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Parashat BShalach

From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook (first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael)
“The longing to plant, to settle the world, is an expression of man’s inner longing to be good to all.” (Megged Yerachim, Shevat)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”

On Tu Bishvat, many Jews have a custom of planting trees throughout our beloved land. We find an allusion to this custom in our sages’ words: “From the beginning of the world’s creation, G-d dealt first with planting, as it says, ‘G-d planted a garden in Eden’ (Genesis 2:8). You, as well, when you enter the Land, must first engage in planting, as it says, ‘When you come to the Land, plant trees bearing fruit’ (Leviticus 19:23).” (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3)

From here our sages learn that we have to follow in G-d’s pathways. Just as G-d planted a garden in Eden, so must we plant trees in Eretz Yisrael, which corresponds to the garden planted in Eden.

Even so, it is not enough to plant. We must also tend what we planted. Just as G-d left man in Eden to work and preserve what he planted, so are we commanded to work and preserve our public and private lives here. Otherwise, we are liable to ruin the Garden of Eden in which we live. As our sages said: “When G-d created Adam, He took him around and showed him all the trees in Eden, and He said to him, “Observe how fine is My handiwork. Everything I created, I created for you. Be careful not to ruin and destroy My world!” (Kohelet Rabbah 7)

Also regarding eating the fruits of the Garden of Eden, Adam was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating from that Tree of Knowledge brought shame and sadness to Adam and to all mankind. Whoever would eat from that tree would imagine to himself that only he knows what is good and what is evil, and he would ignore Divine Instruction that teaches us what is really good and what is really evil. As our holy Torah tells us, the Torah is a “tree of life for those who take hold of it.”

Today, how fortunate we are that we are returning to Eretz Yisrael, planting trees there and eating their fruits. With our own eyes we are seeing the clear end of days. As Ezekiel said, “But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come” (36:8) (see Sanhedrin 98a).
Yet together with this we must work and preserve the planting in our holy, beloved land. We must work it – we must develop our land and settle it throughout its length and breadth. And we must preserve it – from the Arabs, robbers of our land, whose entire goal is to destroy the State of Israel. Above all else, we must be careful not to “eat the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. In other words, we mustn’t think that good and evil in our private and public lives depend only on our own judgment. And those who hold the reins of government must be especially careful to avoid this mistake. They must come to realize that good and evil, as far as our hold on Eretz Yisrael, are learned from our holy Torah. That is the moral basis for us and for the nations of the world as far as whether or not we are justified in holding on to the Land of our Life’s blood. As Rashi explains at the start of the Torah, should the nations come and call us thieves for having conquered Eretz Yisrael, we must answer them, “G-d told His people of His might, giving them the inheritance of nations” (Psalm 101:6). Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El
“When You See a Tree”

When you are walking along and you see a tree before you, what are you actually seeing? Well, it is certainly correct to say that you are seeing a tree. Yet you are seeing more than that, much more.

130 years ago when he was in Palestine, the American author Mark Twain wrote: “Here is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent–not for thirty miles in either direction. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings. “We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds–a silent, mournful expanse. “Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely… “We never saw a human being on the whole route. “There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. “Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? “Palestine is no more of this work-day world.”

Did you hear that? “There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere, not even an olive tree!”

Therefore, when I see a tree, I see the Jewish People rising to rebirth in their land. For almost 2,000 years, this land was angry at us and wouldn’t smile at us. Obviously, and by no coincidence, “because of our sins we were banished from our country and distanced from our land.”

170 years ago, the French writer Alfonse De Lamartine wrote: “(Outside the walls of Jerusalem) we saw nothing living. We heard no sound of life. We found that same emptiness, that same silence that we would have expected to find before the buried gates of Pompei or Herculanum… total silence reigns over the city, along the highways, the villages… the whole country is like a graveyard.”

As we know, our sages objected to making Messianic calculations. They even said, “Let the bones be blasted of those who calculate the end of days!” (Sanhedrin 97b). If so, how can we know that the end is near? They answered, “We have no better sign of the end of days than that of Ezekiel 36:8: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi comments, “If you see Eretz Yisrael yielding its fruits plentifully, be aware that the end of the exile has arrived.”

Indeed, 120 years ago, the land began to blossom, and since then this sign has not proven to be a disappointment. Our country is being built up, and despite all the harsh shortcomings visible in our public lives, we have to admit that we are rising up to rebirth, and we have to be happy about this, hold on, and look forward.

Question: Occasionally you refer readers to Internet links. Does that constitute approval of Internet use?
Answer: G-d forbid. The Internet is a dangerous snake, and whoever would protect his soul should steer far from it. Yet if someone already has it, we have to try to save what we can. Likewise, if someone needs it for work, there are several “clean-Internet” options. Even the “Eidah HaChareidit” has given its approval to Globe-kol.

