).

Moshe did not exalt himself over the community and he did not say “Goodbye, my soul,” but rather, was concerned about the other.  He is a brother who feels the pain of his brothers.

 

 

  1. “And Moshe grew up” (Shemot 2:11)

“And Moshe grew up.”  “But doesn’t everyone grow up?!  This is to tell you that he grew not in the same way as the rest of the world” (Shemot Rabbah 1).  “We have a tradition that he lived for twenty years in Pharaoh’s palace” (ibid. 11:20).  But this is surprising – is this a place for the leader of Israel to grow up?!  Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to learn in a religious nursery school, Talmud Torah and then a yeshiva?  Why there, in the midst of impurity?

 

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains that the thoughts of Hashem are deep. We cannot know his secrets. Only He can create circumstances.  It is possible that Hashem caused Moshe to grow up in the king’s palace in order for his soul to be used to being at a supreme level, and not used to being at a lowly level in a house of slavery.  After all, we see that he killed the Egyptian whole had stolen, and saved the daughters of Yitro from the shepherds who stole the water which the women had drawn for their flocks (Shemot 2:3 and see also Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra on Shemot 14:13).  Since he grew up as a free man, like the son of a king, Moshe Rabbenu learned how to stand at full stature with strength and courage.  In order to free themselves from slave mentality, the children of Israel needed to undergo a long process of forty years in the desert.  This follows what the Rambam wrote: that it is not a man’s nature to grow up enslaved with mortar, bricks, etc. and then to be able immediately to wash his hands of the filth, and wage war against the children of giants (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 32).

 

 

  1. “But they will not believe me” (Shemot 4:1)

Perhaps you will say: how it is possible to have a leader who is so different from the people, who grew up in a completely different way and did not grow up in the “neighborhood”?  Moshe Rabbenu was in fact concerned about this issue: “Moshe answered [Hashem] and said: But they will not believe me and will not listen to my voice, for they will say that Hashem did not appear to you.”

 

Ha-Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, explains that it is clear that Moshe did not say: “But they will not believe me” regarding the Redemption, since that is exactly what they were requesting.  Rather Moshe said, “But they will not believe me” that Hashem appeared to him.  The reason is that they did not know Moshe as a great Torah scholar, expert in the tradition of the forefathers, and he did not derive from holiness and righteousness.  After all, he spent his youth in Pharaoh’s palace, was engaged in different worldly wisdoms, and dressed and spoke like an Egyptian to the point that the daughters of Yitro thought he was an Egyptian.  People thought it was more proper that Hashem would appear to Aharon, who was already a prophet in Egypt.  This was Moshe Rabbenu’s claim: The people of Israel will say, “Hashem did not appear to you.”  If so, why was Moshe Rabbenu punished with Tzara’at (a skin disease) for suspecting that they would not believe him?  The Netziv answers that you should not second-guess Hashem, as the prophet Yeshayahu (55:9) says: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways.”

 

The Netziv concludes by relating to our time: Therefore, at this time, when we have seen that Hashem has done wonders for the Jewish settlement in Israel, and inclined the heart of the Sultan and his minister to agree to this, His sign is His word, and we should not be so wise as to say that it needs to occur in a different manner (Igrot Acharit Ke-Bereshit, Kovetz Shivat Tzion vol. 1, p. 17-18 and Ha-Emek Davar on Shemot 4:1 in brief).

 

And our Sages also wrote: “Moshe said to Hashem: The Children of Israel will say to me: you never learned Torah in your life and you were a shepherd to Yitro’s flock – what did you do to merit the Divine Presence revealing itself to you and becoming the redeemer?”  (Midrash, Torah Sheleimah – Shemot 4:3).  It later became clear that Moshe Rabbenu is the most supreme soul which appeared in the world.  “Never again has a prophet arisen in Israel like Moshe, who Hashem had known face to face” (Devarim 34:10).

 

Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes that Moshe possessed the most exalted receptacle which is the Divine light among a human soul (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 2, p. 159).

 

  1. Light from Darkness

“Pharaoh’s daughter raised the one who would exact retribution from her father, in the future, in her own house” (Shemot Rabbah 1).  The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, chap. 18) explains that the reason that Moshe Rabbenu, peace be upon him, was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, is like the Messiah who will sits at the entrance to Rome, since if it were not for the absence that was found there, the different form which was to appear later who not have come into being.  The Nation of Israel was born out of the collapse of Egypt.  The light of Israel appears out of the blotting out of Rome and the West, from the destruction of the non-Jews to the love of Israel.

 

  1. “How can I bear” (Devarim 1:12)

The role of leadership is not an easy one, and Moshe Rabbenu was exhausted from the burden.  “How can I bear alone your troubles, your burden and your strife?”

 

Rashi explains: “Your troubles – teaches that they were trouble-makers.  One person would see another win in court, and would say: I have witnesses to bring, I have proofs to bring, I will add judges to you.”  Then why didn’t you bring them before?!  Why didn’t you immediately say that you do not trust them?!

 

“Your burden – They were heretics.  If he left home early, they said: Why did Ben Amram leave [home early]? Maybe everything is not okay in his house [i.e. he is arguing with his wife].  If he left home late, they said: Why did Ben Amram not leave?  What do you think?  They would sit and give [evil] suggestions and think [all types of] thoughts.”  So much ungraciousness and so many evil eyes!

 

“Your strife – teaches that they were ill-tempered,” constantly complaining.

Moshe Rabbenu therefore received instruction to appoint himself helpers.  But who would agree to be a leader under these circumstances?  How could he convince them?

 

  1. Brothers and Friends

“I will take the heads of your tribe” (ibid. 1:15).  Rashi explains that Moshe convinced them with words: Fortunate are you, who will be appointed over the Children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, over people who are called brothers and friends.

 

But how so?  I thought they were trouble-makers, heretics and ill-tempered?!  Answer: They were both trouble-makers, heretics and ill-tempered as well as brothers and friends!  There is no contradiction.  And even if there is a contradiction, life is full of contradictions.  A father is angry with his son, and at the same time he loves him.  It is his son, he has no other.  This is our Nation, we have no other.  It causes us distress and yet we still love it.

 

  1. Listen to Me, My Nation

Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes: “Listen to me, my Nation, I speak to you from my soul, from my inner soul, from the connection of life from which I am connected to all of you, and all of you are connected to me, from the feeling which I feel more deeply than all others: You and only you, all of you, all of your souls, all of your generations, you are the only meaning of my life.  I live through you, in you, in the entire constellation of all of you…Without you, I have nothing…I must love you with an eternal love.  It is impossible for me to feel any other feeling…You give meaning to my life, work, Torah, prayer, song, hope…with you – my people, my nation, my mother, source of life, with you I fly to the expanses of the world.  With you eternally, I live eternal life.  With your glory, I am full of splendor and glory.  With your affliction, I am full of pain.  With the pain that is in your soul, I am full of bitterness…your Land, the Land of your hope, is holy to me, her heavens are the source of grace…” (Orot Ha-Re’eiyah p. 54).

 

 

MIRIAM

  1. Miriam our Sister
  2. Miriam the Teacher
  3. The Conversation of the Forefathers’ Servants
  4. With Drums and Dances
  5. Anguish and Bitterness
  6. The Little Warrior
  7. Beginning of Divine Intuition
  8. The Honor of Miriam
  9. Miriam – the Source of Bitterness
  10. In the Merit of Righteous Women
  11. ‘And Miriam answered them’
  12. Slander
  13. ‘Not so my Servant Moshe’
  14. Miriam – a Well of Living Water
  15. Death by a Kiss
  16. The Strength of Miriam

 

  1. Miriam our Sister

At first glance, Miriam the sister of Moshe and Aharon does not have a prominent role.  She is portrayed in a secondary light, despite the majestic centrality of Moshe our teacher as well as that of Aharon the High Priest.  Michah the prophet however does not see her in this light for he says: “And I will send before you Moshe, Aharon and Miriam” (Michah 6:4).  These three people always went before the Nation, and prepared Israel’s national redemption.  In the words of our Sages: “Three excellent leaders” (Ta’anit 9a).  The Master of the Universe established three leaders for the Nation of Israel at that time.

 

  1. Miriam the Teacher

What was the special role of this leader Miriam?  The Targum says: To teach the women (Targum Yonatan on Michah 6:4).  The Torah tells us man was created in the image of G-d (Bereshit 1:27, 9:6), in two different forms – male and female.  It is not possible to teach men and women in the same style of learning, because they are different. Each group needs its specific curriculum and tailored instruction.  The Master of the Universe established a special teacher to instruct women.  Moshe our teacher taught the men and was the first Rosh Yeshiva; in contrast, Miriam was the first leader whose role was to teach the women.

 

  1. The Converstaion of the Forefather’s Servants

The Torah does not spell out Miriam’s role, and does not mention the fact that she taught the women.  But reference is made in Targum Yonatan ben Uziel on the Book of Michah (6:4): To teach the women.  The following question arises: Why is this fact not mentioned in the Torah itself?  First, there is no need to elaborate on every detail.  Second, teaching is not only conveyed by way of lessons and lectures but also by the role model of the teacher.  Not to belittle giving lectures, but surely the heart of the matter is the character of the instructor who gives homage to the holiness of life, and in so doing, teaches.

 

Miriam the prophetess through her character was an instructor, but not uniquely through words.  This prophetess circulated among the Nation of Israel, and by her presence generated a holy atmosphere.  Even in the course of learning about mundane matters, it is possible to learn how to behave in our world. Our Sages directed us to learn even about mundane matters from a scholar (Succah 21b; Avodah Zarah 19b), for sometimes we learn more from his personal conduct than from his teaching.  From his teaching, we only get his reasoning about a subject – but from a discussion of mundane matters, we see his personality.  Accordingly, “And Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, took a drum in her hand, and all the women followed her with timbrels and dances” (Shemot 15:20).  She went out among the women, pounding her drum. In this way they learned from her how to act.  Often we learn more through this method than from what is said in a class.

 

Our Sages have a special expression: “The conversation of the servants of the Forefathers is more delightful than the teachings of the sons” (Bereshit Rabbah 60:8; Rashi on Bereshit 24:42).  The Torah relates at length the story of Eliezer and Rivkah, yet only teaches us by thin allusion a large number of commandments.  The Forefathers, and even their servants, enjoyed a state of spiritual perfection so elevated that in the course of their activities, words of Torah were spoken.  The Torah so filled their inner characters that it flowed outward through their deeds and words, and not specifically from words of Torah.  An authentic master is like a furnace that provides heat and radiates to the outside because it burns on the inside.  This is what Yonatan ben Uziel in the Targum teaches us: Miriam the prophetess taught all the daughters of Israel by being a role model.

 

  1. With Drums and Dances

By Miriam’s one deed, the Torah revealed the way to learn. “And Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, took a drum in her hand; and all the women went out after her with drums and dancing” (Shemot 15:20).  It does not say she asked them to go out with drums and dancing; rather they followed her example.  How is it they had drums?  In leaving Egypt, the women did not even have time to prepare bread.  Since they knew they would have to leave in short order, why did they not prepare dough for the festival? How interesting that they all prepared drums and no one felt constrained to prepare the essentials.  On the contrary, our Sages consider that this was a sign of greatness: And she took a drum in her hand….But how did she have timbrels and dances in the desert? Rather, the righteous were confident and knew that The Holy One Blessed Be He would perform miracles and great deeds for them at the time of their departure from Egypt: So they prepared timbrels and dances (Mechilta Beshalach, Massechet De-Shirah chapter 10; Rashi on Shemot 15:20). They knew that in the future miracles would occur.  Their concerns were spiritual, not material.  They were not concerned with bread but with drums.  It is extraordinary that in the midst of their awesome suffering in Egypt they believed in G-d and His promises.

 

  1. Anguish and Bitterness

Miriam’s name itself alludes to the dreadful situation of anguish and bitterness the people were suffering; she was named after this suffering [marirut] (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 2:11; Seder Olam Rabbah 3; Yalkut Shimoni Shemot 165; Abarbanel).  The Egyptians enacted harsh decrees: At first, the killing of male children; then the more cruel edict of taking babies and throwing them in the river.  The people were absolutely demoralized. Amram led this broken people out of the situation by divorcing his wife so that she could not bear any more children.  Amram, the head of the tribe of Levi, the prime leader, succumbed to the pressure and divorced his wife amid the anguish. When Pharaoh decreed that, “You shall throw all of the children that are born into the river” (Shemot 1:22), Amram arose and divorced his wife, for he said, Let us marry our work.  Every one arose and divorced their wives (Sotah 12a). Everyone followed him without a thought because he was a great man in his generation. No one spoke to the contrary among the entire Nation of Israel.

 

  1. The Little Warrior

But one person opposed him.  It was not a man, but a woman; not even a woman, but a six-year old girl, at the age of starting her education.  And she said to her father: You are wrong. Your decree is harsher than Pharaoh’s because Pharaoh’s decree only extended to males.  But your decree is harsh and endangers the entire people (ibid.).  Several generations later, Yeshayahu the prophet argued with King Chezekiah over the latter’s failure to marry because he had through a Divine foresight seen that he would have wicked offspring. Yeshayahu said: It is not your business to meddle in the secrets of The Holy One Blessed Be He; rather you have to do what you are commanded (Berachot 10a). Likewise (see Rama Mi-Panu, Sha’ar Ha-Galgulim), Miriam said to her father Amram: do not carry out your plan: instead bring back your wife. This young girl convinced him. Amram took her advice and returned to his wife. Everyone arose and returned to their wives. Amram brought back his wife to his tent, and Aharon and Miriam danced before them. Our Sages (Sotah ibid.) add that even the ministering angels danced with them and sang, joyous mother of children (Tehillim 113:9). This event was not a private one but a heavenly, cosmological and universal event. And so Miriam the child began in her early youth the struggle to establish the Nation of Israel.

 

  1. The Beginning of Divine Intuition

According to Rambam, there are ten levels of prophecy: The simplest level is that at which a person feels within himself a transcendent inner motivation to work with all his effort for the sake of the people of Israel and he merits Divine help (Guide for the Perplexed 2:45).  This was not the case of Miriam.  The first prophetic urge came when she felt a need to fight against the suspension of the propagation of the generations of Israel.  In fact, this was an issue so simple even a small girl was able to understand it.  Yet she understood what even her father did not understand. Our Sages ask regarding the following verse: “And Miriam the prophetess took her brother Aharon” (Shemot 15:20) – why does it refer to her only as the sister of Aharon, since she was also the sister of Moshe?  To teach that she foresaw when she was only the sister of Aharon and said: In the future my mother you will give birth to a son who will save Israel; and when Moshe will be born, the whole house will be filled with light.  Her father stood up and kissed her head, saying: My daughter, summon up your prophecy.  And when they put him in the river, her father arose and tapped her on the head, saying: My daughter, where is your prophecy? (Sotah 12b-13a).  Was this a logical consequence? What happened to reality? Was the result to throw babies into the river?  But she did not yield.  When she was just six years old, she was beginning to act as a leader of the women: His sister stationed herself at a distance to learn what would happen to him (Shemot 2:4).  Will he drown or will he not drown?  For he was destined to save Israel.  She had inner confidence and had no doubts.  The Master of the Universe would not abandon his people.  Salvation had to come. Our Sages explain that she wanted to know: What would come of her prophecy (Sotah 13a)? How would the savior of Israel come to fruition?  How would it escape the harsh decrees?  What was the unforeseeable solution?

 

Her prophecy would be fulfilled, that is clear.  Yet Miriam wanted to know how Moshe would develop as a savior.  How does a leader spring up to lead a bent, subjugated and crushed people with a broken morale?  How would the miracle be realized? How would the people appear with their heads up high? Then the unforeseen solution appeared.  Pharaoh’s daughter came to take charge of him and raise him in Pharaoh’s house. There, Moshe developed an upright bearing.  There, he learned leadership skills.  When he saw an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew slave, he hit him. And he smote the Egyptian (Shemot 2:12) with an upright bearing.  No Hebrew slave could have done the same: not for want of strength, but because of lack of self-confidence.

 

Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra writes: When Israel fled from Egypt, and Pharaoh’s army pursued them, fear of the Egyptians befell them even though they were armed [chamushim]: “For the children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt” (ibid. 13:18).  The people were capable of defeating them, yet they suffered from broken morale.  Logistically, they were able to wage war because they outnumbered them sixty-fold: However, the problem was not one of logistics.  Witness the fact that later on they were capable of waging war against the nations living in the land of Israel.  In effect, the people were demoralized (Ibn Ezra on Shemot 14:13), and only Moshe our teacher was raised with an upright posture (see Guide for the Preplexed 2:45; Ibn Ezra on Shemot 2:3). He held regal office, like Yosef in his time.

 

This is the way the solution arose, in an unforeseeable form.  Salvation came in a way they had not contemplated; in the words of our Sages: The son of David will not come until they are driven from exile (Sanhedrin 97a).

 

  1. The Honor of Miriam

The Book of Bemidbar relates: “And the people did not travel until Miriam was brought in again” (Bemidbar 12:15).  Millions of Jews waited seven days for Miriam. Miriam waited for Moshe one hour; as it is said, “And his sister stationed herself at a distance” (Shemot 2:4).  For this reason, Israel waited seven days in the desert (Sotah 9b).  On account of this hour, they waited seven days!  It was not a question of the quantity of time.  They did not honor her because she devoted a few minutes to her task. They did so in recognition of Miriam’s greatness and mighty courage; especially because she placed herself in danger when she approached Pharaoh’s daughter with the idea of bringing the mother to nurse the baby. And this ran the risk of arousing suspicion. What Miriam taught the women was the awesome strength of faith to continue on, despite all obstacles. Strength, faith and persistence cannot be taught in theoretical lessons: rather the life of Miriam itself was the lesson.  From the age of six and even younger she was a role model.

 

Who were the midwives Shifrah and Pu’ah?  Our Sages say (Shemot Rabbah 1:13): Shifrah was Yocheved who nurtured [meshaperet] the child.  She was the one who gave the required professional care to the newborn.  And this same Pu’ah was Miriam who watched over the child, embraced and caressed it and gave spiritual support to the mother; in this way, she assisted Yocheved in her task.  In doing their work, the Hebrew midwives did not obey Pharaoh’s decrees.  Yet we do not know whose merit is greater, that of Yocheved or Miriam.  When Pharaoh asked Yocheved why his decree was not carried out, she answered: Because the Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, for they are like animals [in birthing] (Shemot 1:19).  Miriam brazenly interjected before Pharaoh: She stuck her nose in and said to him: “Woe to him whom Hashem will repay.”  He was angered by her and wanted to kill her.  Her mother pacified him.  She said to him: “Are you her guardian?  She is a child and does not know anything” (Shemot Rabbah 1:13).

 

  1. Miriam – The Source of Bitterness

Miriam was still a child yet she had a deep understanding of everything around her. She began to organize a movement of rebellion among the people of Israel.  In the beginning, she made sure that no children would be killed by being immured.  Then she insisted that her father remarry, and in consequence, that the other men also marry.  She was the mother of rebellion [mar’i].

 

  1. In the Merit of Righteous Women

We know that by the merit of righteous women Israel was redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b; Shemot Rabbah 1:12; Rashi on Shemot 38:8).  Accordingly, women are obligated like men to perform the Passover commandments, even though they are time-bound commandments, since they were present at the same miracle (Megillah 4a; Pesachim 108a-b).  According to Tosafot, this is not only because they participated in the same miracle but also because the miracle occurred on their account (Tosefot on Megillah 4a and on Pesachim 108b). Without the women, everything would have been destroyed. Our Sages relate how women set up a great underground in Egypt.  Women gave birth in the fields under apple trees, as it is written: “Under the apple tree I raised you up” (Shir Ha-Shirim 8:5) and the children clandestinely grew up there.  They continued stubbornly to become pregnant and give birth; “And as much as they afflicted it, it would increase and expand” (Shemot 1:12).  They gave birth to six at one delivery, and according to another view twelve at one delivery (Shemot Rabbah 1:8).  We do not have to understand these stories by their plain meaning; the Midrash highlights the magnificent strength and faith of the women that prepared the next generation.

 

  1. And Miriam Answered Them

Miriam was not only the private midwife of this or that woman, but the midwife of all of Israel.  All of the tremendous commitment and all of the self-sacrifice of the women which gave a foundation to the people and continuity of generations – all of it began with Miriam.

 

True that Miriam’s name connotes bitterness; but there is no submission to bitterness: for in the end sweetness comes from bitterness.  In the end, everything falls into place and nothing needs to be destroyed.  Miriam taught the women to strengthen their existence, to give birth and to build the future generations.  In the end, the women went out with timbrels and dancing.  There was no question of beginning with timbrels and dancing.  Years of effort preceded the dancing.  After Moshe our teacher sang the Song of the Sea, Miriam spoke: by my will, something should be added. And Miriam answered them: “Sing to G-d for He is exalted above the arrogant…” (Shemot 15:21). Miriam explained to the women that everything that happens now comes from our merit. Even though we do not act through trumpets and the sound of the shofar; all that happens arises from our merit in not giving up. Now it becomes clear in hindsight that all of the activities of Miriam were correct.  This is what she taught the women.  It is not only through her merit that the children were saved from being immured, and the husbands returned to their wives, she also went among the people and gave the women strength and reason to rejoice. This is why the dancing was a rejoicing and liberation from the pain of reality, transcending all borders.  Who cared about bread?  The “forgetfulness” of women in preparing bread when they departed from Egypt showed the women lived beyond the material reality, beyond the simple human nature of man.  They lived in a higher dimension, freed from the constraints of physical nature. Miriam explained: know that all of the magnificent powers, all of the sixty myriads, all of the most honored forces of Hashem – it is we who brought them forth.

 

Our Sages say: Twenty-three women were honest and highly righteous in Israel, and one of them was Miriam.  Among them were prophetesses, and one of these was Miriam (Midrash Tadshe 21).  Miriam was great and honest, with simple honesty.  In life a person does not only take elevated steps.  Above all, one needs honesty (see Introduction of the Netziv to his commentary Ha-Emek Davar on Bereshit).  On a foundation of simple honesty it is possible to build many wonderful levels: But at the beginning one must build simple and conventional things.  Miriam taught this to the people: The true meaning of faith, strength, vision and salvation.

 

This was Miriam our sister, whom Micah the prophet compared to Moshe and Aharon on the basis of their redemption of Israel.  Was she superior to Moshe and Aharon, or inferior?  This issue will later become clear.  For all of these great attributes, a terrible tragedy occurred and Miriam developed leprosy.

 

  1. Slander

There is nothing to be done.  There is nothing to compare it to.  Slander is a terrible and threatening sin (Arachin 15b).  Even a great man can stumble because of slander.  There is no righteous person in this world who does good but does not sin (Kohelet 7:20).  Of course, this is not a matter of a low level of slander. Ultimately, Miriam spoke the truth.  She did not broadcast it in public: She only said it to her brother Aharon.  Not even to a stranger but to a member of the family.  She intended it for Moshe’ benefit, not to bring him shame.  There was no intent that Moshe our teacher suffer insult, for it says: “The man Moshe was extremely humble” (Bemidbar 12:3); and this was not an attack on him. It was certainly beyond doubt that she loved Moshe. She had no desire to cause him any pain, for he was alive through her efforts and she had risked her life for him.  What is more, she did not speak disparagingly about him.  In essence, her error was that she thought he was like any other prophet.  But Rambam (Laws of Impurity of Tzara’at 16:10) and Ramban (Book of Commandments of the Ramban, Seventh Commandment; Devarim 22:9) consider that the prohibition of slander is stringent, regardless of its truth, even if related in private, even to a family member, regardless of good intention, even if the victim is not insulted, even if the slanderer has an intense love for the victim. This is also so if the type of slander is not absolutely disparaging and if the slanderer is an absolutely righteous person. Slander is such a serious matter that the strict law applies.

