From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook (First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) “The thinking person, capable of self-appraisal, must develop all the facets of his spiritual universe. This toil knows no end. All one’s life one must develop oneself, increasing one’s wisdom and morality” (Orot HaKodesh 3:120)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Who will reach out to Israel?”
The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on two ornaments amongst the apparel of the Kohen Gadol [High Priest]. One ornament consisted of the two avnei shoham [onyx stones], one on each of the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders: “Take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of Israel’s sons. There shall be six names on one stone, and the remaining six names on the second stone inscribed in the order of their birth” (Exodus 28:9-10).
The second ornament was on the Kohen Gadol’s heart, the Choshen Mishpat [decision breast plate]: “Aaron will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the decision breastplate over his heart when he comes into the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God” (verse 29).
The avnei shoham on the the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders, and the Choshen Mishpat on his heart, served as a reminder for G-d, as it says: “Place the two stones on the two shoulder pieces of the ephod as remembrance stones for Israel’s sons. Aaron shall bear their names before the L-rd on his two shoulders as a remembrance” (28:12). Rashi interpreted “remembrance” to mean: “G-d should see the tribes inscribed before Him, and He should remember their righteousness.”
The Kohen Gadol’s benevolent heart encompassed within it the entire Jewish People, in all their tribes and all their variety, as alluded to by the avnei shoham. After all, he was commanded to bless G-d’s people lovingly, and the intent was that he should bless the ENTIRE Jewish People. If, G-d forbid, a Kohen hates someone from the congregation, he is not entitled to bless them.
Yet it is not enough to love the Jewish People. One also has to take responsibility for them and defend the entire generation, as Isaiah said (3:10), “Say of the righteous, that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.” As Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 19) comments, “The entire generation benefits from those fruits.”
Shoulders are a symbol of taking responsibility (perhaps this is why army officers, who bear heavy responsibility, have their ranks on their shoulders).
Today, our generation, the generation of Israel’s rebirth, has merited the appearance of those two Kohanim Gedolim, father and son, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt”l, and his only son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zt”l, who continued in his father’s path. It is equally true of both of them, that the entire Jewish People was in their heart constantly, just as Aaron the Kohen Gadol bore the names of the sons of Israel on the Choshen Mishpat when he entered the sanctuary, as a constant remembrance before G-d (Exodus 28:29).
Yet the Jewish People, in all their tribes and variety were not just in their hearts, as symbolized by the Decision Breastplate, but also “on their shoulders”. In other words, Rav Kook, both father and son, took responsibility for the Jewish People to bring merit to their generation and to the entire world. It was akin to the way that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Eliezer brought merit to the entire world, requesting of G-d that He exempt the world from the yardstick of strict justice (Succah 45b). Moreover, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes that a saint directs all his deeds towards the good of his generation, to bring them merit and to defend them (Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 19).
On the 14th of Adar, twenty-five years ago, the pure, enlightening soul of our master and teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l ascended to the celestial realm, after being privileged to establish a generation of Torah scholars who illuminate the soul of the nation by way of the light of Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s father, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen, zt”l. During these dark times, the nation is in such great need of this light. This light shall continue to illuminate the path of the Jewish People and the entire world, down through the generations until the arrival of our righteous Messiah, speedily in our day, Amen. With blessings for a joyous Purim,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
Question: I am often in despair. I really do strive to improve my deeds and character, but I fail. I look back on my past, and I just give up. I look towards my future, and if I am honest with myself, and realistic, I see no hope. So many times I have pulled myself up, only to fall back down again the next day. Today I’m all right, but I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it up. Why then should I try today?
Answer: You gave the answer yourself. “Today”. G-d does not demand that you rectify your whole future, but only your “today”. “Listen to G-d’s voice today” (Psalm 95:7). Today and only today.
There is a method of helping addicts. One doesn’t demand that they stop everything for good, but only for today. Tomorrow, you discuss it with them again. Our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains this to us (Midbar Shur). Our sages said, “Return one day before your death” (Avot 2:10). When they asked the disciples of Rabbi Eliezer, “Who knows which day he will die on?” he replied, “All the more reason to repent today, lest you die tomorrow” (Shabbat 153a).
