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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook (first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael)
“Precisely in a time of danger, a time in which ill winds blow in the world, a time of rabid hatred for Israel… precisely then Israel will turn to their house and their table, to the treasures of their spiritual culture, to their pure, pristine spirit, their Torah of truth, specially earmarked for them, and to their mitzvoth… and to rebuilding their home on their holy soil with the fortitude of holy zeal…” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah: Ner Chanukah)


Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “The Candles – Testimony to Mankind That the Divine Presence Rests Upon Israel”


On Chanukah we publicize two miracles, the less supernatural miracle of Matityahu’s military victory, with his sons, over the Greeks, and the more supernatural one of the flask of oil, whereby a little oil lasted eight days rather than just one.

These two miracles are linked to each other. The former, the Maccabee’s military victory, was the result of the self-sacrifice, boldness and determination shown by Matityahu and his sons, that they were undeterred from attacking an enemy stronger and greater than they. These traits earned them much divine assistance, and they merited an enormous victory which then brought about the supernatural miracle of the flask of oil. There we merited to see G-d’s supernatural conduct in the form of the candles that burnt above and beyond their natural limits.

For thousands of years the Jewish People have been lighting Chanukah candles, in remembrance of the supernatural miracle. These candles conjure up for us the eternity and endurance of the Jewish People, in every time and place. Even when we were at our spiritual bottom rung in the exile, the Jews did not cease to light Chanukah candles. In doing so, they demonstrated the supernatural reality of the Jewish People, the people of eternity. While the less supernatural miracle, the Macabee’s victory over the Greeks, was not emphasized in our sages’ words, in the darkness of the exile, today, when the Jewish People are rising to rebirth amidst wars that it is winning against its enemies, it is no coincidence that the official symbol of the State of Israel is the seven-stick candelabra which stood in the Temple.

The day is not far off when we will merit the rebuilding of the Temple, and the Menorah will not just be a symbol but a tangible object, whose candles will offer “testimony to mankind that the Divine Presence rests upon Israel” (Shabbat 22b). With blessings for a joyous Chanukah, and looking forward to complete redemption,

Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El
“Hopeless Students”


“He doesn’t understand a thing, and he never will understand a thing in Mathematics.” That’s what his teacher commented on his Sixth Grade report card. Likewise, regarding all his other subjects he was called “weak, lazy,” and other such names. His average monthly grade was 4 or 4.5 out of 10. And now, this childhood friend of mine, a member of the same Bnei Akiva group, Chaim Brazis, is an internationally known professor of Mathematics and a member of the Academy of Science of America and of France.

My friend, Rabbi Moshe Hagar, the head of the pre-military yeshiva in Yatir, was the worst soldier in his platoon during basic training. When he dismantled his rifle, his officers would have to go looking for parts he lost, and he was in total shock, and slept with his army boots on. His commander called him “Kuni Lemel”. At the end of basic training, when he was accepted into the squad commander course, his own commander said to him, “Hagar, YOU’re going to be a squad commander? You’re a nothing!” Now he’s a colonel, and a deputy division commander.

Dr. Orit Alpi, an instructor in psychology at Ben Gurion University, hands out to her students a copy of a bad elementary school report card, with no name, as an exercise for them, and asks them to to predict the future of that student, and indeed, they all paint a morose picture. Then she reveals to them that it is her own report card.

Stories such as these can be found in abundance. Albert Einstein did not speak until age four, and did not know how to read until age seven. He was described by his teachers a slow thinker, with weak intelligence, and prone to foolish dreams. He was rejected by the Zurich Polytechnic.

Charles Darwin, father of the Theory of Evolution, was considered by his teachers and his father to be a simple boy with a below-average IQ. They thought he was wasting his time with hobbies like collecting animal species and observing nature instead of studying. Even at university he did not excel. Rather, he loved to collect insects and to read nature books.

Louis Pasteur was an average pupil, and chemistry he came out fifteenth out of twenty-two students. In university as well he did not achieve impressive results. Yet there have been very few researchers who produced as much of benefit for all mankind as he did.

The famous sculptor Auguste Rodin, was called an idiot by his father. His uncle called him “uneducable”. His teachers called him “a bad pupil”, and he three times failed the entrance exams to Art School.

Lev Tolstoy, the great Russian author, was declared by his teacher to be lazy and lacking talent. At the University, studying the humanities, he failed his exams and was described as being incapable of and uninterested in learning.

Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor and physicist was described by his teachers as too stupid to learn.

Walt Disney was fired by the newspaper where he worked due to his lack of ideas.

Beethoven, the brilliant composer, did not play the violin well, and his teacher called him “hopeless as a composer”.

Henry Ford, who suffered from dyslexia, was a failing student, and went bankrupt five times before he succeeded in becoming a millionaire.

Winston Churchill was both dyslexic and psychologically depressed. After a whole career of failures, starting in sixth grade, he was made prime minister of England at age sixty-two.

There are many many more such people who after discovering in childhood that they suffered from learning disabilities, later succeeded: The author Hans Christian Andersen, the physicist Alexander Graham Bell, the artist Leonardo Da Vinci, American General George Patton, the millionaire Nelson Rockefellor, and American President Woodrow Wilson.

Ascending in holiness, the Netziv of Volozhin, Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, did not reap blessing as an elementary school “cheider” pupil. It was decided to send him to learn a trade, yet he broke out in bitter weeping and asked for one more year to try (from the book “Gedolei HaDorot”, by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Stern II:801). HaGaon HaRav Yosef of Lutzk was a mischievous boy who did not want to learn at all, and he was removed from all Torah learning (“She’al Avicha Veyagedcha”, Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Shvadron I:127; and see my work, “Ani Lo Shaveh”, page 125). The Chassidic Admor Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Rimenov was a very weak student as a boy, until he slowly pulled himself up through enormous toil (“Sarei HaMe’ah”, by Rav Maimon IV:113-129; “Ani Lo Shaveh”, page 225).