 

But we are shocked how such a righteous person as Miriam could fail.  Our Sages explain that she saw Tzipporah was dejected because Moshe was separated from her (Sifri, Ba-Ha’alotecha 99; Rashi on Bemidbar 12:1).  This went against her mission.  It was painful for Miriam to see Moshe and Tzipporah living apart: her whole life was devoted to fighting such separation, against her father when he separated from her mother and the rest of the family.  And so now she put up a fight: “And Miriam and Aharon spoke” (Bemidbar 12:1).  Miriam’s act teaches us a Divine lesson about the levels of prophecy.

 

  1. “Not so My Servant Moshe”

G-d said: Everything you say is correct with respect to the rest of the prophets.  If a prophet comes to you (ibid. 12:6) but, “Not so my servant Moshe!” (ibid. 12:7).  Moshe our teacher was not a prophet.  He was a different type, from another dimension.  Rambam says: True, he is called a prophet, but for lack of a better word (Guide for the Perplexed 1:54-2:35).  The difference between Moshe and the other prophets is like the difference between the prophets and us. “Not so my servant Moshe.”  He was in another reality, another dimension, another law, a different type of person unlike any other in the world.

 

This fact was not known to Miriam, to Aharon and the whole people.  But after that day, after the narrative on Miriam, everyone knew it.  A unique commandment is found in Torah: Remember what Hashem, G-d, did to Miriam (Devarim 24:9).  What are we to remember?  Our master, Rav Kook, explains that in the section on Miriam, we learn that Moshe our teacher was a prophet of a different and higher sort: And this is more reflective of the eternity of the Torah.  A prophet has never been able to change the Torah (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 334).  We are not allowed to say that a prophet can prohibit or permit, but Moshe our teacher is not a prophet in the usual sense.  All the prophets compared to him are like the peel of the garlic.  Miriam’s mistake is therefore a terrible error.

 

However, this error is a sign and symbol for future generations which founded the Torah on a strong and eternal base.  Until Miriam’s mistake, we did not know that Moshe our teacher was a prophet of a different sort.  We were not told and we stumbled.  Good thing that it was now clarified.  Miriam herself was a prophetess: in her childhood, she foresaw that her mother would bear a child who would save Israel.  She did not know how true her prophecy was.  And she was not aware that Moshe would become so elevated and would lead a redemption greater than all other redemptions.

 

Miriam did not care that she received a Divine slap on the cheek, if the result was that the people recognized who Moshe our teacher was.  This is the basis of the eternity of Torah.  The Rambam writes that a prophet who makes a legal ruling is liable to death by strangulation (Laws of the Foundations of Torah 9:4).  A prophet is prohibited from issuing legal rulings. His responsibility is to speak about truth, honesty, morals and the nation’s conduct. The sovereign power to issue legal rulings was given only to Moshe our teacher.  Miriam’s mistake brought these new concepts to light; and she accepted punishment out of love.  In so doing, she continued her role of midwife to the people of Israel, directed toward uniting the nation and the bringing the redeemer of Israel. No one can base himself on the words of Torah without stumbling over them (Gittin 43a).  Miriam’s error strengthened the structure even more.  Meanwhile, she developed leprosy. No favoritism: If her father had spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days.  Let her be shut out from the camp seven days (Bemidbar 12:14).

 

The Nation of Israel said: If she remains, we will all stay back, for we exist because of her merit.  And the people did not travel (ibid. 12:15). At that moment, The Holy One Blessed Be He granted her great honor, because of the hour she waited for Moshe when he was placed in the river (Sotah 9b): that was when the depth of her faith was revealed.  Miriam was not a marginal person.  A marginal person would not have delayed the people.  Her mistake made it clear to everyone who Moshe was and who Miriam was.  Miriam’s foundation supported the nation’s firm stand in honesty and courage. Above this rise higher levels, based on the strength of Moshe our teacher.  Before learning Torah, we should learn faith in order not to crumble.

 

  1. Miriam – Well of Living Water

When Miriam passed away, the people gathered together: And Miriam died there (Bemidbar 20:1). And there was no water for the people (ibid. 20:2). Miriam died and the well dried up (Ta’anit 9a).  The waters that had nourished the people disappeared.  Then came the episode of the striking of the rock and the waters of Merivah.  Moshe, Aharon and Miriam led the Nation of Israel at the time of its formation.  They all passed away in the same year. The miracle-filled leadership passed away in steps, first Miriam, then Aharon and finally Moshe our teacher.  Aharon had a unique spiritual function, devotion to G-d and the priesthood; while Miriam helped Moshe our teacher in the practical aspects of leading the people.

 

Miriam – the miraculous Divine force that operates within the Nation, a power that is beyond this world.  Its goal is building the life of the Nation. Our Sages say: By the merit of [Avraham saying, when the angels came to visit him] “Please take a little water” (Bereshit 18:4), they received entitlement to Miriam’s well (Baba Metzia 86b). This simple honesty was the introduction to the Torah.  Miriam’s entire personality was: Please take a little water.  Not only because there was Miriam’s well, but because Miriam was the force of the well that brought water, life and growth to the people.  She was the eternal strength within the nation. Our Sages say that anyone who wants to see Miriam’s well should go up to the top of Mount Carmel, look out and see a type of sieve in the sea : that is Miriam’s well (Shabbat 35a; see Ein Iya, 3; Shabbat 2:295-296, pp. 215-216).  If there is a person who sees nothing, let him climb higher and higher, for one who rises up will see the hidden strength of the people, the strength of the well, the intensity of the power, the strength of growth.  Some say the well is not in the Carmel but in Lake Kinneret.  There is a story of a man afflicted with a boils, who immersed in the waters of Tiveria: When a drop from Miriam’s well touched him, he was cured (Kohelet Rabbah 5 :9; see Bamidbar Rabbah 19 :15; Midrash Tehillim 25). Without argument, the strength of Miriam enlightens us all.

 

  1. Death by a Kiss

Our Sages inform us that Miriam died by a kiss (Baba Batra 17a; Rashi on Bemidbar 20:26).  With respect to Aharon’s death, the text is clear: By the mouth of G-d (Bemidbar 33:38).  Moshe our teacher also died by a kiss (Devarim 34:5).  With respect to Miriam, there is no clear statement, but we know that was the case.  There is no overt reference to the death of a woman by a kiss, out of respect for G-d (Baba Batra 17a; Rashi on Bemidbar 20:26).

 

Our Sages at the beginning of Tractate Berachot explain a number of forms of death.  A man who is very bound up in material existence finds it difficult to separate himself from this world. This is like trying to draw a thread through a hole too small, or tearing wool while trying to separate it from thorns. Such a person is tied to the materialism of this world and prefers not to leave it.  A spiritual person is not caught up in material pleasures.  He is thoroughly spiritual, completely idealistic, and his death is like removing a hair from milk (Berachot 8a). He is in no way materialistic, insensitive or egoistic.  His whole life is based on who acquired me with a kiss of his mouth (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:2).  A person whose life is of this order deserves to die by a kiss.  It is clear to us that Moshe’ life was a kiss from above and the same with Aharon the Kohen.  The insight is that the life of Miriam was also a matter of a kiss.  This was not a kiss in the sense of learning in the house of study or in the service of the Temple, which however is also a kiss.  Devotion to The Holy One Blessed Be He also falls within the ordinary course of life. It means not becoming demoralized, but rather beleiving, continuing and building each and every minute.  This is also devotion. Our Sages inform us that the passing of Miriam was death by a kiss; everyone who succeeded her in her generation and in the transitions of generations deserved death by a kiss.

 

  1. The Strength of Miriam

Miriam was the well that yielded water, that permitted growth, and fortified the hands of those who sowed with tears of bitterness and who harvested with joy.  The believers in The Holy One Blessed Be He continued to sow (Shabbat 31a, Tosafot based on the Jerusalem Talmud).

 

This was the strength of Miriam.  Miriam’s well was established in the people of Israel of that generation through righteous women, as in all generations.  This was the people’s fundamental inner strength, concealed within the daughters of Israel. They often had a greater intensity of faith than the men (see Berachot 17a), and greater fortitude in their situation.  They were not demoralized, for they continued on and built the next generations and the continuum of generations of the people of Israel.

 

Did Miriam have sons? Miriam was married to Calev ben Yefuneh, and their son was Chur who tried to stop the people from committing the sin of the Golden Calf, but was trampled to death (Sanhedrin 7a; Shemot Rabbah 41:7; Vayikra Rabbah 10:3; Rashi on Shemot 32:5).  Her grandson was Betzalel who built the Tabernacle. About the midwives, it is said: “And he made them houses” (Shemot 1:21). And Our Sages say: Houses of Cohanim and houses of kings (Sotah 11b; Rashi on Shemot ibid.).  The Messiah comes from Miriam.  Miriam’s strength is incorporated in the salvation of Israel.

 

 

SHIMSHON

  1. A Strange Man
  2. Nazir
  3. “The spirit of Hashem began to resound”
  4. A Courageous Spirit
  5. “He sought a pretext against the Philistines”
  6. There are No Miracles for Naught
  7. “Dan is a lion cub”
  8. “Dan shall judge his people”
  9. “A snake on the road”
  10. A Hidden Righteous Person
  11. Within Impure Worlds
  12. Like a Strand of Hair
  13. The One who Falls and Gets Up
  14. “Let me die with the Philistines”
  15. “Shimshon in his generation was like Aharon in his generation”
  16. “It is from Hashem”

 

  1. A Strange Man

On the face on it, this man who appears in the Book of Shoftim is quite different than other judges.  He is a rather strange man.  He does not act as a judge, leader or military man but engages in odd adventures: he knocks down gates and carries them on his back, gets involved with Philistine women, captures foxes and lights fires with them, tells riddles and kills people in order to take their garments.  What benefit is this to us?  It is true that the Philistines caused us much distress, and any act of vengeance is justified, but there is an immense gap between these acts and the statement “And he judged Israel” (Shoftim 16:31).

 

We cannot deny that this was a man who possessed incredible strength.  He takes the jaw of a donkey and kills one thousand men (ibid. 15:16).  But instead of utilizing his strengthen for the beneficial and constructive purpose of saving the Nation of Israel, he uses it for his personal adventures.  During his entire life, he wanders, with long hair, like a hippie, detached from society, far from Judaism, living among the Philistines, marrying their daughters and using his strength for nonsense and vanities.  He does not have a friend, Rabbi, supporters or students.  This is most surprising: what is his place in the Book of Shoftim?

 

There are in fact researchers, including religious ones, who claim: “This is clear proof that physical prowess has nothing to do with us.  Hashem once ‘tried’ to bring a person who possessed strength, but it became clear that the result was the exact opposite of holiness.  This man did not live a holy life.  On the contrary, he became defiled through empty acts and the impurity of non-Jews.  The concepts of holiness and strength are in the category of ‘and they did not draw near to one another’ (Shemot 14:20).  We were not created to be strong, physical heroes.  We are weak and pitiful.  This is what we are meant to be.  After all, look what became of Shimshon who possessed strength.”  This is what appears when one learns the Book of Shoftim on a surface, superficial level.

 

  1. Nazir

We are obviously not surface readers.  It is true that this is a man with long hair, but this is not simply because of a desire to look good.  He is a Nazir, and it is therefore forbidden for him to cut the hair on his head.  “And razor should not touch his head because the boy will be a Nazir of G-d” (Shoftim 13:5).  Furthermore, he is not a regular Nazir but a Nazir from birth.  A Nazir is a supremely holy person, who raises himself above simple, lowly and base matters which interest other people.  Before Shimshon’s birth, an angel informs his mother: “He will be a Nazir of G-d.”  What is the need for this?  Perhaps it is preferable to give him the opportunity to decide on his own?  Why do they decide for him?  There is a special reason: He will not be elevated for his own personal righteousness and holiness – he can worry about this himself – but “The child will be a Nazir of G-d from the womb, and he will begin to save Israel from the Philistines” (ibid. 13:5).

 

This man’s role is to begin saving us from the Philistines.  He needs to be a Nazir for this purpose?  It seems that one would need to be a military man, not a Nazir.  And did he truly act like a Nazir of G-d?  It does not appear as such.  While we do not have Nezirim (plural of Nazir) today, I merited meeting Ha-Rav David Cohain ztz”l, the student of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, who was called the “Nazir.”  He also had long hair, but above all he was a gentle person, who had a completely good heart, wisdom and holiness.  He respected and loved every person.  He smiled and helped everyone.  He possessed an incredible wisdom of holiness, and was also a genius in science, philosophy and languages.  This is “the boy will be a Nazir of G-d from birth until the day of his death” (ibid. v. 7).  It is true that there was a Divine announcement regarding Shimshon, but in reality it does not appear to be so.

 

  1. “The spirit of Hashem began to resound”

Furthermore, it is not only that there was a Divine decision that this man would be a Nazir, but a verse also testifies that he possessed “Ruach Ha-Kodesh” (Holy Spirit).  “And the spirit of Hashem began to resound in the camp of Dan, between Tzorah and Eshta’ol” (ibid. v. 25).  A “Ruach Ha-Kodesh” is not something which immediately appears and descends upon one who is not ready for it.  It appears slowly, out of an ethical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual elevation.  After intense efforts, a Holy Spirit reveals itself little-by-little, while crumbs of spiritual awakening appear.  Shimshon was in fact a very serious person, and the spirit of Hashem resounded within him.  Perhaps he only possessed a Holy Spirit at first but later deteriorated?  This is not so, as we see from the fact that the text tells us three times that the Holy Spirit was within him.  In the incident with the lion: “And the spirit of Hashem came mightily upon him, and he tore him apart as he would have torn a kid” (ibid. 14:6).  He accomplished this with the Holy Spirit which rested upon him.  Even after Shimshon had obligated himself to pay thirty garments if someone solved his riddle, it is written: “And the Spirit of Hashem came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them and took their clothing” (ibid. 14:19).  And much later: “And the spirit of Hashem came mightily upon him, and the cords that were on his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire and his bands melted off his hands” (ibid. 15:14).

 

It is impossible to deny that there are four mentions of the fact that the spirit of Hashem rested on Shimshon.  Nonetheless, this appears to be a strange spirit of Hashem, not the usual type.  Although we are not experts in matters regarding the spirit of Hashem, it seems that it does not need to express itself in tearing apart a lion, the killing of thirty people and removing the cords from his arms, but in various other ways.

 

  1. Courageous Spirit

The Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (2, 45) that there are different levels of prophecy and the spirit of Hashem.  Prophets do not immediately leap to the supreme level, but slowly climb and reach whatever level they will attain.  The Rambam says that the first level is the appearance of courage and bravery.  This is not courage for just anything, but an awakening for a great purpose such as saving an important community.  When one feels an intense inner pull to act and to save, it is not happenstance but a prophetic revelation.

 

The first act which is related about Moshe Rabbenu, the Master of all prophets, like whom no one rose or will arise, is “and he struck the Egyptian” (Shemot 2:12).  He did not first appear as a holy or righteous individual but as one who saves a Jew from an Egyptian, despite the danger involved in the act.  He did not come up with excuses to avoid becoming involved.

 

“He went out to his brothers and saw their suffering” (ibid. 2:11).  Rashi explains that his intention was to see their suffering and grieve with them.  When an Egyptian strikes a Jew it is impossible to be silent.  The second act related about him is in Midian, when the shepherds chase away Yitro’s daughters and do not allow them to give their flocks water.  Moshe rose up against this injustice too, and gave water to the flocks.  In general, someone who is running away and arrives in a new place prefers not to draw attention to himself on his first day.  There was an injustice here, even if it only involves non-Jews.  It was still an injustice that was impossible to accept.  Moshe Rabbenu was therefore awakened, both spiritually and physically, since these shepherds were certainly not weaklings.  The Rambam points out that this was Moshe Rabbenu’s first step in prophecy.  When a person hears an inner voice calling him to act courageously for the sake of justice and truth – this is the spirit of Hashem.  Where does the Rambam learn that there is a connection between courage and the spirit of Hashem?  It is mentioned many times that the judges had a spirit of Hashem, even though they did not exude holiness, write holy books, prophesy and spread Torah.  For example, a spirit of Hashem rested on Yiftach (Shoftim 11:29), even though his behavior was not so “clean.”  After all, he vowed to sacrifice his daughter to Hashem.  But the Targum Yonatan explains that his spirit of courage was from Hashem.  Yiftach displayed self-sacrifice to wage war and save Israel, and showed political courage in his negotiations with Ammon (ibid. 11:12-29).  Similarly, “a spirit of Hashem enrobed Gidon” (ibid. 6:34), even though outwardly he was not a “Torah personality.”  Our Sages explain: “Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation and Moshe in his generation” (based on Rosh Hashanah 25b).  It also says about Otniel ben Kenaz: “And a spirit of Hashem was on him, and he judged Israel and went out to war” (ibid. 3:10).  He was indeed a great man in Torah.  A spirit of Hashem therefore also means a courageous spirit from Hashem which exalts and pushes a person to perform great acts for the sake of the entire Jewish People.

 

We see this regarding Yiftach and Gidon but it is more difficult to understand how Shimshon saved Israel, and it is certainly difficult to understand why he married non-Jewish women.  The basic answer is that they converted.  Otherwise, his parents – who were righteous people who merited a revelation from angels, and especially his mother, who was more important than his father, would never have agreed to these marriages.  The Rambam therefore writes: “Do not even think that Shimshon, who saved Israel…married non-Jewish women” (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 13:14 based on Yevamot 76a and Tosafot ibid. 24b).  The Rambam explains that they converted but that their conversion was incomplete.  They converted in the mikveh but not in the heart, and their end proved their original intentions (Rambam ibid. 16).  But even if they did convert, it is strange that he went to look for a wife among the Philistine women.  And, in fact, when he informed his parents: “I have seen a woman in Timnat of the daughters of the Philistines, now get her for me as a wife” (ibid. 14:2).  Their hearts ached: “And his father and mother said to him: Is there no woman among the daughters of your brothers or among all of my Nation that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” (ibid. verse 3).  After all, this is horrible.  This man, who was designated by a prophecy to be a Nazir of G-d and save Israel, went to look for a wife outside of his Nation!  They tried to convince him, but Shimshon did as he pleased: “And Shimshon said to his father: Take her for me for she pleases me” (ibid.).  There was no way of convincing him otherwise.  This is an unpleasant and inappropriate beginning for a redeemer of Israel.  But Shimshon’s parents did not know a secret, which he did not reveal to them or anyone else.  They did not know that he had a spirit of Hashem, since a person who possesses it does not show it off.  “But his father and his mother did not know that it was from Hashem” (ibid. verse 4).  It was a Divine plan that this man would receive a Divine spirit.  It is truly a strange plan, but it is a Divine one, and we therefore do not raise the difficulty whether his wife converted or not, since this was a temporary measure given through prophecy.

 

  1. “He sought a pretext against the Philistines”

What is the meaning of this plan?  “He sought a pretext against the Philistines” (Shoftim 14:4).  He looked for excuses and reasons to strike the Philistines.  Shimshon knows exactly who and what he is.  He knows his role.  His mother certainly taught him during the course of his entire childhood: you will begin to save Israel from the Philistines.  This is the mission you received through a prophecy.  But how will he save Israel?  This is not so simple.  Shimshon took an interest in military matters and researched the history of the Philistines.  He goes from place to place, from Tzirah to Eshta’ol, and a Divine Spirit begins to resound within him.  Finally, out of an elevation state from the Divine Spirit, the idea arrives: he should marry the daughter of a Philistine.  “He sought a pretext against the Philistines” (ibid.), and Rashi explains: “A pretext to challenge them.”

 

But what came of these challenges?  In order to save Israel, one must train men for war, organize an army and attack the Philistines.  What will come from all of these challenges and adventures with foxes, etc.?  As we said, this was not so simple: “And at that time, the Philistines ruled in Israel” (ibid. verse 4).  During the time of Shimshon, there was no State of Israel, but the State of the Philistines, Philistina.  It was therefore impossible to draft an army and organize a rebellion.  People were not ready to rebel.  Shimshon knew them well and knew that they were frightened.  Furthermore, Israel was ready to hand Shimshon over to the Philistines.  When the Philistines demanded that Shimshon be handed over to them, “three hundred men from Yehudah went down” to capture him, “and they said to Shimshon: Don’t you know that the Philistines rule over us?  What have you done to us?” (ibid. 15:11).  It is extremely difficult to save Israel under adverse conditions.  He received an appointment as the Chief of Staff, but there was no army, and no one was ready to be drafted.  How could he save them under these horrible conditions?  He therefore received an appointment from his gut, and he had time to contemplate and plan.  During Shimshon’s time, it was not the State of Israel against another country, but the Philistine State with limited autonomy for the Jews.  There was therefore no possibility to wage war.  So this was Shimshon’s plan:

  1. He would have to wage guerilla warfare in order to exhaust and weaken the Philistines until they could no longer bear it.
  2. He would have to work alone, since the Nation was not willing to join him.
  3. He would have to act without endangering the Nation of Israel in any way. It was not possible to wage a struggle under the flag of the State of Israel or the Philistines would attack the Nation of Israel.  Shimshon fought as if it was his own personal war on account of his youth.  He did not wage war for the Nation of Israel, he has nothing to do with them and doesn’t even live with them.  He is not married to them but to the Philistines.  But the Philistines solved his riddle and he therefore took vengeance against them and he killed Philistines in order to pay them the garments that were due to them.    Everything was as if it was a personal war unrelated to the Nation of Israel.  It was forbidden for the Philistines to discover that he was waging war for the Nation of Israel or they would take vengeance on everyone.  After all, people are cruel.  When they did not succeed in solving the riddle, they threatened Shimshon’s first wife: “Entice your husband into explaining the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s household” (ibid. 14:15).  They were ready to burn an entire family of their own people to solve a riddle!  It is forbidden to endanger any Jew.  There were many times in our history when an individual Jew endangered himself and struck at the enemy, and the enemy then conspired against all of the Jews.  For example, during the Inquisition, one Jew snuck into a church and killed the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada who had killed thousands of Jews.  Following this act, the Christians organized a vengeance crusade and killed thousands of Jews.  The Nazis also used this satanic method and in response to a lone Jew’s attack, they would murder hundreds of Jews.  Under such circumstances, which Jew would dare attack?  Shimshon therefore decided to act NOT as a Jew, but as a private individual who loved young women and riddles.  His marriage to the daughter of the Philistines was therefore part of a Divine plan.

 

This was the beginning of Shimshon’s plan: the words of our Sages are known all marriages are pre-ordained in heaven (Moed Katan 18b).  They learn this from the verse: “And his father and mother did not know that this was from Hashem” (Shoftim 14:4).  Hashem arranged that he would marry her.  The only possibility was to wage a war under the cover of a private war, and this was the beginning of saving Israel.  He indeed succeeded in irritating the Philistines and exhausting their strength.  The claims that Shimshon wasted his strength on personal adventures are therefore incorrect.  It was all from Hashem.  We understand that his parents did not know that the Divine plan was from Hashem, since he hid it and he was obligated to do so.  But we who learn Tanach know that it was from Hashem, that the Holy Spirit did not leave him after his marriage and that Hashem performed miracles for him.

 

  1. There are No Miracles for Naught

Hashem does not perform miracles for no reason, for a person who is just having all sorts of adventures.  All of Shimshon’s life was full of miracles: killing one thousand men with a donkey’s jaw (ibid. 15:16), a spring appearing to save him from thirst (ibid. v. 18-19), etc.