That being the case, shouldn’t the Mishnah have said simply, “Repent every day”? Yet that is not the same thing. To prepare for long-term avoidance of sin, one must prepare right now with the future in mind. This leaves a great weight on a person’s shoulders, and he might despair of repenting, for who knows what tests lie in wait for him.
We therefore say to him: Prepare just for one day. “It is easy to withstand the temptations of a single day, even if one has grown accustomed to evil. Afterwards, one can gather strength to deal with another day still, until he becomes accustomed, once more, to following the path of goodness” (Midbar Shur 88-89).
This is the secret of concentrating. Don’t let your mind wander. Concentrate on what you are doing right now, and on today (see Rav Kook’s “Mussar Avicha 2:2: Bechol Darkecha Da’ehu).
Yet one must take into account that he will probably have to fight all his life for the same goals. The I.D.F., as well, has been fighting devotedly against our enemies since the State’s establishment, and the enemies still exist. Yet the army does its job and is worthy of the highest praise.
The Book of “Tanya” was written for the “beinoni”, the spiritually average person who fights against the same evil impulse his whole life, and, thank G-d, vanquishes it in word, deed and thought.
There is an ancient Greek fable about a frustrating punishment: having to spend eternity filling up a bucket with water when the bucket has holes at the bottom and simultaneously empties out. Our sages enlisted this same metaphor to represent the person who learns Torah and then forgets what he learned. Yet they said that that person mustn’t worry. He still receives reward for every time he “fills up the bucket”.
Or, in other words, “Reward in commensurate with the pain invested.” G-d is not achievement-oriented. He does not judge the person by the results but by the effort, the energy expended. Different human beings do not have the same starting conditions. Therefore they are not judged according to their achievements but by how hard they struggle. Lest one say, “I have accomplished more than the next fellow,” our sages said, “Whether one achieves much or little, the main thing is that he should direct his heart to heaven” (Berachot 17a).
Our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Shemoneh Kevatzim 8:36) wrote:
“We mustn’t lose hope if after many years of effort we find ourselves right where we were when we started struggling to advance spiritually. Regarding our character and moral level, we sometimes remain at that same low level such that all our lives we must make the same effort to overcome simple moral problems.” I.e., we find ourselves running in place.
“After all this, we know that our effort was not in vain. In fact, our very effort earns us great spiritual reward. The frustrating fact that after so much effort we are still enveloped in darkness serves to teach us what G-d desires of us. It is that we should always, even in old age, struggle and toil, enlisting our spiritual strengths.” (I.e., we must strive like those Torah scholars who “have no rest” (end of Berachot)). “We must never say that we have finished our quota, for our general goal is not to reach any particular level, but to ascend, ever moving onward and upward. And should we ever suffer a bout of laziness, morose darkness will immediately come and place all our past toil as though it had borne no fruit, and as if we are on the same impoverished spiritual level as at the very beginning of our toil.” (That despairing feeling that we are treading in place comes as a preventative medicine, not to make us despair, but to apprise us of our job and to remind us that we must struggle constantly). It is to make us aware that we are not expected to acquire specific sums of spiritual wealth but to toil and strive greatly.”
‘Fortunate the man who fears the L-rd and delights greatly in His mitzvot’ (Psalm 112:1). We are to delight in G-d’s mitzvoth – not in the reward for those mitzvoth. Once we gladly accept even the dark transition, we will be showered with light, new and old. ‘The L-rd is my light and salvation. From whom shall I fear?’ (Psalm 27:1).” (Shemoneh Kevatzim 8:36)
Rabbi Yaakov Halevy Filber- Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Why did Moses Break the Tablets?”
In studying the Sin of the Golden Calf, we generally are preoccupied with the making of the calf, and with the question of what was Israel’s role and what was Aaron’s role, events that took place in the Israelite camp. Yet parallel to those events in the Israelite camp, a conversation also took place on the mountain above, between G-d and Moses. G-d told Moses, “Go down!” He revealed to Moses His intention of destroying Israel and of making Moses into a great nation. Moses stood in prayer and succeeded in averting the decree; only then, Moses descended with the tablets.
