From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
(First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) “The spiritual side of our national ascent depends on the spiritual betterment of every individual Jew”
(Orot Yisrael 158)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “How fortunate, Bar Yochai!”
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai merited that the vast majority of the people memorialize him on the anniversary of his death, Lag BaOmer, by lighting bonfires. These bonfires serve as a memorial candle for his noble soul, which to this day has always illuminated the soul of the nation with Torah, in general, and more specifically with the Zohar, which he authored. As is known, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva. The two of them, master and disciple, both felt the pain of the nation, which in those days was under Roman control. The Romans enacted decrees against the Jewish people, with the goal of humiliating them, subjugating them and weakening them, especially by their decree against Torah study. They knew that nothing so strengthens the Jewish people, giving them the fortitude to withstand the grave crisis following the destruction of the Temple, more than the study of our holy Torah.
Indeed, Rabbi Akiva would gather large crowds and teach Torah. He had no fear of the Romans. Ultimately, however, he was arrested, imprisoned and taken out to be cruelly executed. The Romans combed his flash with iron combs. Yet, in his great love for God, he took upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and his soul departed as he finished reciting the first line of the Shema.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai followed in the path of his master, Rabbi Akiva (see Berachot 61b) and he spoke negatively against the Romans, despite the danger. Ultimately he was compelled to flee from them and to hide for twelve years in a cave, together with his son. Neither Rabbi Akiva nor Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai could bear the humiliation of the Jewish People – the nation that God chose from all others – and they sacrificed themselves for the glory of their people.
Today, after thousands of years of exile in which the glory of Israel was trampled to the dust, how fortunate we are and how good our portion that we are returning to our land, and that the glory of the Jewish people is being reinstated. The Torah is returning to its abode. The decrees of the Romans and of all of Israel’s enemies down through the exile to prevent Jews from learning Torah did not succeed. The self-sacrifice of Rabbi Akiva and of all the Jews over Torah learning did not go to waste. Today, thank God, the State of Israel is the world center of Torah learning. Also the sacrifice of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for the glory of Israel is defending us, and on Lag BaOmer the Jewish masses honor the day of his passing with an enormous celebration at Meiron, and with bonfires throughout the country.
More and more, we are seeing revealed the great thirst of our nation to learn about the light of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, which is increasing from generation to generation and from day to day. That light is hastening our own redemption and the redemption of the world. In that spirit we sing, “How fortunate, Bar Yochai! Anointed by your colleagues with the oil of joy!”
Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“The Sabbatical Year”
Question: Shemittah [The seventh year] is approaching, the Sabbatical Year. Perhaps the time has come to nullify the Heter Mechira (the practice of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate of selling farmland to a non-Jew to avoid Shemittah restrictions. After all, it is questionable in several ways. If we really let the land lie fallow, we will be showing strength and valor. As our sages said, “Those who keep Shemittah are ‘the mighty in strength, who fulfill His word’ (Psalm 103:20).” Altogether, agriculture isn’t all that important in Israel, and if we stop agriculture for a year, nothing bad will happen. Surely we can purchase fruits from other sources.
1. To whom is agricultural unimportant? To the consumer, or to the farmer whose source of livelihood you’ve destroyed? And not just for this year, but altogether. For if he ceases work an entire year, non-Jews will grab his share of the market. After all, we sell our chametz, which involves a Torah prohibition, for the sake of some packages of food. All the more so that we can make such a sale during the Shemittah year. After all, we do not force a person to avail himself of the heter mechirah. It is just there for whoever wants it. Surely it is known that no one is entitled under the law to sell this land to a non-Jew, except for the Chief Rabbinate.
2. Anyway, our nonobservant brethren certainly will not cease work during the Sabbatical Year. It is a great mitzvah to save them, as much as possible, from sin. It is better to keep Halachah, even if we decide that the Heter Mechirah is far-fetched, than to violate the Halachah.
3. Yet regarding the questions, the truth must be stated that the Heter Mechirah did not begin with our master Rav Koook and his disciples. Before him already, the Heter Mechirah applied during the year is 1889, 1896, and 1903. Only in 1910 did Rav Kook come and consolidate it from every angle and perspective. Therefore, please be very careful not to slander what our predecessors did.