 

Hashem does not waste miracles on nonsense.  There were many times when Jews needed a miracle but none was forthcoming.  It is true that Daniel, Chananyiah and Misha’el were saved by a miracle.  But thousands of Jews were murdered sanctifying Hashem’s Name and no miracle occurred for them.  And yet here miracles occurred for “The Adventurer” who snatches foxes and kills people for their shirts!  The Master of the Universe does not freely dispatch miracles.  Our Sages guide us: “A person should never stand in a place of danger and say: perform a miracle for me, lest no miracle occurs for him, and even if one does occur, it detracts from his merits” (Ta’anit 20b).  Hashem does not perform miracles for fools or adventurists who do things which they should not do, or for a man who married a Philistine woman, put himself into a complicated situation, and needed miracles to get out of them.  The Gemara tells of a man whose wife died and he was left with a nursing baby boy but without money to hire a wet nurse.  A miracle occurred: he developed breasts and nursed his son.  On the face of it, this is an amazing miracle: “How great is the man for whom a miracle such as this occurred.”  But it is not so: “How lowly is this man for whom the order of Creation was changed” (Shabbat 53b).  He should have solved his problem in another, more conventional way, and not burdened the Master of the Universe to perform this miracle for him.

 

The Gemara also relates that Rav Shila ruled that a Jew who had married a non-Jewish woman was to be punished with lashes (Berachot 58a).  This Jew informed against him to the non-Jewish authorities: this Rabbi is using his judicial power without having received permission from the authorities.  The judge asked Rav Shila: who gave you permission to give lashes?  He responded: this Jew had relations with a donkey.  The Jew burst out: it is all a lie, I had relations with a non-Jew and not a donkey.  The judge asked Rav Shila: do you have witnesses?  At that moment, a Jew with a white beard entered.  It was the prophet Eliyahu, who arrived when we needed him, and said: I saw it.  If so, the judge said, he deserves death.  Rav Shila said: since the time we went into Exile we do not inflict capital punishment.  The Jew left infuriated and yelled at Rav Shila: if so, The Master of the Universe performs miracles for lies!  You lied when you said that I had relation with an animal.  Rav Shila responded: I did not lie.  And he used the insulting expression: “Their flesh is the flesh of donkeys” (Yechezkel 23:20).  The Jew said: I am passing on your words to the judge and this will be your end.  Rav Shila said: you are pursuing me to kill me, and one who comes to kill you, kill him first.  Rav Shila hit him with his staff and killed him.

 

We learn that Hashem does not perform a miracle in order to save liars and sinners.  Why then does he perform so many miracles for Shimshon?  Because these we not miracles for individuals.  Shimshon was involved in the salvation of the Israeli Nation, and because of the complicated situation, he was obligated to act with guile.

 

  1. “Dan is a lion cub”

The Torah already prophesied about him.  Moshe Rabbenu said in his prayer to the Tribe of Dan: “Dan is a lion cub, leaping forth from Bashan” (Devarim 33:22).  A day will come when a man who is a “lion cub” will arise from within the Tribe of Dan.  There two types of lions: a lion which goes in the front and a lion which goes in more complicated ways.  There were two individuals appointed over the construction of the Mishkan: Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur from the Tribe of Yehudah and Aholiav ben Achisamach from the Tribe of Dan (Shemot 35:30-34).  Our Sages explain: one is the most important of Tribes, the tribe of kingship, and the second is the lowest of the tribes (Shemot Rabbah 40:4).  Not that the Tribe of Dan is the lowest in terms of ethics, G-d forbid, rather they were left with the lowliest labors.  The lowliest labors are also essential and must be performed.  The Tribe of Dan was “the gatherer of the camp” (Bamidbar 10:25).  There are always people who go missing on the outskirts of the camp, and there is a need to search for them, even in enemy territory in order to save them and return them to the camp.  Amalek struck at the “weak ones at your rear” (Devarim 25:18), including those who lacked strength on account of their sin (Rashi ibid. and see Sifrei ibid.).  The Tribe of Dan would go at the rear to support the weak ones and gather them.  This is also a necessary job.  There is the strength of the lion who goes ahead on the frontlines, and there is also the strength of the lion who goes to the rear.

 

  1. “Dan shall judge his people”

Yaakov Avinu’s prophecy was even more detailed: “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel” (Bereshit 49:16).  A day will arrive and a man from the Tribe of Dan will “take the revenge of the Nation from the Philistines” (Rashi ibid.).  And indeed, at the end of the Book of Shoftim, the secret is revealed.  After the end of his life, “those who he killed in his death were more than he killed in his life” (Shoftim 16:7), including all of their military men (ibid. verse 27).  The secret was retroactively revealed: “He judged Israel for twenty years” (ibid. verse 31).  This is done in an original and unparalleled manner, but he saved Israel during the course of twenty years.  Furthermore, our Sages explain that the twenty years begins after Shimshon’s death (Yerushalmi, Sota 1:8.  See Radak on Shoftim 16:31 and Bemidbar 14:9), since he struck the Philistines so hard, they did not dare raise their hand against Israel for twenty years.  He killed all of the Philistine leadership at one time, and instilled fear within them.

 

  1. “A snake on the road”

“Dan shall judge his people.”  There will come a day and a man from the Tribe of Dan, which is Shimshon, who will judge Israel, “as one of the Tribes of Israel” (Bereshit 49:16).  He worked alone to save the Nation.  This is a rare sight.  Generally, a person does not act alone.  Our Sages warn us in Pirkei Avot (4:8): “Do not judge alone, for only One may judge alone.”  Only the Master of the Universe may judge alone.  “Just as the Single One of the world does not need help, so too Shimshon ben Manoch does not need help” (Bereshit Rabbah 98:13).  How can a person judge without an army or police force?  Yaakov Avinu explains: “Dan will be a snake on the road, a viper on the path” (Bereshit 49:17).  He wages war like a snake, which people do not see and therefore do not take caution, and he attacks from behind.  “Who bites a horse’s heel and its rider falls backwards” (ibid.).  It is impossible to be “A lion cub is Yehudah” (ibid. 49:9) when there is no army.  The only possibility is to act in secret, in hidden places, with guile and through theft.  This was Shimshon’s life.  This method is certainly dangerous.  When the rider falls backwards, he is liable to fall on the snake.  The horse could also fall backwards and crush him.  Yaakov Avinu therefore adds three words: “I await your salvation, Hashem” (ibid. v. 18).  On the face of it, this pray is appropriate for all situations in life and for all of the Tribes, but it is also unique for the Tribe of Dan.  When a person penetrates enemy lines and remains there over the course of many years and causes destruction there, he is in constant, immediate danger.

 

In the end, Shimshon is captured by the enemy and they gauge out his eyes (Shoftim 17:21).  Therefore, when Yaakov Avinu sees into the distance, he offers a unique prayer in order for Shimshon to succeed in his complicated and dangerous operation (Bereshit 49:18).

 

  1. A Hidden Righteous Person

Shimshon’s life is one of self-sacrifice during every moment.  For the sake of saving Israel, he lives alone, without Torah classes, without prayer in a minyan, without a wife – after all, all these young women who betrayed him were certainly not appropriate for a true marriage and building a house.  He lived without a community, scorned by the Philistines and by the Jews.  It was to the point that his Jewish brothers handed him over to the Philistines!  But he was as strong as a rock.  He did not weep, complain or break.

 

He continued on his path year after year.  He obviously prayed to Hashem during a time of distress in order to obtain a little water (Shoftim 15:18) or in order to knock down a Philistine house (ibid. 16:28), but he did not weep.  He continued on without fatigue with incredible self-sacrifice.

 

This man is a hidden righteous person.  He did not appear so in his outer behavior.  On the contrary, he seemed like a base and lowly person, involved in romantic or other adventures, but he was truly a man of incredible self-sacrifice for the sake of the Nation of Israel.  Our Sages therefore explain that Shimshon was given a name of Hashem (Sotah 10a).  He is a Divine man.  His entire life has a Divine imprint.  The name “Shimshon” is not one of Hashem’s Name but there is a verse: “Hashem is a ‘Shemesh’ (sun) and shield” (Tehillim 84:12).  Thus, “Shemesh” is one of the names of Hashem, and it appears in the name “SHiMSHon,” although it is not exactly Hashem’s Name.  Hashem (the Four-letter Name of Hashem) is the revealed Divine Name in all of its glory, while other names of Hashem (such as Elokim) is Hashem’s Name in all circumstances (see Tanya, Sha’ar Ha-Yichud Ve-Ha-Emunah, chap. 4).  Shimshon is thus Hashem’s hidden Name.  This man was a genius in national strength.  From where did he gain this strength?  It came from a Divine source – “The spirit of Hashem began to resound” (Shoftim 13:25).

 

  1. Within Impure Worlds

This man is a Nazir, elevated above all matters of life.  What interests most people did not interest him: he did not eat, he did not sleep, he did not have a house, nor the comforts of life.  Only one thing interests him: the honor of Hashem and the honor of the Nation of Israel.  A Nazir is a supreme person, and Shimshon’s superiority reveals itself in strength.  Hashem’s Name appears to him in a hidden form.  On the surface, Hashem’s Name did not rest upon him.  But occasionally, in special situations, Hashem’s Name was “peering through the lattices” (Shir Ha-Shirim 2:9).

 

It is not simple to leave the camp and to wage a war as “a snake on the road, a viper on the path, who bites a horse’s heel and its riders falls backwards.”  When one places himself in complicated situations, he can become confused and impure.  How could a man live for years among the Philistines and marry their daughters without becoming impure?  There is a verse in Mishlei: “Can a man take fire in his chest and his clothes not be burned?  Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched?  So is he who has relations with his fellow’s wife – whoever touches her will not be unpunished” (Mishlei 6:27-29 and see Sanhedrin 107a).  It is impossible to be implanted among the Philistines and their daughters and not be burnt!  But this man was prepared for this: he was a Nazir of Hashem.  This is what the angel announced: “And he will begin to save Israel” (Shoftim 13:5).  He was therefore obligated to be a “Nazir of Hashem.”  Perhaps a person who is completely holy, completely detached from the material world, can withstand the impurity of the Philistines and stand firmly during all of the adventures without being wounded.  Perhaps – but this is not for certain.  It is also possible to fail.  Shimshon in fact fell – when he revealed his secret to Delilah, and she caused him so much distress to the point that he was vexed to die (ibid. 16:16).  It happens that people fail: “For there is no man in the world who is righteous, who performs good, and does not sin” (Kohelet 7:20).  Even a Nazir can fail, as well as a prophet (Sanhedrin 89a), and even Moshe Rabbenu erred three times (Vayikra Rabbah 13:1).  Would another person – in the same complicated situation of Shimshon – not have failed?

 

Our Sages teach us that “No one can guarantee regarding forbidden relations” (Chullin 11b).  A great and righteous man cannot boast that he is immune to the evil inclination of forbidden sexual relations.  It is related that Rav Amram Chasida, who was great and holy (Gittin 67b), was involved in redeeming captives.  He once redeemed a young woman, and in order not to violate the prohibition of being secluded with a woman, had her sleep on an upper floor and he removed the ladder.  When she was walking in the attic, a beam of light reflected from her face, and Rav Amram Chasida was seized with lust.  He moved the ladder to ascend (normally, ten people are needed to move it), and he began to climb up.  Rav Amram Chasida began to wage war against his inclination.  He finally found a solution and screamed: “Fire, fire!”  People came to extinguish the fire, and when they saw that there was no fire, they immediately understood about which fire he was talking about…  The Sages said to him: “You embarrassed us!”  Rav Amram Chasida said: “It is better to suffer embarrassment in this world than in the World–to-Come” (Kiddushin 81a).  “No one can guarantee regarding forbidden relations.”  We can understand how someone involved with this temptation day and night could stumble.  Shimshon fell.  And obviously, “The Holy One Blessed Be Here is exacting with those around Him like a strand of hair” (Yevamot 121b).

 

  1. Like a Strand of Hair

A strand of hair!  Shimshon’s hair revealed it all.  What is hair?  It is the inner and outer parts together.  In truth, Shimshon was the inside, one of us, but he went out – not only geographically but also from the order of life.  He was part of the Tribe of Dan, who was the “collector of all of the camps” (Bemidbar 10:25), and he was sent on special commando missions.  Hair is something which is dead, but its root is connected to the living.  The fingernail is the only other part of the body which is somewhat similar, although the majority of a fingernail is connected to the body while the majority of hair is not, only the root.  If you wish to understand who Shimshon is, in one word, look at hair (see at length in the book “Yisrael Kedoshim of R’ Tzadok Ha-Cohain, p. 16).  Shimshon is hair attached to the body of the Nation of Israel, but it can easily be detached by pulling.  This is the secret of his strength.  How can one go amongst the worlds of impurity and remain a Nazir of Hashem?  Look at the hair which is both outside and inside at the same time.

 

But this man fell, “And they seized him and gauged out his eyes” (Shoftim 16:21).  They mocked him, and caused him all sorts of disgrace and impurities (see Sotah 10a).  He fell.

 

  1. The One who Falls and Gets Up

It happens that a man falls.  The question is if he knows how to get up.  It once happened that a teacher, who just completed teaching school, received a position in a twelfth grade class in a school for juvenile delinquents.  He was a thin, weak and pale young man and the students – experienced in theft and violence – were hoodlums.  On the first day, he sat in the teacher’s room shaking from fright and his heart was pounding.  Suddenly the bell rang and he headed towards the class, almost drunk from fear, to the point that he did not notice that there was a lip on the doorway.  He tripped on it and fell face down on the floor.  The entire class burst out in laughter, making fun of him and throwing paper and chalk.  He got up slowly and said: “It happens that a person falls.  The question is does he know how to get up.  This is our first class.”  The students understood the lesson and gave him a round of applause.

 

It happens that a person falls, even a great person, especially in complicated situations.  But after Shimshon falls, he does not deteriorate.  On the contrary, he strengthens himself.  He searches: perhaps I can perform something else for the benefit of the Nation of Israel.  I can take advantage of this opportunity to do something I would otherwise never have been able to do.  Although I sinned and they gauged out my eyes, I am not concerned about my personal well-being, rather about the desecration of Israel’s name.  After all, everyone now knows who he is.  The Philistines already know that he is acting in Hashem’s Name, and see in Shimshon’s victory a Divine dimension: “And they said: our god gave Shimshon our enemy into our hand” (Shoftim 16:23).  Shimshon says: “The Master of the Universe, give me strength to take revenge for something.  Not everything.  Not both eyes, only one eye.”

 

  1. “Let me die with the Philistines”

He is not concerned about his personal eye.  He is not an individual person, rather he is a communal person of Israel.  He has nothing of his own: no house, no Torah learning, no wife.  Everything he has belongs to the Nation of Israel.  He gave everything he had.  “Hashem G-d, please remember me. And please strengthen me just once more, G-d, and let me avenge one of my two eyes” (ibid. v. 28).  I fell, but perhaps precisely because of the fall, I can bring salvation to the Nation of Israel.  I am not complaining.  I accept the judgment I was given.  I played with fire and got burned or, more precisely, I received an order to involve myself with fire and got burned.  I therefore ask: “Let me die with the Philistines” (ibid. v. 30).  I am not asking for life for myself.  All of my life is for the sake of the Nation of Israel.  In essence, his entire life was in the category of “Let me die with the Philistines,” since he devoted it to begin “to save Israel from the Philistines” (ibid. 13:5).  He sacrificed his entire life, he made himself impure and placed himself in complicated situations.  Our Sages say in the Zohar that he even sacrificed his World to Come for this purpose (Zohar, Naso 127a).  His life conditions were not ideal for meriting the World to Come.

 

Only one thing interested him: “Let me die with the Philistines.”  In fact, Hashem accepted his request, and on the day of his death, he struck the Philistines with an eternal blow to the point that they did not dare raise their hand against Israel for the next twenty years.  Although Shimshon stumbled, on account of the fall, he was able to bring great salvation to Israel that even lasted longer than in his own lifetime.

 

  1. “Shimshon in his generation was like Aharon in his generation”

When our Sages wanted to clarify Shimshon’s character in relation to other great men of our Nation, they established: “The Torah equates three (lesser) people with three (greater) people: Gideon in his generation was like Moshe in his generation, Shimshon in his generation was like Aharon in his generation, Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation” (based on Rosh Hashanah 25b).  The first thing we might learn from this statement is that Shimshon’s generation was so lowly that comparatively he was the “Aharon” of the generation.  But in truth there is something deeper here.  Shimshon performed in his generation what was needed to be done.  Shimshon and Aharon were similar personalities and of similar holiness, but in Aharon’s generation one needed to act like Aharon and in Shimshon’s generation one needed to act like Shimshon.  If Shimshon would have acted like Aharon, it would not have helped the salvation of the Nation of Israel.  If Aharon would have lived in Shimshon’s generation, he would have acted exactly as Shimshon.  Aharon was on the uppermost level of the Nation of Israel, “and the foreigner who approaches will die” (Bemidbar 1:51), as was Shimshon, but he revealed himself in a different manner.

 

Holiness in each generation reveals itself according to the state and needs of that generation.  Shimshon was a Nazir of G-d.  There are generations in which a Nazir of G-d sits in the study hall and teaches the Nation, completely gentle and noble.  And there are some generations in which there is no time for gentility and recitation of Tehillim, but rather “tearing apart” and breaking the enemy.  Shimshon needed to be a Nazir of G-d who was like a lion who tears apart and kills Philistines, and a lonely man who succeeded in destroying the strength of the enemy.  Being a Nazir is not based on external appearance but inner content.  A Nazir is a person who abstains from all sorts of petty, egotistical matters and is interested in major issues.  This was national courage in Shimshon’s generation.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook writes that purity and holiness usually appear in the form of submission but when the Jewish People is awakened to revival, purity and holiness shine as national courage (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiya 8).

 

Being a Nazir of G-d is an inner reality and is not necessarily recognized externally.  Our Sages tell about a man who decided to be a Nazir because he once looked in the river when he drank water, saw his beautiful hair and became haughty.  He said: I resolved to become a Nazir and to shave off my hair for the sake of heaven.  Shimon Ha-Tzadik said that this was the only time he met a true Nazir (Nedarim 9b).  Being is a Nazir is not religious arrogance but an inner characteristic which understands the greater issues of life.  Therefore, “Shimshon in his generation was like Aharon in his generation.”  Shimshon’s supreme Nezirut appeared to be the opposite of what being a Nazir is all about.  But no one knew the truth: not the Jews, not the Philistines and not even his parents.  The secret is only revealed in the end: “He judged Israel for twenty years.”  Our Sages warn us: do not deride Shimshon.  Do not say: There used to be respectable judges like Aharon.  “Do not say: why were the earlier days better than these?  For you did not inquire wisely regarding this” (Kohelet 7:1).  Shimshon in his generation acted according to what was required in his generation.  It is forbidden to look at such events externally.  There is a hidden righteous person who does not behave in what seems like the ways of the righteous.  Shimshon is a righteous person for saving the Nation of Israel, a righteous person whose self-sacrifice was for the Nation of Israel.

 

  1. “It is from Hashem”

Question: How did Shimshon endanger himself by committing sins when we have a halachic principle that we do not tell a person “transgress in order to merit his fellow” (Shabbat 4a)?

Answer: We are not discussing the case of a person sinning in order to save his fellow from a minor prohibition (see Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim end of chap. 306), but a supreme, rare situation regarding to the entirety of Israel in which the halachic possibility exists for a person to comprise himself in order to save the Nation (see Tosafot on Gittin 38a).  An example of this principle is that Ester displayed self-sacrifice in marrying Achashverosh in order to save the Nation of Israel (see Maharik #167 in the name of Tosafot Rabbenu Yehudah of Parish, Shut Noda Bi-Yehudah, Tanina Yoreh Deah 161 and Shut Mishpat Cohaim, p. 330).  Yael, the wife of Chaver the Kinite, also pulled Sisera into a tent in order to save the entirety of Israel (Yevamot 103a, Meiri on Sanhedrin 74b and Mishpat Cohain ibid.).  It was a unique temporary measure by a prophet (see Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah 9:3).  Shimshon also received a special Divine command that this is the way he should act (Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel on Shoftim 14:4 and also in his introduction to Shoftim).  “It is from Hashem” (Shoftim 14:4).

 

 

DEVORAH

  1. Woman as Leader
  2. Wife of Lapidot
  3. Spiritual Greatness
  4. The Shirah

 

  1. Woman as Leader

The primary concern of Devorah the prophetess, in leading the war of liberation against the rule of Yavin the Canaanite king of Chazor, was exceptional.  She initiated and directed every aspect of the war.  An exceptional facet of Devorah is that while judges generally were not prophets, save for Shmuel the prophet, Devorah is said to have been a prophetess and a judge over Israel: “And Devorah, a prophetess…judged Israel at that time. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment (Shoftim 4:4-5). The other unique element is the war of independence she initiated.  Although she was not in fact the commander, she directed part of the battle and influenced its course (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, #9, Ish Ve-Isha #18).  She was the one who appointed Barak to lead the army.

 

Our early Sages issued rulings about this strange and unique situation.  Apparently, the judicial and military leadership of the country had no role for a woman.  Our Sages learn this from the verse: “You will surely appoint a king over you” (Devarim 17:15) – a king, not a queen (Sifri Shoftim 157).  The role of a woman was not to be in the public eye, but to build the future generations within the family.  Two responses are given in support of Devorah’s political inclinations. Tosafot say that Devorah was different from the other judges, for she judged according to the word (Tosafot on Niddah 50a).  In other words, she judged in a special Divine way, according to Divine inspiration. This was exceptional, because it is impossible to change Torah through prophecy.  Torah is eternal.  In Devorah’s time, the state of “hora’at sha’ah – a temporary measure” applied, namely one is entitled to disregard certain Torah requirements in order to save Israel. In another place, Tosafot say something else: Israel accepted her (Tosafot on Bava Kamma 15a).  A woman could not rule over Israel through her own power unless the people had accepted her; only then was it possible. This rule also applies to those who are not fit to judge. Such acceptance permitted those otherwise disqualified, to judge. In other words, a relative cannot judge another relative, because of his proximity.  Only if a person says to the litigant, “Your father is acceptable to me,” thereby demonstrating trust and compassion, is he entitled to judge them (see Chidushei Ha-Ran, Shevuot 30a).  Acceptance can also place the role of a judge on a person who is disqualified.  For example, a man can say: Three cattlemen are acceptable to me (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 24a).  Cattlemen who are suspected of theft because they tend their herds in someone else’s fields can serve as judges.  Cattlemen are disqualified because they are suspected of theft; the father or another relative is disqualified because of his proximity to the litigation, and a women is disqualified because of her lack of connection to certain legal matters.  But if the people consent and they accept her in the role of a judge, she is permitted to judge.

 

This is the basis of the authority of the Knesset in our time.  Of course, Torah-observant people should stand for positions at the head of the State of Israel, but Knesset members are chosen by the will of the people: This is why they have the authority to lead the people in spite of the fact that they should upgrade their Torah observance.  In the time of the monarchy in Israel, the son of the king was anointed king on the condition that he was suffused with wisdom and the fear of heaven, just as his father was (Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:7).  Wisdom refers to an understanding of state management and politics. Fear refers to morality and the fear of heaven.  If he did not yet know how to lead the people, they appointed a tutor who instructed him; because he could sharpen his acuity.  However, if he was not like his father in fear and morality, they would not anoint him king over the people: morality is difficult to teach, and it is a crucial element of leadership. A person lacking in morals and Torah observance was not anointed leader. However, if the people accepted him, he was accepted as ruler.  Accordingly, the Knesset has no authority to teach but it has the authority to legislate in social, monetary and political matters, even though such decisions touch on Torah issues.

 

The judging of Devorah is exceptionally based on prophecy [according to the word], and additionally on the acceptance by the people of Israel.  This is highlighted in the verse: “She judged Israel at that time” (Shoftim 4:4). At that time, there was no one else to lead Israel.  The entire Nation was weak.  Even Barak ben Avinoam asked Devorah to take him out to battle.  Otherwise, he refused to be the commander in the battle, and she had no choice but to agree.

