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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook (first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael)
“Without thoughts of repentance, without the rest and security it provides, no person could find solace and spiritual life could not develop on this earth.” (Orot HaTeshuvah 5:6)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “He Will Reconcile His People to His Land”

The Song of Ha’azinu concludes with the revenge and reconciliation that will be in the future, as it says, “Let the tribes of His nation sing praise, for He will avenge His servants’ blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes, and reconcile His people to His land” (Deuteronomy 32:43). Rashi comments: “In the future the nations will praise Israel, saying, ‘Consider how praiseworthy this nation is! They remained devoted to G-d throughout all the suffering they experienced, and they never abandoned Him. They were aware of His goodness and virtue.’

And why should the nations praise them? ‘For He will avenge His servants’ blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes,’ for the blood of Israel that was spilt like water and for the evil and massacres and the theft and pillaging by the nations from the beginning of history until today, as it says, “The enemy’s first punishment will be the blood of the slain and wounded” (32:42. Rashi).

Following G-d’s revenge on Israel’s foes, will come great reconciliation and appeasement between us and our Father in Heaven, as it says, “He will reconcile [vekiper] His people to His land.” Rashi explains that G-d will appease His land and His people for the suffering they underwent, caused by the enemy. Rashi, treats the word “vekiper”, which normally means “atone,” as meaning “reconcile”. Why does it say “vekiper admato”, literally “G-d will reconcile His land”, when it is His people that He will reconcile? Rashi thus explains that “admato”, literally, “His land”, here means “His people.” When the Jewish People are consoled, G-d’s land is consoled. It likewise says, “G-d, You have propitiated Your land” (Psalm 85:2).

Yom Kippur is our day of appeasement, the day of reconciliation between men, and between man and G-d. Yet this is not just so on the personal level, but also on a national level, as it says, “He will reconcile His people to His land.” G-d will appease His land and His people for the suffering they experienced, and which was carried out by the enemy, and all this He will do by way of the revenge that He will return to His enemies (see Rashi, ibid.).

When the Jewish People rise to rebirth in their land, and vanquish their enemies who are fiercely attacking them, G-d’s name will be sanctified in the world, and the nations will praise us, recognizing that our uniqueness is our profundity of spirit. In every generation, the nations rise up to destroy us. In the present generation, the Arabs and Muslims are rising up against us, led by the dictators of Iran. And just as G-d saved us from all our enemies and took revenge on them, so too in our day He will take revenge on our enemies, as it says, “For He will avenge His servants’ blood. He will bring vengeance upon His foes.” By such means, “He will reconcile His people to His land” will be fulfilled speedily in our day, Amen.

May you be signed and sealed for a good year, Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El
“Find Yourself a Rabbi and Treat Every Rabbi With Respect”

Question: I am confused. There are so many rabbis, with so many worldviews. How shall I know who to listen to? Why don’t they all unite and form some sort of Sanhedrin? Why don’t all the rabbis line up behind the great luminaries of the generation?

Answer: You have asked a very painful question. First of all, as far as the Sanhedrin, our master Rabbi Kook already wrote that for a Sanhedrin you need world-class scholars on a level that does not exist today (Igarot HaRe’iyah I:341). If it was such in his generation, all the more so in our own impoverished generation. Even so, he worked devotedly to found a preparation for the Sanhedrin (ibid., II:59-60), namely, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 455). So if it is rabbinic unity you want, please strengthen the honor and stature of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Just don’t say that it isn’t exactly your cup of tea. If someone says, “I am in favor of rabbinic unity but only on condition that it be similar to me,” he does not understand what unity is (see Rosh Hashanah 25b). Indeed, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is the way to rabbinic unity, yet we must dispel all illusions: The day the rabbis will reach agreement will not be today or tomorrow.

Indeed, in the absence of a Sanhedrin, we have to follow the gedolim, the great luminaries of the generation. As Sefer HaChinuch said, the great rabbis of the generation take the place of the Sanhedrin (Mitzvah 455). Tosafot wrote the same thing about the status of the world’s most outstanding Torah scholar (Tosafot Bava Kamma 41b).