Ostensibly, Moses could have conducted himself differently. If he considered Israel unworthy of the tablets, he could have refrained from descending with them altogether, or he could have descended without them, leaving them on the mountain, intact, with G-d (since he ultimately broke them). And if he had decided to break them, he could have done it while he was still on the mountain, the moment he was informed that Israel had made the calf. Yet Moses took neither approach. Rather, he descended with the tablets, and only when he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing did he grow angry and cast down the tablets, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.
Here one can ask: If the Sin of the Calf justified breaking the tablets, why didn’t Moses break them while he was yet on the mountain? Surely G-d had just informed him that Israel had “made themselves a cast-metal calf. They have bowed down and offered sacrifice to it, exclaiming, ‘This, Israel, is your god, who brought you out of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:8). If making the calf did not justify breaking the tablets, as Moses indeed avoided doing while on the mountain, what made him break them in the end?
Up on the mountain, he was told only that the calf had been made. When he descended he saw the dancing as well (32:19). Rabbi Moshe Alshich explains that as long as a sinner is sad about his sin, there is hope that he will repent and made amends. Yet if he rejoices in his sin, his hope is lost: “Therefore, when G-d told him about the making of the calf, He did not tell him about Israel’s joy and lack of contrition over their sin. Moses therefore did not become very angry. Yet when he saw the calf and the dancing – signifying their joy – he grew very angry.” Ramban, as well, wrote (32:16), “When I saw you carousing before the calf, I could not hold back and I broke the tablets.”
This approach, by which in the camp Moses became aware of new information lacking to him on the mountain, was taken by “Akeidat Yitzchak” as well (Sha’ar 53). He brings two explanations of what changed for Moses. The first is that while he had heard from G-d that Israel had made the calf, he did not take G-d’s words literally. Rather, he assumed that perhaps Israel had committed some unsavory deed that G-d was calling a “cast-metal calf.” Or, he thought that not all of them were involved in the sin. Or, he thought that until he descended to them, they would repent. In the end, however, he reached them and saw that G-d’s words had been meant literally. Then he understood that they were unworthy of the first tablets.
The second answer is this: Hearing is not the same as seeing: “A person is impressed more by what he sees than by what he hears, even if there is no doubt involved in what he heard.” One way or the other, Moses, while on the mountain, still hoped that there was a chance for the Jewish People to be worthy to receive the tablets. Yet when he saw the reality as it was, he understood that under the circumstances, the people were not prepared to receive the tablets. Therefore, Moses, in his anger, broke them.
Yet there is still another approach that explains that the breaking of the tablets was out of worry over the Jewish People. Shemot Rabbah (43:1) states: “To what may this be compared? A prince sent an emissary to betroth a bride on his behalf. Yet the bride was behaving promiscuously with another man. What did the emissary do? He took the marriage contract which the prince had given him for completing the transaction and he ripped it up. He said, ‘Better she should be judged as an unmarried woman.’ Moses did the same: When Israel committed the same act, Moses took the tablets and broke them. Moses further said, ‘Better they should be judged as inadvertent sinners than as intentional sinners.’”
Another Midrash (ibid., 46:1) viewed Moses as breaking the tablets as a way of defending Israel: “Moses saw that by strict law, Israel had no right to survive. He therefore attached himself to them and broke the tablets. He said to G-d, ‘They sinned, and I sinned in breaking the tablets. If you forgive them, then forgive me as well,’ as it says, ‘And now, if You bear their sin’ (Exodus 32:32). Yet if You do not forgive them, do not forgive me. Rather, ‘Blot me out of the book that You have written’ (ibid.).”
There is also a third approach, according to which the breaking of the tablets was a deliberate act by Moses to influence Israel. Netziv states: “Moses wished to break the people’s spirit and to agitate them. Seeing Moses break the tablets, their marvelous, unparalleled treasure, before their eyes, saddened them so much that they didn’t have the will to protest what he had done.” Meshech Chochmah likewise explains at length that Moses’s breaking of the tablets was an educational act by which to teach the public.