 

All recorded prophecy is necessary for the generations to come, for if it were not so, it would have been written (Megillah 14a).  A prophet does not deliver prophecies for all time, unlike the Torah, which is eternal and applies from the first to last generation.  Prophecy is specific to needs of the hour, the generation and the situation (Rashi on Chulin 137a).  It is a special Divine announcement specific to the matter at hand. Possibly with the passage of generations, the circumstance reappears and for that reason an ephemeral prophecy is written: this way, when a similar situation arises in the future, people will be able to obtain guidance and learn to deal with it.  In fact, there were many prophets at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (Megillah 14a), yet many prophecies are not recorded in Tanach: Their prophecies were not relevant to the generations to come.  The written prophecies we have were not recorded to relate history.  We are not dealing with spiritual archeology.  The prophets speak to us over the generations; their voices are heard thousands of years later.

 

In this light, if they saw the need to tell us the story of a woman who headed the kingdom of Israel and the command of the armed forces, it was to teach us of the possible recurrence of a similar situation in the future; and in practice to inspire us how to relate to and deal with the situation.  In our generation it is not possible for a woman to be appointed to lead on the basis of prophecy, although such a woman could be appointed on the basis of the collective will of the people. Golda Meir was the head of state, something that had not previously, nor since happened.

 

  1. Wife of Lapidot

Devorah was a prophetess qualified to lead the army and the country; and coupled with this, she conducted herself as a proper and ordinary woman, a woman of Lapidot (Shoftim 4:4).  She was married to a man called Lapidot, and lived her life as a wife and mother.  Our Sages say that Lapidot was in fact Barak.  Another commentary says that she was called the wife of Lapidot because the vocation of her husband: He served as spinner of wicks in the Temple at Shiloh, and his wife would finish his work – a vocation related to the holy service in the Temple (Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim 42).  Our Sages say that she sat under the date tree (Shoftim 4:5), to stress that she did not stay in a house that provided shelter from the cold of winter and heat of summer; she did so in order to avoid immodest situations of being alone with another man (Megillah 14a).  The date tree was a public place, and for that reason was appropriate for the sake of modesty.  There were other women in the history of our people who worked to save the people of Israel, like Queen Ester, and Yehudit bat Matityahu. They acted in a private and independent way, and did not stand on the front lines of a war of liberation; they were not women of high position in the community of Israel. Devorah had the highest form of initiative, reached the epitome of bravery and leadership, all with the deepest sense of modesty.

 

There were women in our history who accomplished great things but they often had problems of modesty, as in the case of Tamar the wife of Yehudah: She decided that Yehudah had to be the father of her child and dressed in masquerade to achieve her goal.  This proved to be a very delicate matter, because she proceeded along an immodest path.  But Devorah acted with modesty and without subterfuge.  The mystics comment (see Gilgulei Neshamot of Rav Menachem Ezaria Mi-Panu 139) on the verse “She sat under the date tree,” that she was like Tamar, the wife of Yehudah, whose initiative was directed toward the royal lineage: However, Devorah acted in a thoroughly modest way.

 

Yael was the wife of Chever the Canaanite, but she was also a judge.  The matter is not discussed in the plain text, but we know only prophecies which are necessary for the generations to come are recorded. However, it does state in the Song of Devorah: In the days of Shamgar the son of Anat, in the days of Yael, the highways were not busy, for the travelers took the side roads (Shoftim 5:6).  In the time of Yael, the roads were extremely dangerous because of enemy attacks: People were looking for secondary routes in order to avoid danger.  She was the wife of Chever the Canaanite of the descendants of Yitro who converted and left Yericho to come to Arad.  Otniel the son of Kenez, a judge and learned in the Torah lived there (ibid 1:16; Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim 38). Yael killed Sisera. Reference to her is made as: “You shall be blessed on account of women in the tent” (Shoftim 5:24).  She was doubly blessed, in regard to the tent and the building of the generations, and for what she had done.

 

Our Sages shed light on the strength of Yael which empowered her to kill Sisera with her own hands using a tent peg through his temple. They comment: She was an upright woman and did the will of her husband (Yalkut Shimoni Shoftim ibid. 42): This was her strength.  In the midst of her work in the tent and home, she had the extraordinary courage to act for her people.  Devorah also operated on these two levels.

 

Our Sages reserve a small measure of criticism toward Devorah the prophetess.  Arrogance is not a positive attribute, all the more so for a woman (Megillah 14b).  It is said of Devorah: “And she sent for and summoned Barak, son of Avinoam” (Shoftim 4:6). Barak was a special person: It would appear that she should have gone to him rather than summoning him to her.  This was an act of specific and glaring haughtiness. She said to him: “Even though the journey you take shall not be for your honor; for Hashem will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman(ibid. 4:9).  In other words, everyone knew that a woman won the war.  She did not have to emphasize this.  In the Song of Devorah, it says: “Until I arose, Devorah arose, that I arose a mother of Israel” (ibid. 5:7). Our Sages say: Anyone who is arrogant…if he is a prophet, his prophecy leaves him (Pesachim 66b). A person who stresses the ‘I’ within him cannot be a prophet, for The Holy One Blessed Be He examines righteous people like a strand of hair (Yevamot 121b). It is not appropriate for a leader to speak that way; all the more so for a woman, because the honor of the princess emanates from within (Tehillim 45:14).  However, there are situations where it is impossible to hide feelings; there is often a need for a person to bring them out (see Mussar Avicha, pp. 71-73).  But even in these situations, one should internalize as much as possible.  This fault does not detract from the spiritual greatness of Devorah, although because of haughtiness, her prophecy was taken from her.

 

  1. Spiritual Greatness

Every judge stands out in a unique way; one excels in courage, and another in wisdom.  The heart of Devorah’s strength was spiritual.  On account of her spiritual power, Israel was victorious in its military campaign.  She experienced spiritual elevation.  In that period, the people of Israel suffered many hardships.  Yavin king of Chazor had a powerful army and iron chariots.  The people of Israel were not armed with iron chariots, which is why it did not succeed in rooting out the nations who lived in the valley (Shoftim 1:19).  What power did this woman Devorah, who spun wicks, have to conquer a mighty army?  It was the extraordinary spiritual power that expressed itself in prophecy and song.  At the time, we merited having the central personality of the Jewish nation possess great spiritual elevation as mentioned in her song. Along with this spiritual courage, we also were endowed with military courage. Through this spiritual vision, a spirit of strength grew which she spread to Barak, who passed it on to the entire army (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah #9, Ish Ve-Isha #18).  However, only six tribes, not the entire people, participated in the battle; even so, she succeeded in instilling might in them.

 

This became the prototype for future generations.  A mighty spiritual personality, even if not part of the government, through her inner strength influences and guides, and strives toward uniting the people, in times of dispersion and separation as in the days when the judges judged.

 

In that period, each tribe lived as a separate community, as it says of Reuven at the sheepfold: The divisions of Reuven (Shoftim 5:15).  They were shepherds who did not volunteer; they remained to listen to the bleatings of the flocks (ibid. 5:16).  Reuven preferred to sit on the fence between decisions (ibid.) and see how things would turn out.  If Israel were victorious, it would not need his assistance.  And if it were losing, it was better that he would not be among the defeated against the Canaanites.  But Israel was victorious because of those who did not sit on the fence, and who fought.  All of the participants in the war were volunteers: “Praise Hashem for the avenging of Israel, when people willingly offered themselves” (ibid. 5:2).  The volunteers came from far away places like Zevulun and Naftali.  Devorah lived in Nachalat Efraim between Ha-Rama and Beit El (ibid. 4:5).  She succeeded in uniting and strengthening the people and in bringing them to the battlefield near Tabor and Kishon.  Sisera’s army was trained, with its soldiers coming from the south from the Yizra’el Valley. Victory was achieved with the military strategy Barak ben Avinoam based on the spiritual courage of Devorah. Spiritual courage overcame the power of weapons and iron.

 

  1. The Shira

In Devorah’s Song [shirah], we see the unfolding of her view of the events in which she was involved  The Song has a unique structure, since it is written in Tanach: A small brick atop a brick; a brick atop a small brick (Megillah 16b).  The Song is full of hints, but its meaning betrays a great vision, majestic and encompassing.

 

There is a difference between the word “shirah” and “zemirah” which both mean “song,” as it says, “Sing [shiru] to Him, sing [zamru] to Him” (Tehillim 105:2).  There are three levels.  The first and simplest is conversation.  A person expresses himself through reasoning, and dialogue, namely common prose.  Above conversation is the “zemirah,” which is filled with the excitement of emotion, which joins together all the powers of a person’s life.  The highest level is the “shirah.”  A “shirah” envisions everything, contains a profound view of life, like in Song of the Sea or the Song of Haazinu.  A “shirah” does not relate to an event by viewing it through a restricted angle, but through an overall world view (see Olat Re’eiyah vol. 1, p. 200).

 

Our Sages criticize King Chezekiah who did not sing “shirah” after the victory over his enemies.  Had he sung “shirah,” he could have been the Messiah (Sanhedrin 94a).  But he never rose above the level and depth of the events that transpired in his time.

 

Devorah reveals in her song why they merited victory. Zevulun and Naftali were a people who put their lives at risk of death in the high places of the fields (Shoftim 5:18).  They were victorious because there were people who risked their lives. Whenever there is self-sacrifice, miracles occur.  The Gemara (Berachot 20a) asks: Why did the earlier generations merit miracles while we perceive no revealed miracles? For example, when rain did not fall at the time of Rabbi Yehudah, they instituted a fast; and when Rabbi Yehudah took off his shoe before the fast, immediately the rain began to fall. Yet if we fasted several days and there is no rain, the Gemara answers that the reason is not that the earlier generations learned more Torah; rather, it was because they sacrificed their own lives for the sanctification of His Name.  In other words, there is a link between self-sacrifice and miracles.

 

We do not have a clear grasp of the details of the battle at Tabor, for little is described in the Book of Shoftim and other details given by Yosef ben Matityahu.  The Tribes of Naftali and Efraim were on top of Mount Tabor; and since Sisera could not climb the slope with iron chariots, he waited in the valley.  The Israelites were ready for tremendous self-sacrifice using a strategy of flight.  Their plan was to come down to the valley; they would engage in a frontal assault with Sisera’s iron chariots, which would certainly cause the loss of many men. Then Sisera’s iron chariots would give chase after them into an awaiting ambush by the tribe of Yissachar in the valley where it would pounce on Sisera.  Yosef ben Matityahu says that rain fell at the beginning of the summer; this was a rare event, although not impossible (see Shoftim 5: 20-21; Orot, Israel and its Revival, 12:27).  The iron chariots sank in the mud and their weight crushed them.  At any rate, the people had displayed self-sacrifice, which led to the help of G-d for the warriors (Shoftim 5:23).  Miracles only occur when there is self-sacrifice, and that is only forthcoming when there is a loftiness of spirit.

 

The Song explains the significance of the campaign against the Canaanite army.  At the beginning, there is a verse that establishes a connection: “Even Sinai melted before Hashem, G-d of Israel” (ibid. 5:5).  Rather, a person should have an overall perspective.  We are a people whose history is bound up with G-d.

 

Devorah said: “Hashem made me have dominion over the mighty” (ibid. 5:13).  G-d came down to fight with the warriors.  Regardless, there are those who evade responsibility, like the tribe of Reuven and the residents of the City of Meroz which was close to the place of the battle, but which was not prepared to help and which is referred to in the Song as “Cursed Meroz” (ibid. 5:23), cursed because they did not come to help G-d in a courageous battle.

 

The Song says: “To the help of G-d, and not with the help of G-d; which is the common term.  When we say with the help of G-d [Be-ezrat Hashem], we mean: We act and G-d helps.  The meaning of to the help of G-d [Le-ezrat Hashem] is that we help G-d and He acts.  Our entire history is replete with acts in sanctification of G-d’s name by the Jewish people.  The state of the tortuous path (Shoftim 4:5) is blasphemous.  G-d chose us over all other people and gave us His Torah; so that in everything that befalls the Jewish people, like war, there is a relationship to this substantive issue of sanctification of G-d’s Name.  The Song says that even the stars fought on their side (ibid. 5:20).  This was an event replete with Divine magic for all of humanity.  When we understand how this process connects with general historical development of the people of Israel, we become tremendously grateful, which brings out a sense of self-sacrifice, the strength to give of oneself, the manifestation of unity within the people and the potential for victory.  Self-sacrifice is born of the depths of this recognition and understanding; and the greater the recognition and understanding, the greater the self-sacrifice.

 

The Song also relates to women who were involved in the battle.  Devorah and Yael, the wife of Chever the Kenite were on one side, and the enemy women, the mother of Sisera and her entourage were on the enemy side.  There were indeed women on the enemy side. The mother of Sisera looked out the window and cried through the lattice: Why is his chariot so late in coming? What is keeping the wheels of his chariot (ibid 5:28)?  What a moving and human description!  By contrast, regarding Yael: “She took a peg in hand, and with her right hand took the hammer. With the hammer, she killed Sisera. She smote off his head when she pierced and struck though his temples” (ibid. 5:26). She is described as an apparently coarse and hard woman. There is a stark contrast between the refinement of the women of the enemy and the coarseness and bloodthirstiness of our women. The verse continues: “The wisest of her ladies answers her; and she also offers an answer herself: Maybe they found booty and are dividing it” (ibid. 5:29-30).  We go out to the war of liberation in order to repulse the foreign occupation, but the enemy’s reason for invading was reducible to booty. Hence, the coarse expression:  To every man a woman or two (ibid. 4:30).  In other words, for every man there would be a woman or two.  The women would serve as booty for the men; for their woman would be suitable for the necks of those who take the spoils (ibid.).  These women not only looked out the window and cried: They were expecting booty. The women of Israel were supposed to serve the lust of their men, and as decoration and embroidery for their necks. Yael and Devorah knew the correct reality.  Therefore Devorah said “And so let all the enemies of G-d perish” (ibid. 5:31) and not only of the forces from the north. Devorah and Yael were refined women, but there were situations where there was no room for refinement, as in the case of enemies such as these.  Some things have to be done crudely and sharply.  When they oppressed us and killed us, we had to defend ourselves. We view the situation in its entirety to see things as they were, and not as we imagined them on first glance.

 

This war of liberation was driven by the strength of women, which is also underscored in the Song.  The foundation of the courage, strength and military power was the spiritual greatness of Devorah whose influence brought a long peace, as it is written: “And the land was quiet for forty years” (ibid.).

 

RUTH

  1. When the Judges Judged
  2. Love of Kindness
  3. Power of Persistence
  4. Light of Shir Ha-Shirim (The Song of Songs)
  5. Torah in The Land of Israel
  6. And He Gladdened His Heart
  7. Death will Separate Me and You
  8. Who Can Draw Something Pure From Impurity

 

 

  1. When the Judges Judged

The Book of Rut teaches us there is Torah in the Land of Israel, and that the Torah is not only for studying but also provides a practical guide to life.  In the Book of Rut, there is no novel insight into the expanse of planets, but rather the realization and embodiment of the Torah that comes down from the heights of heaven into our daily lives, as it states: “That you should do in the midst of the Land where you will enter to possess it” (Devarim 4:5).  All wondrous, exalted and awesome things shall be done in the Land of Israel.  In the Book of Rut, we do not encounter a time of harmony or frightening destruction.  Rather, we are drawn into a style of life based on Torah through people who lived when the judges judged (Rut 1:1).  Apparently the Period of the Judges was not that a wonderful era for the Nation of Israel.

 

The expression “when the judges judged” signifies to our Sages, “Woe to the generation that judges its judges” (Yalkut Shimoni Rut 596).  In other words, the expression alludes to dire conditions of the generation and its judges.  The Book of Shoftim describes a period that parallels the same period of the Book of Rut when immorality and corruption were rampant.  It would seem that the entire Nation of Israel was engaged in immorality and treachery.  It was riddled with idol worship, like the idol of Michah: Internecine war among Jews; murder as in the case of the concubine in Givah resulting in the slaughter of almost an entire tribe of Israel, and other such awful and devastating episodes.  Yet these events did not erase the entire value, holiness and kindness of the Nation of Israel.  When these events occurred, like in the instance of the concubine at Givah, there were still individuals of the same high quality among the Nation of Israel as those described in the Book of Rut: People who were sensitive, and acted kindly toward each other.

 

  1. Love of Kindness

The Book of Rut abounds with kindness.  Our Sages say: In this book, there is no impurity or purity, no prohibition or permission.  So why was it written?  To teach you how great is the reward for acting with kindness (Rut Rabbah 2:14).  The Book of Rut is replete with people doing kind deeds.  It does not command kindness; rather it describes people who practice it and the wonderful reward it generates.  Kindness is the most simple and fundamental theme in the entire Torah.  Kindness preceded Torah, as our Sages say: Proper conduct preceded the Torah (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3).  However, Torah is on a higher level than kindness; and its goal is not to change egotistical people into kind people.  Rather, before approaching it, people should already be kind.  Simple, normal and pleasant bonds of friendship existed before the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  This is the essence of Genesis that describes the Forefathers as people who performed acts of kindness.  A kind person who encounters the Torah is expected to reach the highest level of kindness.  But if a person confronts the Torah with all his egotism intact, he becomes nothing other than a “religious” egotist.

 

The most simple and fundamental revelation of the Torah for our lives is kindness toward people. This is the ground floor of the structure.  Many towering and substantial floors rise above it, namely devotion to G-d, holiness and kindness: Yet the core foundation is the relationship among fellow men.  The Book of Rut outlines the basic foundation of the ground floor of Torah as revealed through a life of deeds, as the Prophet says: “And what does G-d require of you but to act justly, and with loving kindness and to walk humbly with G-d” (Michah 6:8).  Is this all the Master of the Universe really requires of us?   Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Levi explains that the prophet was speaking to people whose entire life was corrupt and violent; that is why they must first return to a normal course of life of justice and kindness, and only on that foundation will they be able to build higher floors (Kuzari 2:47-48).

 

The Book of Rut describes the leftover gleanings [leket].  Naomi sends Rut to gather the gleanings of corn (Rut 2:2).  She comes to Boaz’s field; he was not the only thoroughly righteous person of his generation who permitted the gleaning of his field. The gleaning [leket] is the generally accepted norm of kindness although its essence is not simple.  The righteousness of many people ends at their pockets.  When they are asked to give from their pockets to others, their fear of G-d comes to an end.  We do not recognise the scythe even though it leaves behind a large quantity of produce. In the Book of Rut, we encounter other commandments, which depend on being in the land of Israel.  Rut said: “And I will gather the sheaves after the reapers” (ibid. 2:7). Rashi explains that this is produce that has fallen [shichechah] (Rashi ibid.).  Therefore it is written: “And he measured six portions of barley and he gave it to her” (ibid. 3:15).  Boaz gave Rut the portion of the tithes for the poor [ma’aser ani] which he owed. The Book of Rut is replete with social customs, which are pleasant, refined and modest.  Boaz said to Rut: “But remain close to my maidens” (ibid. 2:8). Remaining close [devekut] is a strong expression of love and companionship; and so it is clear that “remaining close” relate to the maidens who were to welcome her companions.  Naomi similarly guided Rut when she told her, “When you go out with his maidens” (ibid. 2:22).

 

The relationship to converts is one of honor, compared to the relationship to certain people in our time. One woman, who generally had never excelled in fulfilling light and difficult commandments, nor in consulting with rabbis, asked a rabbi what she should do: Her son was engaged to a convert. She knew she was a decent woman, with fine attributes, and who observed Torah; yet she was not sure the girl was fully Jewish.  The rabbi calmed her by telling her his daughter was named after a convert: This came as a relief.

 

A professor of physics told the story of a Jew in his town who regularly shared with him all sorts of halachic insights, but in the end wound up marrying a non-Jew.  When he saw that his listeners were struck by this strange story, he added that she was fully observant of the commandments.  “A non-Jew observant of the commandments?,” they wondered.  “Of course she converted…but still,” he answered. He was a renowned professor of physics, but a very poor student of Judaism.

 

Such insults to converts occur despite the thirty-six written admonitions in the Torah not to harm a convert (see Baba Metzia 59b; Letter of the Rambam to Rabbi Ovadiah Ha-Ger (the Convert), Igeret HaRambam, Mehadurat Ha-Rav Y.  Shilat 1, p. 239; Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Shemot, pp. 255-256, 266; Vayikra, pp. 190-191).  In the Book of Rut, great respect is given to converts. They are befriended, welcomed, and loved.  Yet this “Ploni Almoni,” (similar to John Doe) who had to redeem the field and marry Rut, refused to do so in order not to compromise his estate: There are commentaries which say he did not want to marry a convert (Book of Rut 4:6; Rut Rabbah 7:7; see Sefer Eim Ha-Banim Semechah, Mehadurat Pri Ha-Aaretz, p. 301). For this reason he is referred to negatively: His name is not mentioned.

 

There may have been a number of justifiable reasons for his refusal to marry her: But someone who associates marriage to a convert with a compromise to his estate is not worthy of having his name mentioned: he is simply “Ploni Almoni.” His degrading treatment of her resulted in no reference to his actual name, something rare in the Tanach. His approach to converts stands out in the Book of Rut because the accepted approach is one of respect and inclusion.

 

  1. Power of Persistence

The Book of Rut portrays the simple side of Torah life, revealed through actual life situations.  While it appears to be mundane, in fact it is not so at all. In a certain respect, it is quite complex: While sublime flashes of kindness and holiness are important, day-to-day perseverance is what truly counts.

 

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his students which was the most important verse in the Torah.  The students responded three ways: The second answer explained the first answer and the third commented on both. One said that the most important verse is “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d (Devarim 6:5).  The second said, “And you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18), an answer which did not contradict the first.  The Maharal explains that whoever thinks he loves G-d but not his creations does not love G-d at all: Loving G-d is revealed through the love of the creations of the Creator (Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Ahavat HaRe’ah, chapter 1).  Ben Pazi, the third student, said that the most important verse is, “You will sacrifice one sheep in the morning and one sheep in the evening (Shemot 29:39). Their teacher answered that Ben Pazi had responded correctly (cited in the Introduction of Ha-Kotev of Ein Yaakov).

 

Indeed, both the love of G-d and the love of His creations are continually tested, morning and night, morning and night.  This is the most important point. Our Sages referred to this sacrifice as the continual sacrifice [korban tamid].  It is sacrificed only once in the morning and once in the evening, yet it is called continual [tamid] because its significance lies in the persistence of the practice. This ongoing practice has significant power.  This answer does not contradict the previous ones but provides a basis for them.

 

Love is undeniably a powerful force.  When a man and woman agree to marry, there is a strong emotional excitement; love burns within them.  But in order to create a structure that lasts forever, the couple must care for the love and continue to discover it after the wedding, morning and evening.  Clearly true love is based on the ability to persevere.  If it dissolves like honey after the honeymoon, it has no value.  This simple fact of life is not altogether simple.  A person, on a daily basis, if not by the minute or second, must have a structured way of expressing his goodness.  A strong but spontaneous urge to do a good deed does not have a lasting effect.

 

  1. Light of Shir Ha-Shirim (The Song of Songs)

Our master, Rav Kook, says in his commentary of the siddur: It is impossible for the world to tolerate the light of Shir Ha-Shirim on Shavuot; we must hide the greatness of its treasure in the Book of Rut (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 2, p. 305).  On Passover, we read Shir Ha-Shirim and on Shavuot, the Book of Rut.  Our master, Rav Kook, explains that the Book of Rut is Shir Ha-Shirim concealed in life.  Shir Ha-Shirim expresses the great inner love that rages for the Master of the Universe.  The world is not able to tolerate this light, meaning it is not able to obtain nourishment from it.  No one can go through their daily life sustained by this great inner burning love.  It must be transposed into life.  Our Sages say: A person who recites Hallel every day curses and blasphemes (Shabbat 118b).  Saying Hallel reflects a magnificent, close and inner elevation and excitement, which corresponds to a certain number of days in the year. On regular days of the year, we recite the prayer section “Pesukai De-Zimra.”  We cannot sustain our lives on the strength of the Divine light we find in Shir Ha-Shirim.  We must hide the cherished greatness in the Book of Rut.  Rut is Shir Ha-Shirim in day-to-day life.  It is the hidden order of life.  Placing the Book of Rut under close scrutiny, we see it conceals the Shir Ha-Shirim.  The conduct of Boaz, who extended kindness and gave the forgotten sheaf and the tithe to the poor, is simply described, unlike the sublime and powerful verses of love we find in Shir Ha-Shirim.  This love, hidden and internalized, motivated Boaz. The intensity of Shir Ha-Shirim is channelled in a modest and humble way in the Book of Rut.