HaGaon Maharam Shik in his childhood had a weak ability to understand. He couldn’t understand even one page of Talmud. Yet he didn’t let it bother him. Instead, he toiled a great deal until he slowly achieved wisdom. (Gedolei HaDorot II:718). Rabbi Nachumke of Grodno, spiritual mentor of the Chafetz Chaim, following a move by his family to a new town and a new school when he was ten years old, could not succeed in Torha learning. He lost his love for learning and fell into a depression, deciding that he was incapable of it. He then joined up with a gang of wild boys and would wander around the town. It was decided to send him away so that he would not have a deleterious influence on other boys. He left the house of study, returned home, ceased studying, started collecting edible nuts from the forest and selling them to assist in supporting the family, and only a long time later slowly got back on track.

“The Rambam had a great deal of trouble understanding, and he had little desire to learn” (Seder HaDorot, 527, Entry: Rambam). Ascending further in holiness, Rabbi Akiva had trouble learning and remained an ignoramus until age forty. Then he went to learn Torah with his son (Avot DeRabbi Natan 6) and became the light of Israel.

Likewise, the son of Rabbi Eliezer and grandson of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai strayed totally off the track into a life of abominable sin and corruptness. Rebbe [Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi] approached him, ordained him as a rabbi, and assigned a Torah scholar to him to teach him. Yet he did not succeed in learning, and daily expressed his desire to return to his where he had been. All the same, the Torah scholar encouraged him, saying, “We’ve made a rabbi out of you, and you want to go back there?! That doesn’t suit you!” In the end he abandoned his bad ways, decided to learn, great in Torah and became a scholar (Bava Metzia 85a). It should be noted that Rebbe, in awarding him the title of “rabbi” was relying on his judgment that ultimately he would return to the proper path.

**Dear readers, if you have any other such stories, please send them to me.


Rabbi Ya’akov FilberGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“The Route to Redemption – Problematic but Intentional”


It is a twisted path along which the Messiah makes his way through history. Down through the ages we discern way-stations, milestones in the consolidation of the Messianic ideal. The Messiah’s first stop was at Sodom. Regarding Psalm 89:21, “I found David, My servant”, the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 41) asks, “Where did G-d find him?” and it answers, “At Sodom!” Our sages explain, “Two ‘findings’ were involved: Ruth the Moabite [from whom David was descended] and Na’ama the Amonite [from whom Rechavam ben Shlomo was descended. Amon and Moab were born from incestuous relations between Lot and his daughters, following Sodom’s destruction].”

The second Messianic way-station was the birth of Judah. His birth as well involved deceit, as his mother, Leah, was forced upon Jacob by trickery.

The third way-station was the birth of Peretz, son of Judah. Peretz, as well, was not born in a manner worthy of boasting (for the peculiar details of that event, see Genesis 38).

The fourth way-station was Ruth. Here, as well, her marriage to Boaz occurred under unconventional circumstances, with her lying down at Boaz’s feet as he slept on the threshing floor (Ruth 3:7). The same was so of the fifth way-station, the birth of Solomon through David and Bat-Sheva. Every way-station along the path was problematic.

Moreover, when we ponder the route taken by the Messiah, we discern that not one of the way-stations was created under circumstances of peace and tranquility, but rather of crisis and conflict. Abraham asked of Lot, “Let there be no quarrel between us… Depart from me” (Genesis 13:8). It was out of the overturning of Sodom and Amora that the first glimmer of the Messiah shined forth.

Also in Jacob’s house there was tension between the sisters. Leah’s births aroused jealousy in Rachel, and Judah was born amidst this quarrel. Also Peretz’s birth through Judah did not occur in an ideal reality, neither in Jacob’s home nor in Judah’s. Moreover, all of these events did not occur by accident or coincidentally. Rather, each of the matriarchs associated with these events was its initiator with aforethought. Precisely through all of these deeds was the light of the Messiah revealed to Israel.

Regarding the verse, “I know the thoughts” (Jeremiah 29:11), the Midrash expounds (Bereshit Rabbah 85), “Jacob’s sons were busy with the sale of Joseph; Joseph, Reuven and Jacob were absorbed with their sackcloth and fasting; Judah was occupied with taking a wife; and G-d was occupied with fashioning the light of the Messianic King.”

Rav Tzvi Kalischer wrote in his work “Drishat Tzion” (Ma’amar I): “Regarding the redemption of Israel for which we are waiting, let no one think that G-d will suddenly descend from Heaven and say to His people, ‘Emerge!’ or that He will suddenly send His Messiah from Heaven to blow the great shofar before the dispersed of Israel and gather them to Jerusalem. One should not think that He will suddenly make them a wall of fire, or that G-d’s Temple will descend from Heaven as He promised by way of His servants and prophets. That is not how the intelligent person is meant to read the Bible’s prophecies. Certainly all the prophecies will be fulfilled in the end of days, and nothing from them will be left unaccomplished, G-d forbid. Yet we mustn’t be overly hasty. It will not all happen in one day. Rather, the redemption of Israel will occur gradually. Bit by bit, the light of salvation will shine forth, until Israel’s efforts are crowned with success. In the end of days, the Jewish People will flourish greatly in the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of the holy prophets.”

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