Rabbi Eren TamirTeacher at Machon Meir
“The Four Groups by the Sea – Then and Today”

It is not hard to imagine the pressure, fear and confusion that gripped Israel when they arrived at the Red Sea, with the sea before them and Egypt behind. They must have felt totally impotent, caught “between a rock and a hard place.” The truth is that our sages describe Israel’s plight then in various ways. One of them is what they say in a number of places (e.g., the Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 2:5; Mechilta, Beshalach 2): “There were four groups by the sea: One said, ‘Let’s fall in the sea.’ One said, ‘Let’s return to Egypt.’ One said, ‘Let’s make war against them.’ One said, ‘Let’s cry out against them.’”

Making a free translation to our situation today, we could say that in the difficult situation of the Jewish People today there are four movements, four political parties.

1. There is the party of those in despair: They say, “Let’s fall in the sea. We have no chance. All is lost. Therefore, it is better for us to die of our own free will (gambling the whole kitty?), and not to be prey in the cruel jaws of the enemy.” Such despair can be found in our own day in various forms.

2. The Realist Party: In the name of practical reality, they say, “Let us return to Egypt. There is no chance at the moment to fight the Egyptians. Therefore, let us go back there. The main this is that we should live, even as slaves. Maybe a day will come when they will grant us equal rights and we will be able to live like other people in tranquility and dignity, to ‘be a man at home and an Egyptian when you go out’. We will lead ethical lives, like all the nations. We will develop our human intellect in the field of advanced technology in the Egyptian empire and we will blend in to the universal world culture.”

3. The National Honor Party – “Let’s wage war against them.” Who says we should go back to the Egypt of slavery? No way! We are not even willing to accept the rights of foreign residents in Egypt and to live in equality. Where is our national honor? We want to be a free nation that leads its own life, with its own politics, army and economy. We also want to have a fully developed culture with our own literature, theatre, music and Sports. Our slogan is “To be a free people in our land.” We have dreams of our own. We shall not submit to the enemy under any circumstances. Forward attack!

4. The Spiritual Party. “Let’s cry out against them!” The sefer “Torah Temimah” (Shemot 14) explains this to mean “Let’s cry out to G-d to answer us.” Through the merit of the power of prayer we will be saved. We will not win by war. Certainly we mustn’t assimilate among the Egyptians. The main thing is the spirit – we will win through the spirit — we will pray, and G-d will help us by a miracle.

Thus were these four groups arguing and fighting, which each one entrenching itself behind its own stand. None of them was willing to hear the views of the other at all. And who was right? Our sages continue (ibid.): “Moses to the group that said, ‘Let us fall in the sea,’ ‘Stand and see G-d’s salvation.’ To the one that said to go back to Egypt, G-d said, ‘You saw Egypt today but you shall not continue to see it.’ To the one that said, ‘Let’s wage war against them,’ Moses said, ‘The L-rd will fight for you,’ and to the one that said, ‘Let us pray,’ he said, ‘You remain silent.’”

It follows that according to our sages’ response, each group separately, was wrong. All the same, could it be that no particular side was right in the argument, an argument that has never ended from those days until now, an argument that echoes down through the entire complex and winding course of Jewish history?

The answer to this question is given by Rav Kook (Orot HaTechiyah 18): “Three forces are presently struggling for ascendancy within our camp. The fight between them is most recognizable right now in Eretz Yisrael, but the struggle has gone on throughout the life of our people. The roots of these three forces are fixed within the consciousness penetrating the expanses of the human spirit… holiness, nationalism and humanism. These are the three forces that make demands on us as Jews, and on every human being, in some form or another…”

If so, we are certainly not from among those in despair. We are people of faith, who understand that we have to join together the different forces. The source of them all is faith – holiness – the party of the spirit. It is that which infuses in us the divine values and goals which are meant to be revealed in every step of our lives as a nation. It is this which shall imbue the proper values into the “National Honor Party.”

Yet this does not suffice. We must, indeed, leave Egypt, and get away from “practical realism,” yet we must also extract from there all the tools we need, like the human intellect, advanced technology, etc. And we must discover, through them as well, the great spirit within us. Therefore, if it sometimes seems as though we are still incapable of harnessing all the forces, we still must not give up on any of them. We must work, openly and in the background, in the short term and the long term, to reveal all three forces together. With G-d’s help we will merit to continue the song of Moses, with the words, “Sing to Hashem a new song” – by way of the complete redemption of Israel with all its forces, and the whole world together with it.

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