 

  1. Torah in the Land of Israel

The revelation of the great light of Shir Ha-Shirim in life only takes place in the Land of Israel, as it is written, “… to do so in the midst of the Land to which you are coming to inherit” (Devarim 4:5), namely the Land of Israel. The introduction to the Book of Rut emphasises the value of the Land of Israel. On the death of Elimelech, our Sages ask what he did to deserve such a terrible punishment: Their response is that he abandoned the Land of Israel (Yalkut Shimoni Rut 599:40).  Then his two sons died: They had not understood the warning.  Our Sages say: The Merciful One does not exact retribution at the outset of a person’s life.  So it was with Machlon and Chilyon.  First their horses and donkeys and camels died.  Then Elimelech died; and finally, both of them, Machlon and Chilyon died (Rut Rabbah 2:10; Vayikra Rabbah 17:4). The Halachah rules that a person is allowed to leave the Land of Israel in the event of famine (Rambam, Law of Kings 5:9).  There are people who argue that this dictum of the Gemara applies even today, and claim it is permissible to leave the Land because of poor economic circumstances.  This is nonsense.  In America there are some people who have nothing to eat. Such things do not happen here [in Israel]. Sometimes we have to ration but there is no famine: If there were a famine in the Land, to the point that there were nothing to eat, we would be permitted to leave it to save our lives.  Rambam concludes that, even if one is permitted to leave, this is not a pious attitude. Machlon and Chilyon were two great leaders of their generation. They left on account of great hardship and therefore died (ibid.). This is the strict approach.  Certain people for example are strict with themselves and only drink kosher wine with the highest kosher certification (mehadrin min ha-mehadrin – a double strictness).  But note that stringencies are not limited to kosher wine or meat. Remaining in the Land even in the face of terrible hardship, of suffering and famine, is also a stringency.

 

Rambam says that the leaders of the people who abandoned the fight during the times of hardship or famine, saved their lives and solved their problems; yet they did not understand the significance of the Land of Israel.  The Book of Rut begins in the midst of desperate times, and then gradually introduces the reader to life in the Land.  Most of the acts of kindness portrayed in the Book of Rut are linked to commandments dependent on the Land of Israel: Giving to the poor the gleanings, the forgotten sheaf and their tithe.  Acts of kindness can certainly be performed outside the Land; but in the Land of Israel there are unique prescriptions for kindness linked to the agricultural jubilee.  These commandments constitute our state socialism (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah 5, p. 25).  This is the way basic love of one’s fellow man is revealed in the national fabric of the Nation of Israel.

 

We are told that Boaz was winnowing barley in the granary at night.  Boaz was Ivtzan the Judge (Baba Batra 91a) who was like the head of government.  Yet at night, he winnowed barley.  The Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) explains that Boaz did not have time during the day to winnow because he worked so hard in public matters. Nevertheless he worked the Land because of the commandment to settle the Land (Chidushei Ha-Chatam Sofer, Succah 36).  Indeed, he was very involved in other matters, and most of the work was performed through his servants. He did a little bit of work at night because he wanted the merit of working in agriculture with his own hands.

 

Now we see the presence of Torah in the Land. Of all the places in the world, Torah is here, in the Land of Israel, and is revealed through the Land.  Most of the time, the spiritual realm conflicts with the material realm, but this is a phenomenon of exile.   The Chatam Sofer explains the writings of Chovot Ha-Levavot to the effect that everything that adds to the building of the body contributes to the destruction of the mind (Sha’ar Ha-Prishut, chapter 2).  The strengthening of the body and material earthly matters leads to the destruction of spiritual matters.  They cannot develop in parallel; no peace exists between them. A person should ideally suppress the body, act ascetically and not occupy himself at all with earthly or material matters.  Yet the Chatam Sofer says that this pertains to those living outside the Land of Israel, and not in our Land where working the earth is a mitzvah (Chidushei Ha-Chatam Sofer ibid.; see Orot, Orot Ha-Techiyah 27, p. 77).

 

A story is told of a young man living outside Israel who was visiting a yeshiva [in Israel].  There they explained to him at length what a yeshiva was.  Since the yeshiva was near a kibbutz, he asked innocently what is the difference between the two.  They told him: “Here we occupy ourselves with spiritual matters, and there they occupy themselves with material matters.”  He asked, “Is there no spirituality there at all?”  They answered him after some thought, “They have little spirituality because they wash the laundry from the yeshiva.”  The great Redemption of our Nation will never come if we adopt such an attitude.

 

It is correct to say that outside the Land of Israel, a person who is engaged in the physical activity of building the Land is cut off from life and has absolutely no share in Torah, holiness or the Divine Presence, except if he is close to others who are spiritual.  There, material concerns are loaded with impurity and corruption. There is little spiritual interest in the strengthening of agriculture in Italy, tourism in France and industry in England.  Outside the Land of Israel, we care for the spiritual state of our world: And we satisfy our material needs with as little as possible. In theory, it would be preferable if one could avoid eating outside the Land of Israel.  Food transforms man into an egotistical materialist, heavy and lazy without a shred of spirituality.

 

  1. And He Gladdend His Heart

Despite it all, in the Land of Israel, materialism has some value.  Agriculture is material in nature, yet generates pleasantness, kindness, love of fellow man, and great ethical values.  Boaz is said to have eaten, but he did not become heavy, corpulent or materialistic as a result. Instead, “And Boaz ate and drank and gladdened his heart” (Rut 3:7).  He was made better.  A man’s heart is his internal self. Pirkei Avot (2:9) asks, what is the proper path a man should follow?  The Sages answer: A good friend, a good neighbour, a kind eye, and above all, a good heart.  A person with a good heart not only has good deeds to his credit, but is good. Boaz was good even after he ate.  His eating did not lead to his undoing.

 

In the Zohar, we find the expression “kerova de-michla” (see Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 290), meaning, “the battle of food.”  When a person approaches his food, he still bears within him a small amount of idealism, altruism and love of fellow man: Once he begins to have a lot of food, his enthusiasm for idealistic expression cools. He has to fight it and is not allowed to let it conquer him: this is the battle of food. The blessing after eating strengthens a person’s resolve following his meal (Orot Ha-Teshuvah 14:8).  This is a battle that extends to a man’s idealism. Boaz ate and drank and gladdened his heart.

 

We are not dealing with a simple level of being: we have here a hidden light. Our master, Rav Kook, refers to the joy of eating in holiness (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 292) in the Land of Israel.  This is not the joy of a crude and materialistic person.  Eating in the Land of Israel signifies, being united with all the holy sparks contained in the food. When we eat to satisfy a materialistic appetite, we overcome sadness: when we eat in holiness, we experience joy: This is the table before G-d (ibid. pp. 292-293).  A person with a materialistic appetite is saddened after a meal: This is the bread of sadness (Tehillim 127:2).  His sadness is apparently existential: He has no idea what his role is in this world.  He turns his back on the significance of his life.  A person who eats in holiness fills himself with joy.  He eats at the table placed before G-d.

 

These comments of our master, Rav Kook, evoke the style of Shir Ha-Shirim but not of the Book of Rut, where it is simply written, “And Boaz ate and drank and he gladdened his heart.”  Understand that hidden within these words is the very light of Shir Ha-Shirim.  In Israel, there is no conflict or contradiction, and no need to wipe out all earthly matters in order to be elevated and idealistic. Here we see the primacy of the Torah in Israel, in life, in agriculture and even in eating.

 

  1. Death will Spearate Me and You

The Book of Rut is about triumph arising from a continual and great struggle.  We do not see enthusiasm born of the moment, but an intense struggle that brings great enlightenment. Consider where Rut came from and what level she attained. The struggle and her success testify to the possibility of fixing anything broken, and of raising up every particle of goodness through willpower, strength and might.  Naomi tried to dissuade her from converting, but she saw that she persisted (Rut 1:18).

 

Determination, courage and struggle are the attributes that gave her the right to belong to the descendants of Avraham our father.  Avraham our father was the first Rut. All his life he persisted, struggled and overcame. Since Naomi was convinced that Rut was determined, it was evident she was related to Avraham our father (Yevamot 47b).  Rut was caught in a cycle of complications.  Elimelech had abandoned the Land of Israel; he lost his sons and in the end, died.  Rut, a former heathen, was left widowed.  Woven through this complicated situation was a long process of Divine supervision that encompassed all of life’s events, especially those most complex and confused.  When a benevolent will comes along, it is possible to get close, to triumph over all the complications of reality.  Rut found herself in both a human and national complication. Coming from Moabite stock was not a positive heritage.

 

Moab was born in impurity, descended from Lot who had slept with his daughters. Hence the injunction, “an Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d” (Devarim 23:4); but a female Moabite and female Ammonite were permitted (Yevamot 69a).  The spiritual contamination of Lot’s sin did not affect the women, only the men.  Lot’s entire life was one of estrangement and corruption.  Our Sages sum him up in one passage: Separated because of his desire, he sought [wisdom] (Mishlei 18:1; Nazir 23b; Horayot 10b).  Lot distanced himself from Avraham our Father because of his desire.  For a few sheep, he separated himself from a pillar of the world (Shemot Rabbah 2:6; Rambam, Laws of Idol Worship 1:2).  He separated himself and went to a place which the Torah describes: “And the men of Sodom were evil and greatly sinned against G-d” (Bereshit 13:13). Later he committed incest with his daughters, of which he was conscious and not conscious; he slept and did not sleep (Bereshit Rabbah 51:8; Rashi on Bereshit 19:35).  This type of individual is corrupt, and his offspring is corrupt.  Bilaam, who wanted to destroy the Nation of Israel, sent the daughters of Moav to seduce the Jews into sin (Bemidbar 25:1; Rashi based on Sanhedrin 106a).  The Midrash tells us G-d offered the Torah to every nation, all of whom asked what was written in it.  When the tribe of Moav heard that it contained the prohibition, “Do not commit adultery” (Shemot 20:13; Devarim 5:17), they refused to accept it (Sifrei Berachah 343; Pesikta Rabbati 21).  This is the substance of their customs, for they were born of adultery.

 

When Israel reached the borders of Moav, Moav did not come out to greet them with bread and water (Devarim 23:5). Ramban says that he responded to goodness with evil (Ramban ibid.). Avraham adopted Lot, son of his brother Haran when he died in Charan, raised and nursed him until he became enormously wealthy. He distanced himself from Avraham our father because of a dispute over sheep; and his people responded to goodness with evil: They were not prepared to extend to Israel the most basic sustenance.

 

This is where Rut came from.  She made a complete about-turn.  Her ancestor Lot separated himself from Avraham, as it is written: “And they separated (Bereshit 13:11), for he was separated because of his desire.  Yet Rut said to Naomi: “Death will separate me and you” (Rut 1:17).  Lot said: “I cannot tolerate Avraham or his G-d (Bereshit Rabbah 41:7; Rashi on Bereshit 13:11).  And Rut: “Your people will be my people; your G-d, my G-d” (Rut 1:16). Seeing that Sodom was corrupt, he went there to seek wealth and gain.  Rut chose poverty and clung to Naomi.  Lot, who loved to feed his desires, slept with one of his daughters, then the other; and the daughters of Moav committed prostitution among the people.  But Rut remained steadfast.  Naomi asked her not to go with her, because she was already old, and she could not provide her with another son to marry (ibid. 1:12). In Moav, Rut could have married into the aristocracy of the people, as Orpah had done (ibid. 1:14).  But Rut did not even think that way, and was prepared to remain steadfast. Pregnancy through Lot was sinful; by contrast, Rut’s pregnancy elicits G-d caused her to be pregnant (ibid. 4:13).  Lot’s daughter gave her son a crude name to gloat over what she had done, calling him Moav, meaning from my father (Bereshit Rabbah 51:11; Rashi on Bereshit 19:37).  While Rut did not call her son by name, her neighbour called him Oved (Rut 4:17).  Moav was completely aggressive, while Rut was totally modest.  Lot was involved in theft, which led to an argument between the shepherds of Lot and Avraham (Bereshit 13:7 and Rashi ibid. based on Bereshit Rabbah 41:5).  Yet the Master of the Universe did not reveal himself to Avraham while he was with Lot, because his shepherds were claiming ownership of the property of Avraham our father. Instead He returned to speak with him on the day that Lot left him (Tanhuma Vayetze 10; Rashi on Bereshit 13:14).  Rut, the grand-daughter of Lot, made sure that the grain she gathered was considered to be abandoned property so that she could take it (Rut Rabbah 4:9).  Rut was a completely righteous person.  She took the path completely opposite from that of the terrible, destructive path of the people of Moav, who were pleasure seekers and egotists. This comes to teach us that when a person cuts himself off and falls, even after generations of destruction, Divine guidance and supervision will bring him back to the light on the condition that he strengthens himself and is active in the process.  This is the triumph of Torah over reality, of light over darkness.

 

  1. Who can Draw Something Pure from Impurity

Conversion is victory.  A convert is born into a non-Jewish culture.  He strengthens himself, overcomes and reaches for Judaism.  In fact, we are all converts.  When we left Egypt, we were not Jews but the descendants of Yaakov.  This was the pre-Jewish stage.  We were all converted at the Exodus from Egypt: We underwent circumcision, immersion and the assumption of the commandments standing at Mt. Sinai (Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Relationships 13:1-3). A number of people delayed in converting and joined us over the course of generations. Six hundred thousand converted at the Exodus from Egypt, and a number of individuals joined us over the course of thousands of years. We left Egypt with a great treasure (Bereshit 15:14) without a single-minded focus on silver and gold.  We also have a spiritual, cultural and ethical treasure, which perhaps was enriched through us.  The Holy One Blessed Be He set Israel among the nations in order that converts could join with it (Pesachim 87b).

 

Everyone from his country of origin brings us all the good things from their people: This is the advantage of having people join the nation of Israel at later stages. Since the path of the convert is personal, it is all the more difficult.  Conversion is a person’s internal triumph over external complexities. External reality certainly opposes what we want to do.

 

Rut’s conversion contradicts reality, her people’s heritage and family situation.  She did not strive for money, gold or position: She abandoned it all, and was left in command of her spirit and internal stamina.  The exercise of her strength was a victory.  She deserved to enter the ranks of Israel: Indeed, her descendant was King David and the Messiah.  The Zohar says that even Lot harbored sparks of holiness (Zohar 1, Vayera 105:1).  We can see from a plain reading of the text that he welcomed guests; and when the people of Sodom wanted to harm his guests, he stood his ground and refused, despite the apparent danger to himself (Bereshit 19:4-11).  When Avraham went down to Egypt, and declared that Sarah was his sister, Lot kept the secret, for which our Sages acknowledge his merit (Bereshit Rabbah 51:6; Rashi on Bereshit 19:29).  The Master of the Universe did not permit Moshe to battle with Moav and Amon because…”there are two positive elements I have to extract from them” (Baba Kama 38b), namely two good things I will take out from them: Rut the Moabite and Na’amah the Ammonite within whom lies the seed of the Messiah.  A thousand women married Shlomo when he was the king.  But Na’amah, the daughter of the king of Amon, married him after her conversion: since he was of lowly standing, no one believed he was the king (Rama Mi-Panu, Asarah Ma’amarot, Ma’amar Em Kol Chai 3:9; Midbar Kedemut of Chida, 50:24).  She believed him and gave him strength at the time of his weakness: As a result, she had the merit of fostering the lineage of the future everlasting David.

 

Every situation has a redeeming quality.  In regard to Moav and Amon, there were two positive elements; and even in Sodom, there was something to save it.  Avraham our Father contended with the Master of the Universe because of Sodom (Bereshit 18:23-32). The long and short of the matter is that there was only one righteous man, Lot, who was saved from the upheaval; and Avraham did not know that he was fighting to serve the seed of the Messiah.  Lot came from Sodom, and from him, Moav; and from the latter, Rut, the Mother of the kingdom (Baba Batra 91b).  The depths of holiness arose from the depths of impurity, evil, lust, incest and egoism. Who can bring something pure out of impurity (Iyov 14:4).  From this we know that Divine guidance governs every human situation, even the most distant: such is the Divine order of things, to draw purity from impurity. The Torah surmounts even the greatest complexities of reality.  Through the courage of Rut which was not sporadic but constant, as it is written, “Who will go up to the mountain of Hashem; and even stronger: And who will rise in His Holy place?” (Tehillim 24:3), a man rises and stands and strengthens himself every day, moment by moment.

 

Here we see the light of Shir Ha-Shirim hidden in the Book of Rut.  Light is detailed in the most minute sense; pure gold is referred to as very fine dust and is not melted together in one bar of gold, whose value increases even more with time.  This bar of gold is Shir Ha-Shirim.  The dust is Rut who, as it were, did not go about smashing stones and cracking rocks but worked at a steady courageous pace and dealt with her struggles from minute to minute.  As a result, she finally attained the highest level, which shows there is Torah on earth.  While in heaven, things are sublime and wondrous; on earth, we find destruction, banality and ugliness in applying supreme ideals. But this is misleading.  The revelation of holiness in daily life partakes of the greatest might.  It relates to the great light, the great ideal that permeates and takes over reality.

 

This is not banal or trite: It is majestic might and power.  Rut displayed her courage and each incident of life we see in the Book of Rut, of daily righteousness, is continuous and fluid.

 

On Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah with thunder and lightning and clouds and mist, the entire people said: “We will do, and we will hear” (Shemot 24:7) in the midst of the encounter with the heavenly Torah from the supreme heights. And G-d descended upon Mount Sinai (ibid. 19:20): The Torah continues to descend upon us until it directs life. The Book of Rut is the victory of life and the organization of life in the strength of G-dly light which descends from the heavens.

 

DAVID

  1. The Shepherd
  2. In the Courtyard of King Shaul
  3. Ascension to the Throne and Jerusalem
  4. Bringing the Ark of G-d to Jerusalem
  5. Yearning to Build the Temple
  6. Courage and Integrity
  7. King David’s Legacy

 

  1. The Shepherd

A Nation was born, left Egypt, and, though difficult wars, returned to the Land of its Forefathers through difficult wars.  But there were even more difficulties to come: enemies from within and from without attacked and reigned over the Nation.  There was ethical corruption, idol worship and civil war between Jews which spilled much blood.  The Judges arose and fixed the situation temporarily, giving the Nation a period of quiet.  But the Nation again experienced darkness and agony, confusion and suffering, for everyone did as he pleased.  This continued until a king arose for us: Shaul.  He waged war with self-sacrifice and elevated the national honor.  The mission was too great for him, however, and he fell by the arrows of the Philistines.

 

From the midst of the darkness, with the kindness of G-d, an amazing figure appears who saves the Nation, establishes a kingdom and provides tranquility and peace.  He is not a cruel warrior, but a young man with a gentle soul, red-hair and beautiful eyes.  His ancestors were of the highest caliber: Miriam the prophetess, brother of Moshe; Boaz, who is also known as Avtzan, who served as a judge; Rut, the supreme, righteous convert; his grandfather Oved and his father Yishai – both of whom served G-d with wholeness.

 

But David’s grace and intellect did not completely protect for him.  His brothers expelled him from their father’s house, and he became a shepherd in the wilderness.  But his life as a shepherd prepared him for the exalted role of king.  He was merciful with his flock.  He first took out the young goats and fed them soft grass.  He was dedicated to his flock with his heart and soul.  He was willing to enter into difficult struggles for them and fight against and defeat bears and lions to protect them.

 

  1. In the Courtyard of King Shaul

Shmuel the prophet comes and inform him that he is suited to rule over Israel, and anoints him for kingship.  The anointment of David remains a secret.  Nonetheless, he slowly ascends, level after level, until the Holy Spirit rests upon him.  He also knew how to play music.  He was therefore invited by the members of Shaul’s household to play music for the king to save him from the evil spirit which terrorized him.

 

David wanted to sit in tranquility with Shaul in the royal courtyard, but the anger of Goliat forced him to go out to war.  During the course of forty days, Goliat this giant would wake up early and stay up late, insulting and blaspheming, in order to confuse Israel and prevent them from reciting the morning and evening Shema.  The entire Nation was scared and said: who can overcome him?  Shaul himself was ill at that time, and he was unable to fight him.  The young David, seeing the honor of the army of Israel and the honor of G-d being trampled, became angry and said in his heart: “In a place where there are no men strive to be a man” (Pirkei Avot 2:5).  “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (Shmuel 1 17:26).  Shaul gave him his uniform and armor and they were fit for David, as befitting one who would rule in the future.  Nonetheless, David preferred fighting in his shepherd’s outfit to which he had become accustomed, and he took his slingshot and five stones.  David was filled with the spirit of wisdom and courage and hit Goliat in the forehead, in a place lacking armor.

 

Shaul was jealous of him, and instead of kissing him for the great salvation he performed for Israel, appointing him Chief of Staff and giving him his daughter, he asks in a protesting and disparaging way: “Whose son is this young man?” (Shmuel 1 17:56).  In fact he knew the young man, because he was the one who would stand before him playing the harp to remove the evil spirit.  But Shaul’s evil spirit remained a secret from the Nation so that they would not lose faith in his kingship.  If David had been a scoundrel, he would have responded: I am your servant who plays music before you to rid you of your evil spirit.  He also would have revealed his anointment as king, and then the Nation would have made him king in place of Shaul.  But he was a noble and gentle man, and he simply responded: “I am David the son of your servant Yishai of Bet Lechem” (ibid. v. 58).  His words ended here and he did not add anything.

 

“After he [David] had finished talking with Saul, Yonatan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (ibid. 18:1), since he saw that not only was he courageous and brave, but he guarded his tongue, and he was gentle and pure.  These two friends made an eternal pact.  Anyone who did not see the friendship between David and Yonatan did not see true friendship, did not see love that was not dependent on anything.  Yonatan, one of the most humble people, recognized that David was better suited than him to be king, “And Yonatan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his armor, and even his sword, his bow and his belt” (ibid. v. 4).  The Sages of Israel correctly saw this love as an example of idealist love, “love that is not dependent on anything” (Pirkei Avot 5:19), since there was no ulterior motive.  Their concern was only for the best of their Nation and Land.

 

Shaul’s evil spirit continued to terrorize him, and he attempted to kill David a few times with his spear.  He feared that G-d was with David, and he made him an officer in the army and David went out before the Nation.  But Shaul did not stop pursuing him, and he conspired for him to fall into the hands of the Philistines.  He said to David: if you will be a soldier and fight the wars of Hashem, I will give you my daughter Meirav as a wife.  David fought, but Meirav was given to someone else.  Shaul then said that if you bring me one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, I will give you my daughter Michal.  David again passed the challenge, and Michal became his wife.  In the end, Shaul sent agents to kill him, but Michal, his wife, helped him escape through a window.  Fortunate is the man who has such a loyal wife.  But she paid for this, and Shaul later took revenge by giving her to another man.

 

David fled from place to place, and even had to take refuge in Gat with Achish, the King of the Philistines, and pretend he was mentally deranged.  David was still pursued by Shaul, although he was free from sin.  And yet, David never took revenge against him and never injured him.  Even when he had the opportunity to strike Shaul, when he was alone in a cave with him, and it would have been permissible based on the law of “If one comes to kill you, kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a), he did not injure him.  Instead he cut the corner of Shaul’s robe to prove that he had no hatred against him in his heart.  Even this gracious act caused David remorse, for how did he dare to cut the king’s robe?  David’s men wanted to take revenge against Shaul, and they would have conspired to do so if it were not for David standing against them with all of his power to convince them otherwise.  Shaul saw David’s impeccability, cried and said: “You are more righteous than me.  You treated me well while I treated you badly” (Shmuel 1 24:17).  Nonetheless, the evil spirit overcame him and he continued to pursue David.