Yet who shall decide who is the most outstanding Torah scholar of the generation? If you ask a chassid he will tell you that it is his rebbe. If you ask a Litvak he will mention one great halachic authority. If you ask a National Religious Jew, he will mention still another illustrious figure. A Breslov chassid will mention Rabbi Nachman and a Chabad chasid will mention the last Rebbe. And they are all right. All these rabbis are gedolim. “All of them are beloved, all of them are pure, all of them are mighty. They all perform with awe and reverence the will of their Creator. They all open their mouth with holiness and purity” (morning prayers), even if they do not agree amongst themselves. Yet there is a corridor that leads to the banquet hall. We shall reach the “banquet hall” when all the rabbis are in agreement, and the “corridor” consists of each rabbi holding to his own view but showing respect for others. Without the corridor, we shall never reach the banquet hall.

Therefore, as long as we are in the “corridor” period, and we do not know how long that will last, each person must find himself a rabbi and follow him. Yet one must also respect all rabbis, and respect everyone who has found himself a different rabbi. One mustn’t force his own outlook or reject the alternatives. If one has a rabbi, one should follow him. One shouldn’t have any fear, even if he is one is an individual against many.

Consider what the Talmud tells us, that in the town of Rav Yehuda HaGelili they would cook and eat milk and meat together, and that in the town of Rabbi Eliezer they would chop down trees on the Sabbath to prepare a knife for circumcision (Shabbat 130a). All of this occurred many years after both sages passed away, but the people of their towns were considered their disciples, for one’s town rabbi has the same halachic classification as one’s “rav muvhak” [the rabbi one has learned the most from] (see Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 150:5). Rashba wrote that we follow our town rabbi even if he is one against many (Responsa Rashba I:253; Choshen Mishpat 25:2 in Rama). Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik wrote that in every generation there were always Torah greats who had different outlooks and paths to serving G-d, such as Rav Gidel and Rabbi Yochanan (Berachot 20a). Both had unique paths to serving G-d, and they stood their ground (Divrei Hashkafah 235-240).

Rav Tzvi Shechter wrote that the Talmud explains (Yevamot 14) that when a sage differs with his contemporaries, even when he is greatly outnumbered, he and his disciples must continue rendering decisions and conducting themselves in according with his view. The rule that we follow the majority (Exodus 23:2) applies to the rest of the people who are not his students. He also wrote that every Torah scholar who becomes a halachic authority must always express his own view, however he has come to understand the truth of the law (Nefesh HaRav 60-62).

Rav Shechter (Nefesh HaRav, page 62) quotes from the Vilna Gaon (as it appeared in Rav Chaim Volozhin’s sefer “Chut HaMeshulash” at the end of Siman 9) that if a rabbi comes to a conclusion that goes against the Shulchan Aruch, and rules according to the Shulchan Aruch, he violates, “Do not give anyone special consideration when rendering judgment” (Deuteronomy 1:17)

Even a disciple, if he does not think like his rabbi, is forbidden to remain silent, in accordance with, “Keep away from anything false” (Exodus 23:7) (Shavuot 31a). It is also in keeping with, “Fear no man” (Deuteronomy 1:17); and with the words of Rabbi Chanin, who said, “Do not repress yourself before any man” (Sanhedrin 1:6). For this reason, when arguments are being presented in the Sanhedrin, they begin with the least learned scholar (Sanhedrin 32a), lest that scholar not dare to express himself after one greater than he has spoken, and thereby violate “Fear no man” (Sanhedrin 36a; see the debate between Nimukei Yosef and Tosafot). According to Torah law, no one may be shown special consideration. A disciple must pursue truth, even if he is attacked as a result.

The rule is this: Once a Torah scholar recognizes his lowliness and unworthiness, all the same, if he follows a special path that derives from his having delved into Torah sources, he is not allowed to nullify his opinion. In fact, he is forbidden to. There are seventy approaches to the Torah, and his own opinion is part of that, following a holy path. He should therefore long to have everyone follow his way. That is his obligation. Find yourself a rabbi, but let others follow their own rabbis.

Rabbi Ya’akov FilberGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Pick me up and Throw me Into the Sea”

There are two reasons for reading the story of the Prophet Yona during Mincha of Yom Kippur: (1) in order to teach people that they cannot run away from G-d (Abudraham); and (2) to let it be known that G-d forgives penitents, as occurred with Nineveh. The Book of Yona, itself, arouses much puzzlement. Already at the start of the book, Ibn Ezra writes: “We have to wonder how it could ever occur to a wise man who knows G-d and His ways, to think of running away from Him, when he is in G-d’s hands and the whole world is full of G-d’s glory.”