4. Let us return to our Jewish brethren who do not yet keep the mitzvot. They will raise produce that will arrive everywhere. If there is no Heter Mechirah, they will commercially plant and grow fruits and vegetables during the seventh year. The resulting produce, which is forbidden to eat, will reach the hotels and restaurants, and no rabbi will be able to provide Kashrut certification. The rabbinate’s kashrut certification will then collapse throughout Israel.
5. Also the claim that agriculture is unimportant because we can buy from the non-Jews is wrong. It’s forbidden for the State of Israel to be dependent on importing food, because then it will be possible to destroy us by cutting off food supplies. Even America, which has a strongly liberal capitalistic regime subsidizes agriculture in various ways.
6. As for those “mighty in strength who fulfill His word,” that is said regarding farmers who show self-sacrifice by letting their fields lie fallow, and not about the consumer, who purchases produce from non-Jews.
I would therefore like to list the consumer’s options in order of preference: 1) fruits picked in the sixth year and stored in refrigeration; 2) fruits raised in hothouses, detached from the soil; in flowerpots, etc. Farmers who raise such produce are likewise “mighty in strength”. 3) Vegetables planted during the sixth year and picked during the seventh year under the aegis of the “Otzar Beit Din”, the special Jewish court that undertakes ownership of the fruit. These fruits possess the holiness of the seventh year. As is well known, it is a mitzvah to eat fruit possessing such holiness, and it is likewise a great mitzvah to take part in this together with those “mighty in strength”; 4) the Heter Mechirah of the G-d-fearing public that scrupulously follows the halachic rulings regarding after the sale. Also, regarding the Heter Mechirah of our brethren who do not yet keep mitzvot and do not follow all the various rulings, even so, the produce is permissible. This applies all the more so in areas such as the Southern “Aravah” [the plains along the way to Eilat] whose status regarding Shemittah is uncertain. 5) Certainly we mustn’t buy non-Jewish produce, neither from non-Jews outside the land, nor from Arabs living here. All the more so that we mustn’t buy produce of the various terrorists, such as the murderers from Gush Katif and Gaza.
One might ask: Even during regular years we buy fruits from non-Jews for various reasons. Surely there is produce, such as cucumbers and squash, that only they grow? The answer is simple: we’re not going to intervene in what you do or force anything on you, even if it upsets us. What you do involves personal considerations. Yet, let it not be said that because of the Torah, because of Halachah, Jews will buy from non-Jews. Halachah wants us to buy from Jews. The Torah encourages “buying from your neighbor” (Leviticus 25:14) and it says, “Let your brother live alongside you” (ibid., verse 36). Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote:
“My pen trembles in my hand at the dastardly deed presently committed against our Jewish brethren of the moshavot [communal farms]. A decision was made not to approve the purchase of food from non-Jews during the Sabbatical year in order not to pull the rug out from under our downtrodden, poverty-stricken Jewish brethren, whose sustenance depends on their selling their grapes. And now, after the matter was settled in favor of our brethren of the moshavot, there turn out to be people who are undermining them by secretly planning to buy specifically from the non-Jews anyway. They improve our enemies’ standing, while those enemies laugh at how we, ourselves, are persecuting our fellow Jews during the Sabbatical year. Heaven help us!” (Igarot HaRe’iyah, Letter 316).