 

We see David’s incredible nobility in another incident as well.  During his journeys, all sorts of dangerous men, outcasts of society, gathered around David and he organized them for the sake of the Nation.  They served David by guarding against hooligans and enemies, and also enemies of the Nation.  He and his men guarded over the flock of Naval Ha-Karmali, but when it came time for Naval to pay them for their toil and self-sacrifice, he did not fulfill his word.  He responded with ungratefulness and insults.  David says to his men: whoever thinks Naval is a dead man should put on his sword.  His men girded their swords.  But Avigial, the wife of Naval, stood firm: “This should not be a cause of grief for you, and my master’s heart should not be troubled because you have spilled blood without cause” (I Shmuel 25:31).  The weak voice of a woman speaking ethically was more powerful to David than that of four hundred strong men yielding swords.  “Blessed be your discernment and blessed be you, who have kept me today from shedding blood” (ibid. v. 33).  David did not wound Naval, and after a few days he died on his own.  Later, David merited marrying Avigial, who was a great woman and a prophetess in Israel.

 

David was nonetheless concerned about falling by the hand of Shaul, and decided to hide himself and his men with Achish, King of Gat.  David became an officer in the army of the Philistines, and took advantage of every opportunity to strike the enemies of Israel, who caused him great distress – Amalek and the Caananites.  But when the Philistines went to war against Shaul, David set a horrible trap.  The Philistine officers lost faith in David and asked the king to remove him from the ranks.  David continued his wars.

 

In the same battle with the Philistines, many Jews were killed, including Shaul and Yonatan.  The survivor who informs David of their death and who related that he helped King Shaul fall on his sword, expected David to be happy that the kingship was now free.  He was sure David would grant him a reward.  But David tears his garments, rules that the informer be killed and laments from the depths of his heart.

 

  1. Ascension to the Throne and Jerusalem

When David ascends to the throne, his main thought is to conquer Jerusalem in order for it to be a capital for the entire Nation.  The city which Hashem chose, which is not divided among the Tribes and rises above of all of the Tribes, is the heart of the Nation.  The Nation requires a Land and State, an economy and security, but above all, it requires a heart, a place of Torah and prophecy, a place for the Temple.  “Mountains surround Jerusalem and Hashem surrounds His Nation” (Tehillim 125:2).  The city was completely fortified, surrounded by walls and towers, and its residents mocked David: “You will not enter here, even the blind and lame could turn you away” (Shmuel 2 5:6).  They also claimed that they would be protected by the covenant made with Avraham Avinu.  In the end, David and his men succeeded in conquering the city with wondrous courage.  David nevertheless did not want to acquire the city in merit of the physical conquest, but rather collected five shekels from every Tribe and purchased the Holy City from the Yebusites by possession, money and a document (of the halachic ways of making an acquisition) as an eternal acquisition, and so that no one could ever claim that this city is not ours.

 

“A Song of Ascents of David.  I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem.’  Our feet are standing firmly within your gates, Jerusalem.  The rebuilt Jerusalem is the city that joins together.  It is the place to which where the tribes ascended, the Tribes of G-d, a testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of Hashem.  For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the House of David.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may those who love you prosper.  May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.  For my brothers and companions’ sakes, I will say: ‘Peace be within you.’  For the sake of the House of Hashem our G-d I will seek your good” (Tehillim 122).

 

But immediately after David conquered Jerusalem, a great war leapt upon him, in which David proved his bravery among the warriors and his great trust in Hashem, who said to him: “When you hear the sound of marching over the balsam trees move quickly” (Shmuel 2 5:24).  David waited in ambush and held back his soldiers until the Philistines where less than four amah (six feet) away.  David showed even greater bravery when he later waged war against Shovach, the commander of the army of Aram, who also claimed that Yaakov Avinu had made a pact with him (see ibid. 10:18).

 

  1. Bringing the Ark of G-d to Jerusalem

David saw that it was time to bring the Ark of G-d to the Jerusalem.  “And David and all of the House of Israel played before Hashem with instruments of cypress wood, lyres, harps, drums, cornets and cymbals” (ibid. 6:5).  David did not worry about his own honor but only that of his Creator.  “David danced before Hashem with all his might” (ibid. 6:14).  Michal, his wife, was an extremely righteous woman, but she erred here, and scorned David in her heart: “How distinguished was the King of Israel today, who exposed himself today before the handmaids of his servants as a fool uncovers himself” (Shmuel 2 6:20).  She did not know that anyone who lowers himself before the Master of the Universe is greater and more honorable.  David answered her: “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes, but by these handmaids of who you spoke, I will be held in honor” (ibid. v. 22).

 

This was a great day for David: “And he distributed to every person in Israel, both man and woman, a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins” (ibid. 6:19).  The sweet singer of Israel also sang before his G-d: “Give thanks to Hashem, declare His Name, make His acts known among the nations.  Sing to Him, make music for Him, speak of all His wonders.  Praise His Holy Name, may the heart of those who seek Hashem be joyous. Search out Hashem and His strength, seek His Presence always.  Remember His wonders that He performed, His marvels and the judgments of His mouth. Offspring of Israel, His servant, children of Yaakov, His chosen ones, He is Hashem, our G-d, His judgments are over all the earth.  He remembered His covenant forever, the word He commanded for a thousand generations (Tehillim 105:1-8).

 

  1. Yearning to Build the Temple

David came from within the Land of Israel to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to the Ark of the Covenant, and he now desired to build the Temple.  He told Natan the prophet: “I am living in a palace of cedar while the Ark of God remains in a tent” (ibid. 7:2).  But what David thought is not what the Master of the Universe thought.  Each person has his own role and mission, and the time for building the Temple had not yet arrived.  The Master of the Universe said to him: I took you from the flock to be the king over my Nation, Israel.  I made you a great name like the names of the greatest people on earth.  I will be with you everywhere you go and I will cut down your enemies who surround you.  You have fought the wars of Hashem, you have spilled much blood, I have given my Nation a resting place and an inheritance, I have planted them in the Land.  You have established my kingdom.  This is your job and your mission.  Your son will be your loyal successor and he will build My Temple.  David responded: Who am I that You have brought me to this point, and have done for me this greatness?

 

  1. Courage and Integrity

David continues in his work of striking down Israel’s enemies: the Philistines, Moav and Aram Damascus.  But he does not like to be involved in wars and to spill the enemies’ blood.  He therefore had the following custom: to strike them with a major blow into submission, and then place representatives to guard the quiet and peace in every place.

 

Every place that you find David’s courage, you find David’s integrity.  He did not want to annul the covenant of his ancestors, so he charged the Sanhedrin to investigate and search for the truth of what was said by the Philistines and Arameans.  The Sanhedrin taught and David responded to the Philistines: You came to invade our Land.  And to the Arameans: You have already nullified that pact with Yaakov Avinu.

 

His military victories and successes did not take David away from the knowledge of his Creator, and did not cause him to change anything in the conduct of his life.  He remained one of the most humble of people, and he felt and related about himself: “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by man and despised by people” (Tehillim 22:7).  When he was King, he remained as humble as a shepherd.  The coin of David had a staff and sack of shepherd on one side and the Tower of David on the other.  “Hashem, my heart is not haughty, and my eyes were not raised on high, and I did not pursue matters greater and more wondrous than I.  I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother, my soul is with me like a weaned child” (Tehillim 131:1-2).

 

Even when he sat on the throne of kingship he lowered himself and sat on the floor to learn Torah.  He would wake up each night at midnight in order to pray.  “I awake at midnight to thank you” (Tehillim 119:62).  A harp hung above David’s bed, and when it was midnight, a Northern wind would blow and played it.  David immediately strengthened himself like a lion, got up and learned Torah with songs and praises (see Berachot 3b).  He would write songs to Hashem until he completed the entire Book of Tehillim.  There is nothing in the world like this book’s beauty and thirst for Hashem.  All Israel, in every generation and place, pours out its soul to Hashem through these Tehillim.

 

David withstood many difficult trials throughout his life, but occasionally he did not, as it says: “There is no righteous man in the world who does good and does not sin” (Kohelet 7:20).  But even in the place where you see the deficiency of our king, you find his greatness.  After the incident with Batsheva, when Natan the prophet comes and admonishes him: why did you take the sheep of the destitute, you are that man, David did not try to conceal it.  He did not say: there were no sheep here, no destitute person here and I am not the man.  He simply responded: “I sinned to Hashem” (Shmuel 2 12:13), and he cried every night for thirteen years to the point that his bed was soaked with tears and his eyes hurt from crying.

 

“For the conductor, a song of David.  When Natan the prophet came to him when he went to Batsheva… For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…wash me and I will become whiter than snow.  Make me hear joy and gladness… Create for me a pure heart, G-d, and renew a proper spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from before You, and do not take Your holy spirit from me.  I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” (Tehillim 51:1-15).  From then on, anyone who sinned – even in a severe manner – knows that the way of repentance is open before him, on condition that he confesses and cries from the depths of his heart.

 

As the head of the army, David also acted with great humility.  David was extremely thirsty during a war and said: “If only someone would give me water from the well of Bet Lechem” (Shmuel 2 23:15).  Three mighty men of David burst through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well and brought it to David, but he did not want to drink it: G-d forbidden should I act this way.  Should I drink the blood of these men who risked their lives?

 

David never refrained from going out to difficult battles against the enemy of his Nation and putting his life in his hands until he was almost killed.  His men then said: do not come out to battle with us.  The light of Israel should not be extinguished.

 

  1. King David’s Legacy

“David was old, advanced in years, they covered him with a blanket but he did not become warm” (Melachim 1 1:1).  The body of this brave man did not suffer from coldness but his heart became cool.  David, the elder and the wise, the experienced and deep thinker, looked over the incredible kingdom he built: there was peace, blessing, a state.  But maybe there is no spirit?  If there is no spirit, there is nothing.  Perhaps the kingdom will fall.  The king is concerned and gloomy.  The people of the castle saw that their king was elderly and troubled and decided: we should find a pretty young woman.  The king will see her, marry her and the joy in his life and the fire of his youth will return.  They planned and executed, but these fools did not know that this was not the way the king would be comforted.  The young woman was beautiful but the king did not touch her.

 

The king saw that it was time to appoint a loyal successor.  David had many children, each had his own strength: one had courage, another beauty, another smarts and another Torah.  But he had only one son like Shlomo: a son whose heart was like his father’s, a wise and righteous son, who was called a friend of Hashem.  David said to his son: The time when I lived is not like the time that you live.  My days were days of war.  It is impossible to establish a State without military men and courageous men.  I was forced to suffer them, including their many deficiencies.  For example, Yoav ben Tzeruya who shed the blood of war during peacetime and Shimi ben Gera who rebelled against me and cursed me.  It is now a time of quiet and tranquility, and you know what to do with these people if they try to follow the same path they followed during my life, since you are a wise man.

 

He also commanded him: I desire with all my heart to build a House for Hashem.  And now, my son, may Hashem be with you and you should succeed in building the Temple of Hashem.  May Hashem give you the wisdom and understanding to observe the Torah of Hashem.

 

David also managed to gather together all of the princes of Israel, the Cohanim and Levi’im and distribute to them their roles for working in the Temple.  He also gave his son the plan of how the Temple was to be built.  Furthermore, he collected large quantities of silver, gold, iron, bronze for building the Temple.

 

This is the greatest last testament that our king gave to his Nation before his death: Listen my brothers and Nation:  Observe all of the mitzvot of Hashem your G-d for the sake of possessing the good Land and bequeath it to your children for eternity.

 

David goes to his world, and the kingdom he establishes falls.  But his songs constantly remain in our mouth, the songs of the sweet singer of Israel.  Nothing like this ever occurred in the thousands of years of human history: a king who sang amazing, holy songs.  Fortunate are we that the King of Israel belongs to us, the Nation of Israel.  There is no one like him.

 

One other thing which Israel always knows: David, King of Israel, lives and exists.  We always knew that our exiles would be gathered, our Land would be built, our kingdom re-established, that we would return to Jerusalem, our Holy City, and that the light of Hashem would shine within us.

 

And this time is coming: “A song of ascents.  When Hashem will bring the exiles back to Zion, we will be like a dreamer.  Now, our mouth is filled with laughter, and our tongue with song.  Then it was said among the nations, ‘Hashem has done great things with these people.’  Hashem has done great things for us, and we rejoice.  We should return from our captivity, Hashem, like streams gushing through the Negev.  Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  One goes out weeping when burdened with the full measure of seeds.  He shall surely come in joy, bearing his harvested sheaves” (Tehillim 126).

 

 

MORDECHAI

  1. “Mordechai did not kneel or bow down”
  2. Ingratiation or Provocation against the Non-Jews
  3. The King’s Duke
  4. The Danger of Submission
  5. The Reason for the Decree
  6. “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”
  7. Un-walled and Walled Cities

 

 

  1. “Mordechai did not kneel or bow down”

The Radvaz (Shut Ha-Radvaz 1:284) asks: how could Mordechai endanger the entire Jewish People?  Although we know that it turned out positively in the end, this was not known at the outset.  Because of Mordechai’s actions, danger hovered over Israel: “To destroy, murder and exterminate all of the Jews, young and old, children and women, in one day…and plunder their possessions” (Ester 3:13).  How could Mordechai take it upon himself to cause his people such danger?  In truth, we find in the Letter of Ester an echo of the dispute between Mordechai and other Jews: “Israel said to him: You should know that you are causing us to fall by the sword at this time” (Igret Ester 3:2).  The Gemara also compares Mordechai to Shaul, who did not kill Agag and Haman, who was his descendant, distressed Israel (Megillah 13b), i.e. Shaul had mercy on Agag, and Mordechai, Shaul’s descendant, enticed Agag’s descendant against us.

 

The claim that Mordechai did not bow down because Haman had made himself into an idol to be worshipped, or had engraved images of idols onto his garments (as is customary in our time among the rulers of the East) does not answer the question.  Mordechai could have avoided passing or meeting Haman, and thereby avoided the whole problem.  Even though the prohibition of bowing down to an idol falls within the category of “Be killed and do not transgress it,” it is a prohibition that one may effectively circumvent, for there is no law that one must take it upon himself to encounter an object of idol worship and declare that he is not bowing down to it. This would mean endangering his life and that of the Nation’s.  Only if a person is forced to bow down to an idol must he refuse, even at the cost of his life.  Mordechai met regularly with Haman and did not bow down, as it says: “When they said to him day after day and he did not listen to them” (Ester 3:4), i.e. he purposefully passed Haman each day.    The Maharal (Or Chadash) says: “And he did not take a different path” on purpose.  Our Sages (Yalkut Shimoni Ester 1054) make it even more serious by stating that Haman would come to him and say: “Shalom” and Mordechai would not respond.  Haman asked him: “You wouldn’t say ‘Shalom’ to me?”  Mordechai answered: “There is no ‘Shalom’ (peace’) – says Hashem – for the wicked” (Yeshayahu 48:22).  Mordechai did everything he could to infuriate Haman.  The Midrash relates that Mordechai would show Haman a sandal each time he passed which had inscribed on it that Haman was a slave to Mordechai.  Why did he seek to anger Haman so much?

 

  1. Ingratiation or Provocation against the Non-Jews

Perhaps you will say that Mordechai did not think that matters would deteriorate to such an extent.  This does not seem correct.  This is particularly true regarding Mordechai’s behavior with the king’s clothing and horse after the decree against the Jews was already made.  When Haman comes to him, Mordechai could have tried to pacify him, to ask for his forgiveness and give in to him.  But Mordechai does not do so, rather he has Haman lead him around on the king’s horse.

 

Question: But Achashverosh decreed that Haman should do this!

Answer: Mordechai could have attempted to speak with the king, or to fulfill the decree in a less prominent fashion that would be less embarrassing for Haman.  But we see that Mordechai did not do this; he used a different tact.  He did not act this way out of an error in calculation or as an emotional response.  He had a strategy and stuck to it.  This was Mordechai’s stance and he did not vacillate between ingratiation and provocation against the non-Jews.

 

Our Sages were in doubt regarding the question of how to act with the wicked:  Should we provoke them or submit to them (Berachot 7b and also Megillah)?  Most opinions in the Gemara hold that if you see the wicked prosper, you should submit to them.  In contrast, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says that it is permissible to provoke the wicked in this world.  And in fact, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained it well and fulfilled it well.  He provoked the Romans, and they issued a decree against him of capital punishment and he was forced to hide in a cave (see Shabbat 33b).  The Gemara brings different answers based on the specific situation and the character of those involved.  The Maharal says that Mordechai decided in this case that it was necessary to provoke the wicked (Or Chadash).

 

Question: Isn’t it sometimes possible for a person not to ingratiate himself, or to avoid provoking another?

Answer: This is remaining neutral.  But bowing down before Haman is not remaining neutral, it is ingratiation.

 

Question: Couldn’t Mordechai have avoided putting himself in this situation?

Answer: You are correct.  But Mordechai decided that he needed to provoke.  Not only not to ingratiate himself and turn his eye, but to actively provoke.

 

  1. The King’s Duke

The Midrash relates that Haman said to Mordechai: Why don’t you bow down to me? Your grandfather bowed down to my grandfather, Yaakov bowed before Esav!  Mordechai answered him: “I am the duke of the King” (Midrash Ester 7:9).  I am noble.  My grandfather was born in the Land of Israel” (ibid.).  This means that there is no choice in exile and one must ingratiate himself to the non-Jews.  The non-Jews murder us in pogroms and so we plead, beg, bribe and do everything we can to avert disaster.  There is no choice, no other option.  But, Mordechai responds, my grandfather was born in Eretz Yisrael.  Binyamin, my grandfather, did not bow down to Esav.  He was not yet born during the meeting between Yaakov and Esav.  This was not happenstance.

 

Question: But Mordechai was living in the Exile during that time?

Answer But he was not exilic.

Question: Even in the Exile?

Answer: Yes, even in the Exile, he was not exilic.  The Exile makes us into Jews who have to ingratiate ourselves to the non-Jews.  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains this idea in connection to the Exodus from Egypt.  When the Egyptians pursued the Jews, they were terrified.  Why?  They were six-hundred thousand armed men.  Why didn’t they strike the Egyptians?!  The Ibn Ezra explains that this was impossible from their perspective.  They had a lowly spirit, and they could not lift their hand against their taskmasters (see Ibn Ezra on Shemot 14:13).  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains in another place that only one person did not have a lowly spirit following the Exile: Moshe Rabbenu.  It is a secret why he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace and not among the Jews.  The Rambam says about the verse: “G-d did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, although it was near, for G-d said: Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see war and they will return to Egypt” (Shemot 13:17), i.e. the Nation of Israel was scared.  It was enslaved in its soul.  The process of liberating the soul from servitude is lengthy.  While the Master of the Universe could have miraculously given them courage, it would have removed their free will.  The solution was therefore to spend forty years in the desert: “for the sake of learning courage” (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 32).  Forty years in the desert in difficult conditions would teach them how to be courageous.  A slave is unable to immediately wash the mortar from his hands and wage war against giants.  The Exile breeds a lowly spirit.  It removes a person’s willingness to pay a price for his freedom.

 

  1. The Danger of Submission

But how did Yaakov Avinu bowed down to Esav?  Our Sages in fact criticize this act and say that because of the eight times that Yaakov bowed to Esav, eight kings of Edom (the descendants of Esav) ruled before the kings of Israel (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit 32).  The Ramban takes this a step further and says that because of the bowing of Yaakov we fell by the hands of Edom; this occurred when the kings of the Hasmonaim made a covenant with the Romans, as is related in the history books.  He relates that the Hasmonaim kings curried favor with the Romans, and paid for it heavily in the end.  This is obviously not a personal attack on Yaakov Avinu but on the method he utilized.  Mordechai believed that one has to stand erect before an enemy.  He did not think that this endangers the Nation, but the exact opposite.  He believed that being bent over and submissive is what endangers the Nation.  Giving in to pressure invites further pressure.

 

Question: Is this a model for how every Jew must act in the Exile, or may each person choose for himself in the matter?

Answer: This is a general ideal.  Since Mordechai was born in the Land of Israel, he was capable of turning this ideal into real action.

 

Question: But those in Exile are supposed to ingratiate themselves to the wicked in order to survive!  And Mordechai was in the Exile?!

Answer: We will resolve this important difficulty soon.  Let us first explain Mordechai’s method and then judge if it is correct or not.

 

Mordechai’s theory was that if one submits to wickedness it causes further wickedness.  We see many examples of this in history.  There was a famous dispute between Churchill and Chamberlain.  Chamberlain, who was Prime Minster of England when Hitler rose to power, said that Hitler only wanted a piece of Czechoslovakia. Give it to him, Chamberlain argued, and he will be quiet. It is not worth destroying the peace that was attained with such great effort (after World War One), on account of this one issue.  This was his opinion.  England wanted peace at any price, and in order to demonstrate it, she even significantly lowered the level of her armaments.  Hitler wanted a piece of Czechoslovakia, which had a high percentage – over fifty – of Germans.  The world therefore said to Hitler: “Take the territory, we will not interfere, and leave the world in peace!”  But then he wanted another piece.  The nations of the world “admonished” him.  Hitler saw that the price was only an admonishment, which is cheap, so he took an additional piece.  Churchill told Chamberlain that he was making a great mistake!  If he gives in to Hitler, his desire will only grow and there will be no escaping from a World War.  When Chamberlain returned from the Munich Conference, he got off the plane at Heathrow Airport waving the piece of paper containing the pact made with Hitler, and announced: I have brought you peace!  Churchill responded: You have brought a piece of paper.  Chamberlain did not accept this admonishment at first, but later admitted his mistake, and ended up dying from great anguish.  Tens of millions of people were murdered in the Second World War, and his anguish will not resurrect them!  There is therefore no peace to be made with wicked people.  You must know before whom you are standing.  We say many times in life that you need to learn to give in and get along with others.  But Haman was an evil person.  He was ready to exterminate an entire nation because of one Jew who angered him.  Achashverosh was also extremely wicked.  He told his wife to come before him at a party, and when she refused, he decreed that she should be killed!  This is deranged!  Later when he wanted to remarry, it was not enough to choose a woman.  He needed to check every woman in his kingdom.  He was a corrupt and evil person.  Thus, Haman and Achashverosh are evil and when we are before wicked people such as them, we do not submit to them.

 

A question was once asked of Robert McNamara who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense during the discussions between the United States and Russia over reducing their arsenals of nuclear weapons: “Do you trust that the Russians will also reduce their nuclear weapons?”  He answered with a well-known parable: “A man once went out hunting in a forest, saw a deer and immediately pointed his gun at him.

The bear said: ‘What are you doing?’

The hunter replied: ‘I am planning to kill you because I need fur for the winter.’

The bear said to him: ‘I am also planning to kill you because I haven’t eaten in three days.  In truth, both of our needs are legitimate.  I suggest that we sit together for peace talks without preconditions and we will reach a fair and sustainable agreement, which will take into account the legitimate interests of both sides.’

The suggestion seemed quite ethical and logical to the hunter, so he  accompanied the bear to his den.  After a short time, the bear emerged alone.  Everything worked out fine: The bear had his meal inside and the hunter had his fur outside.”  One could perhaps question it from the hunter’s perspective, but it was certainly sustainable…

 

It is therefore forbidden to give in when facing evil people like Achashverosh and Haman.  An ancient saying goes: “If one makes himself a sheep, a wolf will eat him.”  Mordechai’s calculation was not based on an idealistic or mystical passion but on precise realism.  Perhaps you will say: This is correct in theory but who says that one can put it into practice?  The facts prove that it is possible.  As is known, Hashem’s decree was not annulled and the non-Jews attacked us in a pogrom: “To destroy, murder and exterminate all of the Jews, young and old, children and women, in one day…and plunder their possessions” (Ester 3:13).  But there was an additional decree that if the Jews were attacked, it was permissible for them to protect themselves!