The question we want to clarify here is this: Was throwing Yona into the sea to save the sailors on the boat in accordance with Halachah or not? Sanhedrin 74b teaches: “In the attic of Nitze in Lod the sages took a vote and concluded: Regarding any of the sins in the Torah, if a person is told, ‘Violate it and you will not be killed,’ he should violate it. The only exceptions are idolatry, sexual sin and murder… And how do we know that this applies to murder? It stands to reason… Can one say, ‘My own blood is redder’? Perhaps the blood of the next man is redder.”

Rashi comments, “Does anyone know that his own blood is more beloved to G-d than the blood of his fellow man? The person placed in this dilemma cannot say here, ‘One must live by the commandments (see Leviticus 18:5) and not die by them.’ Scripture allowed sinning to save one’s life only because Jewish lives are precious to G-d. Here, however, another Jew is going to be killed. G-d’s commandment against murder cannot be nullified.”

Rashi makes clear that it is forbidden to kill one man in order to save another. Seemingly, according to this, we have a question against Yona who said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea” (Yona 1:12). How can the sailors save themselves by throwing out Yona? Who says that their blood is redder than his? Yona’s having allowed them to throw him into the water is of no significance because people do not have freedom to do with their bodies what they wish (see how Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Zevin deals with the Shylock Trial in his sefer “LeOhr HaHalachah”). Hence one is forbidden to commit suicide.

In the Jerusalem Talmud, Terumot, at the end of Chapter 8, we find: “If a caravan was traveling along the way and they encountered non-Jews who told them, ‘Turn over one of your group and we will kill him. Otherwise, we shall kill you all,’ then even if it means them all getting killed, they mustn’t turn over one Jewish soul. If the non-Jews singled out one of them, such as Sheva ben Bichri, they can hand him over and avoid being killed. Resh Lakish [Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish] said, ‘This only applies where the person singled out had incurred a death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri.’ Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘It applies even if he did not incur a death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri.’”

According to the principle that “in an argument between Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan, the law follows Rabbi Yochanan,” we can understand why it was permissible to turn someone over to be killed if he was singled out, even if he hadn’t incurred a death penalty. Since Yona’s presence on the boat endangered everyone, throwing him into the sea was in accordance with the law. Yet Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 5:5) ruled like Resh Lakish and wrote, “If they singled someone out and said, ‘Hand him over or we will kill you all,’ if he had incurred a death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri, he must be turned over. All the same, we do not instruct them, a priori, to do so. Moreover, if he has incurred no death penalty, all of them must be killed rather than handing over a Jewish soul.”

According to this Rambam, we can seemingly ask why Yona was thrown into the sea. It is true that Rambam ruled there (9:3), “If someone represses his prophecy, he incurs a death sentence from heaven.” Yet the Talmud stressed that the person to be handed over had to have incurred a death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri, i.e., a human death penalty, and we lack the authority to kill someone who has incurred a heavenly death penalty. Thus, his blood is no red than that of others.

Perhaps the two cases are distinguishable. In the Jerusalem Talmud, the person in question was there beforehand, and had performed no act for which the non-Jews were threatening to kill them all. Thus, having incurred no death penalty, there was no license for handing him over in order to save others. By contrast, in the case of Yona, since he knew he had incurred a heavenly death sentence, having run away and suppressed his prophecy, why did he come to their boat, thereby endangering all the people on it? In that case, therefore, it was certainly permissible for them to save themselves through his death, in the framework of, “If someone attacks you to kill you, kill him first.”

Proof that we can distinguish in this way can be brought from the case of Samson (Judges 15). After he smote the Philistines and fled to Yehuda, the people of Yehuda, after arguing the case, bound him up and turned him in to the Philistines because he had come to them. Ohr Sameach explains their having handed over Samson, despite his having incurred no death sentence, as being due to his having endangered the public. In this he was referring back to Rama (Choshen Mishpat 425:1): “Whoever endangers the public, such as one who makes counterfeit money in a place where the government objects to that, his law is that of a “rodef”, one who pursues with intent to kill, and he can be handed over to the kingdom.”

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