What would Rav Kook say if he could see how we, ourselves, persecuted our brethren and expelled them from Gush Katif, destroying a section of the Land and breaking up Jewish families, with a great many religious taking part in the expulsion? And now they are going to be buying food from those same terrorists, financing those who are busy murdering Jews and shooting missiles. Were Rav Kook to hear this, not only would his pen tremble, but his whole body would tremble, the foundations of the building would tremble, the Divine Presence itself would tremble…
Rabbi Yaakov Halevy Filber– Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“The Love of Israel”
Love of Israel is an explicit mitzvah of the Torah, as it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Such love is not merely platonic, but has to be accompanied by deeds. As Rambam wrote (De’ot 6:3), one must “praise one fellow man and treat his property with respect.” In Hilchot Avel 14:1, he further elaborates:
“It is a positive Rabbinic commandment to visit the sick, comfort mourners, finance weddings, show guests hospitality, to engage in everything involved in burial, to be a pallbearer, to follow the body to burial, to eulogize, to dig the pit and to inter the body. It is likewise a mitzvah to bring joy to bride and groom and to provide them with all their needs. These are the physical acts of kindness for which no limit is prescribed. Even though all of these mitzvoth are Rabbinic, they are still part of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Precisely because this mitzvah requires deeds, we must understand what is the Torah’s intent by the expression “as yourself”. Ramban and Rambam debate this point. Ramban (Leviticus 19:17) makes clear that “as yourself” is not meant literally:
“‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is meant as hyperbole. The human heart cannot accept loving his fellow man as himself. Moreover, the same Rabbi Akiva taught, ‘Your own life precedes that of your fellow man.’ Rather, the Torah is commanding us to love our fellow man in every way, just as we wish every good for ourselves. This interpretation is likely since the Torah did not use the direct object and say ‘Ve’ahavta et re’acha’. Rather it spoke more indirectly, using ‘lere’acha’. The point is not that my friend and I are equals, but that in my heart I should want him to have more bounty that I have. The Torah is commanding that I should not be jealous of him, but I should want to do everything good for him just as I wish to do for myself. My love of him should be unlimited.
According to Ramban, we understand why Hillel changed the Torah’s positive wording of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” when he addressed the non-Jew who wished to convert, saying negatively to him, “Don’t do anything to your fellowman that you would find abhorrent if done to you.” Yet regarding Ramban’s enlisting Rabbi Akiva’s pronouncement that “your own life comes first” as proof of his own view, that point was addressed by Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal (Netiv: “Ahavat HaRe’a, Chapter 1). He wrote:
“Do not view as contradiction Rabbi Akiva’s exposition teaching that a Jew’s own life precedes that of his fellow, and the Torah’s command to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. The two issues are different. Certainly one’s own life comes first. Yet as far as the love that one should feel for his fellow, he certainly should love him as much as he loves himself.”
Maharal distinguishes between life itself, regarding which one’s own life takes precedence, and the relationship between people within life’s framework. There, one must divide up his love equally between himself and his fellow.
Rambam expresses the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow man in three places, and in all of them his view is that “as yourself” should be taken literally. One is in Hilchot De’ot 6:3, where he wrote:
“It is a mitzvah upon every person to love every Jew as himself, as it says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Therefore, he must praise him and show respect for his property the way he shows respect for his own property and desires his own dignity.”
Rambam’s approach is stated explicitly in Avot 2:13,15: “Let your friend’s honor be as dear to you as your own… Let your friend’s property be as precious to you as your own.” Moreover, in Sefer HaMitzvot Rambam wrote, “Whatever he wants, I want him to have, and whatever I want for myself I want for him as well.” In Hilchot Avel 14:1 Rambam expressed it as follows, “Everything you wish others to do for you, you should do for your partner in Torah and mitzvoth.”
Yet according to Rambam’s approach we have to explain why Hillel changed the expression. Why did he use a negative wording rather than the positive wording of Rambam? That question is answered as follows: Indeed, Ramban is right that the demand to love one’s fellow man as equal to oneself is beyond human ability, as Ramban said, “The human heart cannot accept loving his fellow man as himself.” This is not so, however, regarding the holy seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom was addressed the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This spiritual level fits the root of their soul, and such a demand can be made of them. Hillel, by contrast, was addressing a non-Jew who had not yet converted. Had he expressed it positively, it would have been beyond the non-Jew’s understanding, and he would not have converted. He therefore used a wording that the non-Jew would understand and could accept.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9:4) addressed this question of how a human being could be expected to love his fellow man as himself, and it responds with a parable:
A man was cutting meat with a knife in his hand, and with his right hand he accidentally cut and wounded his left hand. Here the Talmud asks: “Will the wounded hand now go back and wound the hand that hurt it?” The Korban HaEdah, a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, explains this parable:
“It is the same with people. Since all of Israel are one body, it is logical that one Jew should not take revenge on his fellow. After all, whoever does so is ultimately only hurting himself.”
Thus, when a Jew realizes that the Jewish People are like one body, and a Jew who loves his fellow Jew actually loves himself, then even the most selfish person will be able to love his fellow man because he will view him as part of himself.