 

In order to provoke the non-Jews and not submit to them, one must estimate his own ability to stand up to them. This is not always possible.  We are not blaming Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel who pleaded with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to cancel the Explusion from Spain.  No one can ask him to wield a knife like Ehud ben Gera (see Shoftim, chap. 3) and stab the king.  What would have happened if he did do this?  A Jew in fact killed the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, but on account of this, they killed tens of thousands of Jews.  We also see similarly vicious retaliations by the Nazis during the Holocaust.  One must therefore be realistic.  Mordechai was realistic: he recognized that we had the ability to stand up before our enemies.  The problem was, however, that we did not know that we had the ability.  We were frightened like grasshoppers, and were even scared to be identifiable.  It says that Haman wrote letters: “to each people in his language” (ibid. 3:12), but it does not say that it was written to the Jews in their language.  It was only when Mordechai and Ester wrote a second letter that it was sent to each people in their language “and to the Jews in their writing and language” (ibid. 8:9).  On the face of it, Achashverosh was liberal, for he allowed every person to speak the language of his people. But the Jews were scared to be identified as Hebrew speakers, and were thus a scattered and separate Nation.  In order to have the power to respond with determination and pride, we must be united.

 

  1. The Reason for the Decree

After the decree was made: “The city of Shushan was perplexed” (ibid. 3:15) and “Mordechai knew all that had been done” (ibid. 4:1).  Of course he knew what was happening, everyone knew!  Our Sages explain (Megillah 12) that Mordechai knew the deeper reason for all that was occurring.  He knew that what was happening was not because he did not want to bow down to Haman, but because the Nation bowed down to an idol during the time of Nebuchadnezar.

 

The Gemara relates that the students of the Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai) asked him: Why were the haters of Israel (this is a euphemism for Israel) of that generation worthy to be destroyed?  He responded: Answer yourselves!  They said: It was because they benefited from the evil one’s (Achashverosh’s) meal.  The Rashbi said: If so, the decree should have been against only the Jews in Shushan (who participated in the meal), not those of the whole world!  They asked: How do you answer?   The Rashbi said: It was because they bowed to Nebuchadnezar’s image (Megillah 12).  The students of the Rashbi did not think that Mordechai was responsible for the decree, but understood that Israel was liable because they benefited from the meal of the wicked one.  Why were they to be punished so severely?  After all, as is known, the food at the meal was kosher.  The problem was not the kashrut but their participation in the meal which was an act of assimilation.  How could they benefit from such a thing?  The second reason given by the Rashbi is that they bowed down to an idol.  It is clear that Mordechai’s actions were the external reason for the evil decree.  If Haman was furious with Mordechai, he could have killed him.  But why did he need to murder all the Jews?!  Answer: He wanted to murder all of the Jews anyway, but he was waiting for the right opportunity.  If he didn’t have this excuse, he would have found another.  Mordechai therefore did not cause the decree. The Nation of Israel did it to itself because of its ingratiation with the non-Jews.  At first, Haman wanted them to bow down to him.  Everyone said: “Why not?  We’ll bow down to him and he’ll be pacified.”  But the way of the wicked is that first he wants you to bow down to him, he then wants you to scrub the main square of Vienna with a toothbrush, etc.  In this way, they break the morale of the Jews and lower the estimation of the Jews in the eyes of the non-Jews.  Mordechai therefore said in such a situation: “We must stop it immediately.”  But you are endangering everyone!  This is incorrect.  Haman wanted to kill the Jews – men, women and children – and the non-Jews were also interested, they were only waiting to receive the order.

 

Question: But the command to bow down to Haman applied to all citizens and not just the Jews.

Answer: True.  Everyone was commanded to bow down to Haman, not only Israel.  But this does not matter.  Mordechai did not want to bow down to Haman, since he understood that this was a mistake and required resoluteness.  It is also possible to see this fact when Ester requested from Achashverosh to kill other wicked people in the capital of Shushan on the second day.  In the end, they only killed five hundred evil persons since it was not just random killing but a plan to target specific evil individuals.  The commentators explain that they were the leaders of Amalek, i.e. important Nazis.  This was a unique opportunity to eliminate them.  It is an obligation to kill people such as these.  The calculation of Mordechai was therefore a realistic and just calculation.  He knew that the Nation of Israel had strength but the strength was dormant and needed to be aroused.

 

Question: Does this also explain why Mordechai sought other ways to provoke Haman?

Answer: Correct.  He wanted to arouse the courage of the Nation of Israel.

 

Question: If all of the nations were commanded to bow down to Haman, then it seems that there is no basis to assume that the decree was specifically for Jews.  And if the decree was specific for the Jews then one could except that the decrees would become more and more severe as Mordechai persisted, but this does not seem to be the case.  Why then was Mordechai so firm in his attempts to provoke Haman?

Answer: Mordechai had good reason to think that Haman had it in for the Jews, but was working in stages.  Pharaoh’s decree “You should throw into the river every boy that is born” (Shemot 1:22) also included the non-Jewish babies but the intention was against the Jews.

 

  1. “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital”

Who was Mordechai the Jew?  The Megillah says: “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai…who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile which had been exiled with Yechonyah, King of Yehudah, whom Nebuchadnezar, King of Babylonia, had exiled” (Ester 2:5-6).  In order to understand who Mordechai was, we must understand the historical background of the Megillah.

 

In the year 3327 since Creation – there was the exile of Yechonyah.  As is known, Yechonyah, King of Yehudah, was exiled with all of the aristocracy with the hope that it would break the Kingdom of Yehudah.  Before this, in the year 3320, Nebuchadnezar conquered the Land and exiled Chanayah, Misha’el and Azaryah.  Yechonyah was exiled in 3327 and Mordechai then move to Babylonia.  According to our Sages, Mordechai was not exiled but moved to Babylonia on his own free will.  He understood that now the international scene was focused in Babylonia, i.e. Babylonia was like New York in our time and he thought that it was important to be there because that is where he could act.  In the meantime, Koresh became the leader of the empire.  Koresh conquered the entire area and moved his capital to Shushan in 3390.  Mordechai also moved to Shushan.  The Koresh Declaration was made in this year, which was seventy years after the first Exile or, more precisely, seventy-two years including parts of years.  Mordechai made aliyah (actually, he was a returning resident) with those who returned with Ezra.  His name appears on the lists in the Book of Ezra of those who made aliyah.

 

In the year 3393, an indictment appeared.  This indictment was written by the non-Jews who lived in the Land of Israel who were unhappy that Koresh permitted the Jews to return to Israel and build the Temple.  They hired advisors to nullify this decree (see Ezra, chapters 4-5).  During this time, many non-Jews settled in the Land of Israel in our absence and they were accustomed to thinking that the Land belonged to them.  They thus sent an indictment to Koresh and also threatened the Jews who were returning to the Land with pogroms.  Mordechai was sent to Shushan as a representative of the Jews to act against the indictment.  At the same time that Mordechai returned, Haman also arrived in Shushan.  Haman was the head of the delegation sent by the indicters.  Haman is what is now called a Palestinian.  He was not Persian, but one of the non-Jews who lived in the Land of Israel and terrorized the Jews in Yehudah.  This means that Mordechai and Haman knew each other well.  An old grudge already existed between them.  To our distress, Haman was successful in his mission and stopped the aliyah of the Jews and the building of the Temple.  This occurred in the year 3393. And who was the king?  Achashverosh.  He was the king who stopped the aliyah and the building of the Temple.

 

Question: But didn’t Koresh delay the building which he himself permitted?

Answer: This is so, but there is no contradiction.  Koresh “delaying” means that he ruled that the Temple should be built from wood so that it would be able to be burned.  But the one who decreed that the building of the Temple should cease is Achashverosh.

 

In the third year of King Achashverosh’s reign, in the year 3395, Achashverosh made the party.  In the seventh year of his reign, 3399, Achashverosh took Ester as a wife.  In the twelfth year of his reign, the second letters from Mordechai and Ester were set out.

 

In the year 3406, there was the Daryavesh Declaration.  According to calculations, Daryavesh was six years old at the time.  Logic says that if the king was so young, someone else was running the empire.  This was his mother: Ester.  According to this, Daryavesh was Jewish.  Mordechai, second to the king, also seemed to have had a hand in the Daryavesh Declaration.  The Book of Ezra relates that there was an additional letter of indictment during the time of Daryavesh (Ezra, chapter 5), but he said that the building of the Temple should continue and “he will investigate the complaints.”  During his investigation, he found the Koresh Declaration – the explicit ruling of Koresh – and it was forbidden to argue with it.  It is possible that since he was a young king, they tried not to have him do anything radical, so they hid behind Koresh’s ruling.  Since there was no official decision to nullify the Koresh Declaration, it seems that it still applied.

 

The First Temple was destroyed in the year 3338 and its rebuilding was completed in the year 3408, i.e. seventy years later.  The building began in 3406 and lasted two years.  There are actually a few calculations of seventy years, since there were three conquests of Nebuchadnezar.  The first conquest led to the exile of Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah.  The second led tothe exile of Yechonyah.  And the third led to the exile of Tzidkiyahu and the destruction of the Temple.  The Koresh Declaration was seventy years after the first conquest and the Daryavesh Declaration was seventy years after the destruction of the Temple, in the time of Tzidkiyahu.  All of these dates are based on Rashi.  There are various opinions about the dating among the Rishonim (early authorities), but we used the simple explanation of Rashi.

 

Based on these calculations, Achashverosh was the one who stopped the building of the Temple and the aliyah.  We learn from here that the story of Purim occurred exactly in the middle of the process of the return of the Jews to Zion.  The Ramban teaches that we can see “behind the curtains” that the struggle was not only against the Jews in the empire of Achashverosh but was also secretly a struggle over Eretz Yisrael (see Chidushei Ha-Ramban on Massechet Megillah) as it says: “Because Mordechai the Jew…sought the good of his Nation and spoke peacefully to all of his offspring” (Esther 10:3).  “Spoke peacefully” is what is revealed and “sought the good of his Nation” is that in the recesses of his heart, in secret and with wisdom, he sought the good of his Nation in the Land of Israel.

 

At the beginning of this struggle, Haman succeeded.  King Achashverosh promoted him.  In comparison, Mordechai was not so successful, although he was a minister in the government: “And Mordechai sat in the gate of the king” (ibid. 6:12).  But in the end, everything flips around: Daryavesh’s Declaration was written, aliyah was renewed and the building of the Second Temple was completed.

 

  1. Un-walled and Walled Cities

The Ramban in his commentary on Massechet Megillah says that the main problem was “To destroy, murder and exterminate” the Jews in Eretz Yisrael.  Based on this idea, he resolves a famous difficulty as to why Purim is celebrated on two days: on the 14th of Adar (in un-walled cities) and on Shushan Purim (in walled cities).  The halachic difficulty that it is forbidden to establish two days because of “Lo Titgodedu” (Devarim 14:1, explained by Yevamot 14a – two distinct communities maintaining disparate practices in one community) does not exist in the case of Purim since the Gemara already explained that it is similar to two “Batei Din” (Jewish courts) in two different cities giving different rulings, which is permissible to all opinions.  One “Beit Din” ruling that part of the people should act one way and part should act another way is forbidden according to all opinions.  A case of two “Batei Din” in one city is a dispute in the Gemara between Abaye and Rava.  But there is no issue for two “Batei Din” in two different cities giving different rulings, and therefore Tel Aviv can act one way and Jerusalem can act in another.

 

The question remains, however, as to why they established two days in the first place.  After all, we are pained that there are different customs among the Nation.  Why establish the holiday with a difference between un-walled and walled cities?  The Ramban explains at length that at first the Jews who lived in walled cities felt protected.  They knew that they could protect themselves if attacked.  The Jews in the un-walled cities, however, knew that they could not protect themselves and they would be severely wounded if attacked.

 

This is the way that the Ramban explains the historical development of the celebration these miracles: The un-walled cities fought on the 13th of Adar, rested on the 14th and celebrated a holiday on that day.  In Shushan, they also fought on the 14th and rested on the 15th.  But, the Ramban explains, in Shushan they fought on the 13th and rested on the 14th, but they also had a small operation of eliminating five hundred men on the 14th.  According to this, they should have also celebrated Purim on the 14th in Shushan, and perhaps had some additional rejoicing on the 15th.  He explains that the establishment of the holiday was in stages, and when we look closely in the Megillah it is possible to see four different stages:

  1. The Megillah says that during the time of the miracle itself, the un-walled cities celebrated on the 14th. Because of the decree “to destroy, murder and exterminate,” “and it was turned around: The Jews gained the upper hand over their enemies” (ibid. 9:1), they celebrated spontaneously (ibid. 9:16-18).
  2. In the second year, only the un-walled cities celebrated. They established a holiday for themselves since they had felt endangered, but the walled cities did not celebrate.  They did not feel that they were saved, and there was no reason therefore for them to celebrate (ibid. 9:19).
  3. The Sages – Mordechai and his Beit Din – later thought, and Hashem opened their eyes to this, that the Jews in the un-walled cities were indeed correct to celebrate and there should be a holiday. They searched for a halachic basis to do so out of a fear of “Bal Tosif” (the prohibition of adding mitzvot to the Torah).  Baruch Hashem, we have Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Lag Ba-Omer, but they did not.  They therefore needed to discuss and prove that this was a true salvation and that it was permissible to establish a holiday (ibid. 9:20-23).  The Megillah says that Mordechai sent a letter to celebrate the holiday, “and the Jews accepted” (ibid. verse 23).  What did they accept? “What they had begun to practice” – what they had begun on their own initiative – and then “and as Mordechai wrote to them” (ibid.).  Furthermore, Mordechai added that not only should the un-walled cities celebrate but the walled cities as well, and he gives the reason: “For Haman ben Hamedata the Agagite, enemy of the Jews, had plotted to destroy the Jews and had cast a lot to terrify and destroy them” (ibid. 9:24).
  4. Ester sent a letter: “Queen Ester bat Avichayil and Morechai the Jews wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim. Letters were sent to all of the Jews, to one hundred and twenty-seventy provinces of the kingdom of Achashverosh, with words of peace and truth, to establish these days of Purim in their times just as Mordechai the Jew and Queen Ester established for them” (ibid. 9:29-31).

We do not always pay attention to these details when reading the Megillah, but the information they give is quite precise.  The Ramban says that Mordechai established celebrating Purim on two different days – the 14th and the 15th of Adar, since there were two differences between un-walled and walled cities.  The first difference was that the Jews of the un-walled cities were in greater danger.  The second is that the Jews of the un-walled cities initiated the holiday.  The Ramban brings two proofs for this theory.  There is a dispute in the Gemara as to whether Tiveria is considered a walled city.  The final decision is that it is considered a walled city but the question revolved around the fact that there is a wall around the entire city except one side, which is bordered by the sea.  The Gemara discusses the status of the sea and explains that the question of whether or not it is like a wall is dependent upon the function of a wall.  If the function is to protect the city, then the sea also provides protection.  If someone attempts to attack the city from the side with the wall, it inhabitants can throw stones; if someone attempts an attack by sea, they defend themselves by shooting arrows with fire and sinking the ship.  Thus, the city is protected.  But if the function of the wall is to hide the city so that the enemy is unable to see what is happening inside, then the sea does not accomplish this goal since it is open.  From the perspective of being enclosed, Tiveria is not considered a walled city, but from the perspective of being protected it is considered a walled city.  Since the conclusion is that Tiveria is considered a walled city, the Ramban learns that the essential purpose of a wall is salvation and protection.  He brings an additional proof from the Gemara’s discussion that perhaps walled cities need not celebrate Purim at all or should celebrate it only on the 15th since they were protected.  Based on this, he clarifies the well-known halachic question regarding the status of walled cities outside of Israel, such as Prague.  He explains that Jews who live in walled cities outside of Israel certainly need to celebrate on the 14th like un-walled cities, since the entire issue of the walled cities is when there are only Jews inside, and non-Jews attack it from the outside.  If there is a walled city outside of Israel and both Jews and non-Jews live inside it, however, it makes no difference whether it has a wall or not, since the non-Jews could attack from within.  Thus, the Ramban explains that the essence of the miracles was therefore in the Land of Israel (see Chidushei Ha-Ramban on Massechet Megillah, chap. 1).

 

According to the Ramban, the main struggle was in Eretz Yisrael.  Although this connection is not written explicitly in the Megillah, it is revealed both by the dates of the events, as well as by comparing the Megillah with the Book of Ezra and Nechemiah and other books.  Megillat Ester was the official book of the kings of Persia and Media. It was therefore impossible to write anything provocative in it.  It had to pass the censor.  It could not include facts which appear in the Book of Ezra and Nechemiah which pull back the curtain and show us what really occurred.

 

Question: How did Mordechai see that the Nation had the strength to stand up?  On the face of it, the response of the Nation testified to its weakness?

Answer: In truth, the Nation did not possess the strength, but over the course of the year, from the casting of the lot on Pesach until the following Pesach, Mordechai was able to raise the national morale.

 

Question: But wasn’t Mordechai’s refusal to bow down before the drawing of the lots?

Answer: This is correct.  He also did not know that there would be a decree.  He knew in general that the Jews were demeaning themselves before the non-Jews and the danger of extermination hovered around them. This is according to the opinions of both the Rashbi and his students.  He knew this, saw this dangerous man Haman and therefore stood against him with all his might.

 

Question: He knew that he had the power to change the Nation even though it was weak at that time?

Answer: Certainly. The Nation was scared, as we see from the fact that everyone bowed down to Haman.  But the Nation repented.  We went from being a “scattered and separate Nation” (ibid. 3:8) to “Go, gather all of the Jews” (ibid. 4:16).  This is also the explanation of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz for Mishloach Manot.  He writes that this giving of gifts is in order to increase love, fraternity, peace and friendship and to lessen suspicion, tension and divisiveness (Manot Ha-Levi).  Mordechai knew that he possessed the power to elevate and the fact is that he succeeded: “For the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them” (ibid. 8:17).  The frightened Jews were transformed into courageous fighters.  Mordechai was a great man and a true leader.  A leader must understand reality but also recognize the hidden strengths of the Nation.  If he does not have this capacity, he is like an officer who yells to his soldiers: “After me,” but when he gets to the top of the hill, he discovers that he is alone.  Mordechai knew that he possessed the ability to actualize the strength of the Nation.  He knew them well.  I once read a story about the Holocaust.  Two Nazi SS officers once entered a Jewish home.  There was suddenly shooting.  One of the SS officers said to the other: “It is good that you killed that dog.”  He did not know that it was the Jew who shot “that dog” – that his comrade from the SS was the one who was killed.  He couldn’t imagine that a Jew would have the strength to kill a Nazi.  In truth, it took time until we had the strength.  The strength was awakened in the Warsaw Ghetto.  When we fought in the Warsaw Ghetto, we knew that there was no chance of defeating the Germans, but the decision was to fight with the feeling that if we fall it will be in a respectable battle.  But after 2000 years of exile, it certainly takes more time to discover our inner strength.  Look at what happened to the Nation after less than seventy years of exile!  Mordechai knew that the Nation possessed strengths and he was the one who awakened them from their dormant state.

 

ESTER

  1. Sphere of Silence
  2. Modesty and Courage
  3. Self-Sacrifice

 

  1. Sphere of Silence

Women are not obligated to perform commandments limited by time (Kiddushin 29b) because they have no connection to their technical and spiritual aspects (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit, pp. 180-181; Shemot, pp. 206-207; Ish Ve-Ishah 9:3; Binah Yeteirah Be-Ishah 42:6).  The nature of responsibility of the woman for her home requires complete flexibility; consequently the performance of specific commandments circumscribed by time is not appropriate for her (Rabbi David Abudraham, chap. 3, Birkat Ha-Mitzvot U-Mishpateihem p. 25; Kol Bo #73). For example, the time for reciting the Shema is fixed; it is impossible for a woman to complete her prayers specifically within the allotted time because of her household duties.  Furthermore, a woman has no connection with the spiritual imperative that dictates fixed boundaries.  A woman’s spiritual process is different: She has a completely passive freedom (Olat Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 1, pp. 71-72).

 

There are many exceptions, such as reading the Megillah (Megillahh 4a). According to the Gemara, the underlying reason for the exception is that women were present at that very miracle (ibid.).  Rashi comments that the women were included in the decree to be destroyed, killed, and slain (Ester 7:4).  Tosafot, citing Rashbam, explain that the reason is that the miracle was brought about by a woman – Ester. The same reason also applies to Chanukah.  Women are obligated to perform the commandment of lighting candles because the miracle came about through Yehudit.  They are also bound to the commandment of Passover because they were involved in that miracle.  Through the merit of righteous women, the people of Israel were redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b).  As to the Purim miracle, the role of Ester and Mordechai was shared: According to the Gemara, Ester played the more important role.  Ester’s participation was apparently more crucial than that of the women of Israel in the Exodus from Egypt and the incident of Yael and Sisera, for everything transpired through her alone.  The situation of the Jews was extremely difficult, a dire situation reminding us of the holocaust in our generation.  In its face, a single man and a single woman rose to confront it. The fate of the entire Nation of Israel hung in the balance: She was the only person capable of moving events and getting them out of danger.  She succeeded and her profound insight saved her people from destruction.  She infiltrated the government by marrying the king.  She devised a shrewd plan and caused the downfall of Haman. This seems to be an intelligent and forceful plan based on keen political understanding. But the reality was entirely otherwise: No wonder, since on Purim everything was reversed (Ester 9:1).

 

Our Sages view the issue in another light: Ester kept an intense silence (Ester Rabbah 6:12).  Ester did not stand out; she did not get involved in intrigues, and did not organize a conspiracy.  She retreated into an intense silence.  Throughout the Book of Ester, we hear very little of her own words.  Our Sages ask: Why was she called Ester?  Because she kept her words secret [misteret] (Megillah 13a).  Ester was secretive: Ester did not reveal her birthplace or her people (Ester 2:20).  She was not disposed to gossip.  She waited to express what she wanted when the appropriate time came.  Everything turned on her crucial silence. Where is Ester mentioned in Torah? ‘And I will surely hide [Aster]’ (Devarim 31:18) (Chullin 139b).  This was the nature of her demeanor, withdrawn and modest.

 

Our Sages say that she inherited the intensity of her silence from a line of people who were silent and modest, the prior descendants of Ester’s tribe.  The stone of the Breastplate of the High Priest of the tribe of Binyamin is “yashfeh” (Shemot 28:20).  Our Sages explain this word as “yesh peh” [there is a mouth]: In other words, silence does not mean it is impossible to speak: Although there is a mouth, it is under control (Ester Rabbah 6:12).  For example, Rachel our mother withdrew into silence: When she sent the signs to her sister, she did not reveal it to Yaakov (Baba Batra 123a; Petichta Eichah Rabbati 24). Binyamin knew about the selling of Yosef but kept his silence for twenty years (Socher Tov Tehillim 15:6).  He said nothing to his father despite the fact that it weighed heavily on him.  Most people would not have been able to restrain themselves from revealing the truth for such a long time.  King Shaul hid among the baggage (Shmuel 1 10:22), because he did not want to be appointed king.  After he returned from looking for the donkeys, and after he had been appointed king, his uncle asked him what had happened during that time, and he said nothing to him about it (ibid. 10:16).  When Shaul was pursuing David, he took many guards with him.  When he had to attend to his needs, he went alone to a cave.  Our Sages say that he entered a cave within a cave (Berachot 62b).  When David saw this, he was impressed by his modesty and cut the corner of his cloak, but did not wound him (Shmuel 1 24:4).  Michal, the daughter of Shaul, was also connected to the line of the modest and silent.  She criticized David when he danced because his clothing lifted, exposing himself like a worthless person (Shmuel 2 6:20).  She reproached him, even though he was the king of Israel; because in the house of her father, Shaul, they did not uncover the heel or the thumb (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 2:4).  There was respect for modesty in Shaul’s household.  Modesty was not only a requisite for women but also for men.  It is written, “She [Michal] looked out the window” (Shmuel 2 6:16); “For the honor of the princess emanates from within” (Tehillim 45:14).  However, she was punished for her criticism because David’s dance was in fact a dance before the presence of G-d (Sanhedrin 21a).

 

Ester belonged to the same long lineage of the modest and silent, of the intensely hidden.  It is written, “Ester did not speak” (Ester 2:20).  It does not say that Ester never spoke at all, because this is not in reference to a single incident but to a pattern of behavior that plays down speech: “Silence is a fence for wisdom” (Pirkei Avot 3:13). Verbosity is a sign of shallowness (Baba Metzia 85b).  A single penny in a jar makes a loud noise.  A complete person does not need to wallow in excessive gossip, the most shallow of activities.  A man should speak little and do much (Nedarim 21b).

 

This quality of Ester is surprising given the sophistication of her actions; it placed her in stark contrast to the background of immorality of Persia, as it is written, “And he quickly gave her ointments” (Ester 2:9), but she requested nothing (ibid.).  Amid all the intrigue Ester remained faithful to Mordechai.  Several times she left there, pure, and returned to Mordechai (Megillahh 13b): “For she was like a daughter [le-bat] to him” (Ester 2:7), more specifically, like a home [le-bayit] (Megillahh 13a).  She was married to him.  Mordechai was her cousin, as it is written: “Ester was the daughter of Avichayil, uncle of Mordechai” (Ester 2:15).  Avichayil was the uncle of Mordechai.  Sometimes a man calls his wife his daughter, or his sister or even his mother.  There are four types of connections we find in every wife. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife (Bereshit 2:24).  The father and mother yield to a wife.  A man who understands this avoids major complications.  This of course does not contradict the commandment of honoring one’s parents, which continues to apply. But the deep spiritual bond between the child and the parents passes on to bind him to his wife (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 32).  Ester, in the midst of the hell she found herself in, remained faithful to Mordechai.

 

Despite the fact that Ester asked for nothing, Ester found favor with all who saw her (Ester 2:15).  How can it be that everyone fell in love with her?  A person who loves everybody is loved by everybody. Our Sages say that everyone thought she was a member of his own people (Megillah 13a).  But her righteousness, her majesty of spirit, transcended the boundaries between peoples.  The basis of this love was her love of Israel: It does not contradict the love for man who is created in the likeness of G-d. This was the case of Avraham our father who was also concerned about the fate of the residents of Sedom.  The height of the love of man is the love of Israel (Arpeli Tohar, p. 31).  Ester’s external appearance was not impressive. She did not cover herself in artificial color. Our Sages say that she had a green hue [like a myrtle] (Megillah ibid.), but the thread of kindness was upon her (ibid.).  Even when she went to the king, on her own initiative, she did not beautify or embellish herself. Quite the contrary: She fasted three days (Ester 4:16).  As such, she certainly did not look very attractive.  It did not bother her.  The opposite: After a three day fast, the body is wasted, and a person becomes purely spiritual (Zohar 3, Chukat 183b).  The beauty and fundamental personality of Ester stem from her spiritual greatness.  Her strength was not in external beautification; yet when she went to appear before Achashverosh: “And Ester dressed in royal clothes” (Ester 5:1).  But all the while she wore royal clothing; what is the novel element in the verse?  At this moment she was the queen of Israel, she wore the clothing of the heavenly kingdom; for she was bestowed with a holy spirit (Megillah 14a).  Her approach was based on the highest ideals and a responsibility for her people. That she succeeded in remaining pure and innocent in the midst of that hell was a great wonder.  Persia was steeped in immorality even though our Sages praise the Persians on a number of occasions: I like the Persians because they are modest in the privy (Berachot 8b): A person is only called modest if he even expresses his modesty in the privy (ibid. 62a).  And further, “Do not say I am in a very hidden place: Who sees me? For The Holy One Blessed Be He fills the whole earth with His glory (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 2:2).  While modesty is an externally perceived form of behavior, it emanates from an inner quality. This characteristic forms the strength of Israel. There is even a halachic concept called the Persian privy (Berachot 26a; Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 83:4).  Their privy quickly evacuated feces which did not accumulate and befoul. We learn in halachah whether one is permitted to discuss holy matters in such a privy (ibid.).

 

The Persians apparently were modest people, as stated in Gemara, yet it says, “They were prepared for Gehinom [purgatory]” (Berachot 8b). Why? Because their modesty was external.  For the outside, they were modest: But on the inside, they were destructive people.  At the beginning of the Book of Ester, we find a description of the feast prepared by Achashverosh.  Here we learn about the surroundings in which Ester found herself, and her courage in remaining pure in an immoral environment.  One hundred and eighty days of laughter, feasting and eating (Ester 1:4) is incredible.  Sitting at the meal, everyone expressed his opinion on who were the most beautiful women, Persian or Median or Casdim.  Achashverosh praised the Kasdim and ordered Vashti be brought for exhibition (Megillah 12b).  What awesome immorality.  Ester found herself in the heart of this corrupt place and strengthened her resolve.

 

This contrast resounded through the generations.  Jewish people dine at the Purim feast amid joy and good humor, knowing the difference between their feast and ours.  Some scholars suggest that Purim is a festival of the past. Every nation has a holiday that features drunkenness, wild behavior and relief. The Nation of Israel has appropriated for itself such a holiday. The ancient Greeks had a festival when they drank wine, were rowdy and engaged in orgies. The Christians had a holiday of this sort on the first of April. These scholars theorize that Jews learned from them. Nothing could be further from the truth. We did not learn from them: We learned from the Master of the Universe. Even if we had learned from them, the real question is how they observed it and we observe it. We learned many things from the other nations, but we kept apart. Perhaps all men have a common spiritual nature; although then we must ask what exactly is that nature. What nature did the Greeks and Christians manifest? What was their disposition? What interested them? What did they talk about when they were drunk? All this in contrast to the nature and disposition of the Nation of Israel. We often see the same phenomenon among scientists.  At opposite ends of the world, an identical discovery is made without one inventor knowing the other.  One did not copy or spy on the other.  The discovery was already hovering in the air.  The same goes for spiritual creations.  The nature of man is based on his being created in the likeness of G-d, meaning that his traditions and precepts over the years stem from a common basis.  The significant point is how we express out joy, for our joy is not mixed with idolatry (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 695).

 

Silence and modesty are part of the same pattern, referring to a person who does not stand out nor is an exhibitionist. Many things become fine and noble when internalized.  A certain student studied outside the study hall with a great noise.  His Rabbi told him upon bringing him into the study hall one should not study Torah outside.  Torah is likened to the moon: The hidden moon is like hidden words of Torah (Moed Katan 16a-b).  Why should one hide the Torah: Is it not beneficial for everyone?  Rather it is beneficial from within as when the moon is from within.  No need to entreat it to come out, for whoever occupies himself with Torah from within, his Torah announces him from without (ibid. 16b).  A man’s Torah is recognizable on him even if he has not adopted a special sign or article of clothing.  No need for an external emblem because we see it in his character.  That is why they say: People who are modest and silent are loafers who do nothing.  The opposite is true, as revealed through Ester who is the epitome of silence and modesty, brimming with courage and noble deeds.  Modesty does not cover up courage (see La-Tzniut  U-Le-Taharah Be-Yisrael, Or Le-Netivotai, pp. 276-277).

 

  1. Modesty and Courage

Our master, Rav Kook, comments on the unique notion of adjacent characteristics.  He says there are forms of conduct which are very similar from outward appearances but are internalized in opposite ways (Mussar Avicha p. 60).  For example, take a modest person and a lazy person.  If you were to ask a person to do something, and he refused claiming he was not qualified, he would appear to be a modest person.  But if he were able to perform the task and simply shirked his duty, this would indicate idleness, temerity and evasion of responsibility.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: I would exempt from [harsh] judgment the entire world [because of its sins] from the day it was created until now if Eliezer ben Ami was with us, we would do the same from the day the world was created until now if Yotam ben Uzihu was with us, we would do it from the day the world was created until its end (Succah 45b).  These statements might seem to be an expression of arrogance; but that is not the case.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said it in order to keep people from false modesty and humility (Mussar Avicha p. 72).  A person should recognize his own value and his talents, and direct his actions accordingly.  Our master, Rav Kook, writes in one of his unpublished letters that he has things to say, and when these words will be spoken they will bring about change and revolution in the entire world.  He has a duty to fight against enemies who oppose him from without and within.  The enemy within is false humility which tells him, who are you to do such a thing?  There may be a situation where a person is as modest as can be, yet also lazy.  We could have the phenomenon in reverse: A person who appears lazy, but is in fact very humble. He accomplishes a lot but quietly.  Speak little but do much.

 

Brazenness [chutzpah] is a quality proximate to courage.  A person who gives orders to everyone around and in fact is empty-headed wastes his energy on criticizing and opining on all sorts of subjects whether he understands them or not.  This is a common occurrence.  Opinions do not necessarily stem from any connection to the truth.  This could be chutzpah: A manifestation of a personality that assumes no responsibility for anything.  This stems from insolence.  By contrast, courage arises from real strength.  Often, these two characteristics appear the same.  It is difficult to tell the difference between a courageous person and a person who assumes a courageous personality.  We have to examine a person’s substance, not his outward appearance.  Even the thorns made a lot of noise in the story of Yotam (Shoftim 9:15).  Modesty, silence and reflection do not contradict courage.  The modest and silent we have referred to were all people of valor: Shaul, Michal and Ester, all from the tribe of Binyamin.

 

“And Ester put on her royal robes” (Ester 5:1).  Ester was a queen, not only because she was married to a king: She was a queen in her own right; a queen in the heavenly kingdom. She was the successor to the royal house of her father Shaul.  Everything that happened in Shushan occurred because Shaul had spared Agag (see Megillah 13a, Midrash Ha-Gadol Vayechi).

 

Ester came to revive the honor of the house of her father.  Of course, the essence of her mission was to save the Nation of Israel but she was the successor to royalty and the role of royalty in Israel was also to destroy Amalek (Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:1).  Although there was no monarchy in Israel at that time, Ester was nonetheless queen and one of the seven prophetesses of the Nation of Israel (Megillah 14a).  In order to destroy Amalek, one must have a lot of courage and resourcefulness.  This involved very complicated politics.  Although Yaakov our father was a simple man who dwelt in tents (Bereshit 25:27), he did say to Rachel: “If your father is treacherous, I will be his brother in cunning” (Baba Batra 123a; Bereshit Rabbah 60:13; Rashi on Bereshit 29:12).  A person can use cunning to trip up treachery at its own game.  Intense political maneuvering was necessary to trip up Haman.  Ester wisely spun a net which came together at the end.  She took advantage of every opportunity.

 

When Mordecai discovered the conspiracy of Bigtan and Teresh, Ester told the king in the name of Mordecai (Ester 2:22).  It was important to her to credit him as the source (see Pirkei Avot 6:6; Megillah 15a).  This was part of the weaving of the complicated net which would later be of assistance.  Ester aroused the king’s jealousy against Haman.  She endangered herself; and the king asked how to fulfill her request, giving her up to half the kingdom.  Had he not extended the royal sword, she would have been killed (Ester 4:11).  She invited the king along with Haman to a feast.  This was a subtle way of bringing out the king’s jealousy, namely Haman being invited to an intimate evening with the queen.  Even the princes were filled with jealousy of Haman (Megillah 15b).  In order to bring this about, Ester used these fateful words: “Let the King and Haman come” (Ester 5:4).  At the banquet, she still had not made her request known; she arranged another banquet with Haman (ibid. 5:8).  The king understood that she had not endangered herself simply to invite him to a meal. She made him curious by using her highly creative political talents. She used her beauty and her female allure; and throughout, she had a sense of forcefulness.  Even when the king asked her for her request, after the Jews had destroyed their enemies, Ester pleaded for an additional day to fight in the capital Shushan (ibid. 9:13).  Upon this request, the enemies of Israel swooped down as if on a great booty.  On the first day of Purim, the Jews took a stand for their lives (ibid. 8:11).  This was not aggressive but defensive.  By the second day, the Jews had already subdued their enemies and killed those who hated them: The fear they held of the locals dissipated.  Why did Ester ask for an additional day of killing?  On that very day, the Jews killed three hundred more men (ibid. 9:15).  Three hundred is not a great number.  These men were known to be murderers who were wandering around in the capital city (Ralbag; Or Chadash of the Maharal).  In case of a risk of danger, it was better to strike them first than to wait to be attacked.  Eradicating evil from the world is a great moral act.  The act required great forcefulness and did not conflict with her sense of modesty.

 

Pirkei Avot contains tremendous hidden insight.  It is written: “The insolent are destined for Gehinom” (5:24).  By contrast: “Be bold as a leopard” (ibid. 5:23).  “A shy person is destined for the Garden of Eden” (ibid.).  But compare: “A bashful person cannot learn” (ibid. 2:5).

 

As we see, one should be gold [az] but not impudent [az panim].  Impudence toward one’s fellow man does not accomplish anything.  Boldness must be internalized and one’s face should reflect a spiritual refinement.  Being shy is a very important attribute, but a person does not have to be shy within himself, because the truth is not shy.  People err in thinking that a modest man is really lazy; and that a modest woman has a weak character in thought and deed, and is spare on courage.  Silence and modesty can go together with courage, political agility based on profound wisdom, and above all, self-sacrifice.

 

  1. Self-Sacrifice

Ester’s greatness is based on her self-sacrifice, which is of the highest of all attributes.  Our Sages tell the story of a scholar who died.  Upon the revival of his soul, his father asked him what he had seen in the heavenly world.  He answered: I saw a world opposite to this one: Up was down and down was up.  Happy is he who goes there with his Talmud learning in his hand.  In other words, a person who learns Torah is on the highest level.  Furthermore, I heard it said of the killers of royalty that no one can stand where they are.  And who were they? The killers of Lod. They were two Jews who volunteered to say they assassinated the king’s daughter, to prevent the slaughter of all the Jews of the city.  By their act, they aborted the royal decree.  Despite their being very simple people, they were received in the World-to-Come with great honor.  His father asked him: You saw an understandable world (Pesachim 50a).  Our world is an upside-down world.  Here, we evaluate a person according to false value.  A person attracts honor, worthiness and position on the basis of wealth or connections.  In the World-to-Come, a person’s importance arises from his self-sacrifice, for this is the ultimate inner spiritual goal.

 

The state of self-sacrifice means that a person is so connected with, joined and immersed in his activity that this connection overrides any other consideration.  War, on a simple level, involves self-sacrifice.  A person who goes out to war does not dwell on his personal standing (Rambam, Laws of Kings 7:15).  Rather, one for all, and all for one.  In King David’s army, every soldier gave his wife a bill of divorce (Shabbat 56a).  Some say it was a conditional divorce; and others say it was an absolute divorce (Tosafot ibid.).  The divorce conveys the sense of complete dissociation from the personal.  A soldier stops being an individual and gives himself over completely to the community of Israel (Rambam, Laws of Kings 7:15).  As Ester said: “If I perish, I perish” (Ester 4:16).  Ester explained to Mordechai the risk in her going to the king.  Mordechai immediately said: “If you do not go, calm and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place” (ibid. 4:14).

 

Our master, Rav Kook, explains that Ester did not hesitate in her willingness in self-sacrifice.  She simply thought that the plan was weak and the chances of success were slim: it was preferable to wait for another opportunity (Mishpat Kohain #143, pp. 308, 317, 327-328).  The casting of lots took place on the eleventh of Nissan and the letters were written on the thirteenth of Nissan (Megillah 15a).  The lot was cast in the month of Adar: Ester thought that since there is an entire year ahead of them, it would be best to wait for the appropriate moment of strength and avoid mortal danger.  Mordechai answered it was true that one should not be hasty, but in order to save the life of the Jewish community, it was not wise to wait but to be expeditious (Mishpat Kohain ibid.).  He even sanctioned a fast on Passover and ordered the people not to eat matzah (Megillah 15a).  As an example of “hora’at sha’ah” [the principle that allows the suspension of observance for the sake of saving Jewish lives], one should not wait even a single day; one should act immediately.  This is the halachic principle of “hora’at sha’a”: To go beyond what is written in the Torah in order to save the Nation of Israel (Mishpat Kohain ibid.).  This was Mordechai’s reasoning and Ester apparently reacted immediately, for the strength will not lie (Shmuel 1 15:29).  Why was there such haste?  Certainly because of our faith in it will be all right.  Rather despite our belief that the Master of the Universe will help us, simply clasping our hands does not confirm our belief in Hashem but in idleness (Mishpat Kohain ibid).

 

Before the Second World War, the governments of Europe would continually say: It will be alright, even though their citizens sensed growing tension in the air.  During this absurd period, someone composed a satirical song which told the story of the Marquise who went on vacation but telephoned the administrator of her property to ask how things were.  He replied that everything was alright, truly under control, except for one small detail: Her horse had died.  How come?, she asked in disbelief.  Because the stable burned down.  Otherwise, everything was in order.  How did it catch fire?  It had spread from the palace.  That aside, everything was in order…  Idleness interferes with faith in and fear of G-d.  Believers says that everything comes from heaven.  But faith, trust and Divine providence do not absolve us of the obligation of trying to save our people with each opportunity, including self-sacrifice.  If things seem contradictory, the Master of the Universe resolves the issues.  Complete faith in the survival of the nation requires exhaustive effort in every direction, even up to, “If I perish, I perish.”

 

Ester’s going to Achashverosh has an added intensity of self-sacrifice.  At first, “Ester was also brought to the house of the king” (Ester 2:8) against her will, like a captive.  Then, by going to him by her own will, it was as if she were the one to seduce; and because of this, she was lost to Mordechai (Megillah 15a).  Saving the Nation of Israel sometimes requires us to adopt various tactics, even murder, idol worship and sexual immorality (Mishpat Kohain, p. 308).  This is the most clear analysis of history that the strength of Israel not lie or be comforted.  The Jewish people will not be erased.  Perhaps it will endure and be wounded, but the strength of Israel will continue to survive.  The Master of the Universe spins historical reasons and embroiders with holiness for our sake; and because of that we must take risks and fortify our human side.  The expression will not lie or be comforted is a Divine reckoning; but in human terms, one has to act with self-sacrifice, to do everything in order to save the Nation of Israel.

 

Rambam explained this basic belief in very clear terms in his letters to Yemen written at the time of violent attacks and persecutions in that country. Yemenite Jews thought that they were beyond hope and some even considered conversion to Islam. Rambam responded that the Nation of Israel would never disappear. “I am Hashem. I do not change. Therefore you the children of Yaakov are not destroyed (Malachi 3:6). Just as there could not be a change in the nature of G-d, the destruction of the Nation of Israel could not occur (Igeret Teiman, edition of Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, pp.128-129; Mehadurat Ha-Rav Y. Shilat, pp. 124-125). This absolute truth does not relieve us of the duty of acting to save the people.

 

Yael, the wife of Chaver the Kinite, did the same as Ester because of the directive to disregard the usual rules of Torah in order to save the Nation: She made Sisera drowsy, which allowed her to kill him (Yevamot 103a; Nazir 23b). And she was forbidden to her husband (Mishpat Kohain #144, para. 10-11, pp. 331-333). Ester was not smug; she prepared herself. If all other means were to fail, she would draw herself to Haman and put on a display of love and passion in front of Achashverosh. Thus the king would have cause to kill her and Haman, thereby leading to the annulment of the decree (Megillah 15b). We find here the self-sacrifice of “Let me die with the Philistines” (Shoftim 16:30). Even Haman’s falling on Ester’s bed (Ester 7:8) was engineered by Ester in order to inflame the anger of Achashverosh. “Yavo Ha-melech Ve-Haman Ha-yom [The King and Haman shall come today] (ibid. 5:4) contains the acronym of the name of G-d.  We find here a revelation of the name of G-d and devotion to G-d which manifests itself in the greatest self-sacrifice, and in the cleverness of the dangerous plan Queen Ester had devised. The manifestation of the name of G-d and extreme devotion which came from silence and modesty in no way contradict Ester’s courage, power, political wisdom and self-sacrifice. Ester’s inner hidden character was not simply delicate; it fortified her in those very difficult moments.

 

Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Cohen of Lublin says of Ester that silence is beyond speech (Resisei Layla, pp. 120-126). “A word for a stone but silence for two” (Megillah 18a). In other words, a word is worth a stone but silence is worth two stones. Silence is one of man’s greatest inner qualities. All our worlds of speech find their roots in worlds of silence without speech. A person whose entire spiritual world is only based on speech is deprived. In contrast, a great person is like an iceberg floating in the water: The significance of his words is as evident as the tip of the iceberg visible above the water; his foundation is like the mass of the iceberg hidden below the surface of the water as it is written: “And Aharon held his peace” (Vayikra 10:3). The basis, the foundation of everything a person says draws its strength from the domain of silence within him (Orot Ha-Kodesh vol. 3, p. 275). Silence and tranquility are expressions of an inner yearning: A powerful desire without means of expression.

 

Rabbi Tzadok analyses it and suggests that one should not confuse the expression of inner secrets of the soul with the secrets themselves. He compares this to a woman whose lack of obligation to learn Torah does not diminish her relationship to Torah itself. Do not confuse Torah with the commandment to learn Torah. Man has a single path to Torah, namely learning Torah. Woman has other paths. Our Sages ask: How does a woman earn merit? They answer: By bringing her children to school and waiting for her husband when he returns from the study hall (Berachot 17a). Her anticipation is part of her connection to Torah (Maharal, Derosh al Ha-Torah, pp. 27-28). A man who knows learning Torah would cause tension in the household, would not be successful in his studies. On the other hand, if studying were done in the context of peace in the home, it has enormous value. It is written: “His curls are wavy and black as a raven” (Shir Ha-Shirim 5:11). Our Sages interpret this verse to allude to a scholar who is cruel to his wife and the members of his household, by using his Torah study as an excuse to absent himself from the home (Eruvin 22a). Instead, this so-called cruelty can only apply after consultation with and the consent of his wife. This concept of cruelty is an objective situation and does not refer to interpersonal relationships. If a man’s wife waits for him in their home, she increases his desire for Torah. This does not imply her reward lies in her technically sending him off to learn and waiting for his return, but in her spiritually sending and waiting through longing, love and connection to learning (Maharal, Derosh al Ha-Torah ibid.).

 

There are limits to studying but no limits to the desire to do so. There are no real boundaries: This is the dimension of longing. Things that happen practically in this world draw from the world of longing. Rachel our mother was connected to the world of desires: She longed for children. Leah was more connected to the world of action.  Silence is also related to the world of longing. It expresses hidden longing at the heart of the soul which finds no expression in words. This inner sphere, hidden by the modesty and silence of Ester, stems from her greatness which cannot be adequately described in words.

 

The state of it was reversed (Ester 9:1), which relates to the month of Adar, arises from the disguise of appearances we find in the Book of Ester. Ester the modest, the spiritual, one of the seven female prophets (Megillah 14a) is bolstered by enormous courage. This is the source of it was reversed: An encounter of opposites, or what seemed to be opposites to human eyes. The unity of these opposites flows from the Master of the Universe: The strength and humility of He who lives forever (Piyut Ha-Aderet Ve-Emunah). He is the very source of strength, of humility and of life.

 

Author’s Biography

 

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: mororly@bezeqint.net) and has an English blog which is updated on a daily basis (http://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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