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From The World of Rabbi Kook:
“The ascendance of lofty spirituality strengthens practical action and increases interest in the world, in life and in all it contains… The more those practical elements expand and are consolidated, the greater the influence of spirituality, in all its holiness and truth, upon the world and upon life. The light of Israel then illuminates the world with its consummate beauty.”
Rabbi Dov Begon – Founder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Month of Mercy”
We are now in Elul, the month of repentance and mercy. What is this mercy that we are in such great need of in general, and especially at this time? Ramchal [Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto] explains in his work Mesillat Yesharim:
“G-d rules over His world with Strict Judgment, responding measure for measure to our deeds. However a person conducts himself, that is how G-d treats him. G-d watches over everything, large or small, and rewards a person according to his works: ‘G-d declares to man what is his speech’ (Amos 3:13). Even a man’s light conversation with his wife is declared to him at his judgment. ‘For G-d shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or evil’ (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
“‘Strict judgment’ means that G-d judges everything, and that He punishes for every sin, and we cannot escape. If G-d is strict regarding every sin, what then is ‘mercy’? ‘Mercy’ refers to the continued existence of the universe, for without mercy, the universe could not continue to exist. This trait represents G-d going beyond the letter of the law with us.
“With strict judgment, it would be appropriate for a sinner to be punished immediately upon sinning. Moreover, the punishment would be divine wrath appropriate for someone who rebels against G-d, and it would be impossible for him to ever rectify his sin. After all, once someone has sinned, once he has murdered or committed adultery, how can he make amends? Seemingly, it is impossible to remove something from existence.
“Thus the trait of mercy provides the opposite result of that obtained from Strict Judgment. First of all, it provides the sinner with time, such that he is not punished immediately. Also, the punishment itself is not carried out with overwhelming wrath. The person’s rectification, i.e., his repentance, is treated with complete kindness. That is, if someone fully regrets his act and takes upon himself not to repeat it, his uprooting his will that brought him to sin is then treated as though he had uprooted the deed from existence. It is the same as when one nullifies a vow, where the vow is uprooted from existence. As the prophet said (Isaiah 6:7), ‘Your iniquity shall be taken away and your sin expiated.’ The sin is removed from existence. This represents total kindness beyond the letter of the law.” (Mesillat Yesharim Ch. 4).
G-d treats His creatures mercifully, i.e., patiently, allowing them an opportunity to make amends, and going beyond the letter of the law. We as well must follow G-d’s ways. Just as G-d is merciful, so must we be merciful. Just as He is kind, so must we be kind. We must make a great effort to make peace with our fellow man. We must make peace within the family, husbands with wives, and children with parents. We must find a way to achieve peace within our nation, without conceding the least bit on the truth of Torah and our belief that Eretz Yisrael belongs only to the Jewish People. Valor and wisdom in life consist of living together despite disagreements. That is how it is in the individual family, and that is how it is within the Jewish People. Through this, may we merit G-d’s mercy in judgment, and may through us be fulfilled the words of the prayer: “Rule over us speedily, O G-d, alone, in kindness and mercy.” Let the year and its curses end and let the new year and its blessings begin. Looking forward to complete salvation,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“A Secular State or G-d’s Kingdom?”
Abraham was promised, “I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Israel’s being a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Leviticus 19:6) constitutes “the foundation of G-d’s throne on earth” (Orot, page 160). Now, unfortunately, in the eyes of many, our state is a secular state like all others. As a result, the Haredim [ultraorthodox] object to it, the knitted yarmulkes waver and the secular are perfectly satisfied.
In his time, the illustrious Rabbi Yitzchak Reines, founder of the Mizrachi, said that it was ordained by G-d that the Zionist Movement would take a secular direction. Had it had a religious bent, the secular would have steered clear of it, and would have been cut off from the Land of the Living. The way things occurred, they participated in it, and afterwards the various stripes of religious Jews joined in. Yet how could they join up with a state that seemed secular? It required their understanding the principles of preparation and gradualism. In our world, reality does not play in fast motion. Rather, we must march towards goals slowly.
In the same way, in Saul’s time, when the kingdom was about to be established, all the elders of Israel asked, “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:5). It is true that Saul was a righteous king, but his kingdom was secular. As a result, very grave crises ensued. Finally David appeared and built G-d’s kingdom on earth. Yet even that first stage, Saul’s kingdom, was very important, countering the anarchy of “each man doing whatever is right in his eyes” that had preceded. Unity, per se, is an immensely important ideal, as is responsibility. Only on this foundation is it possible to build a loftier level, G-d’s kingdom on earth. All this is the case when we view history rationally. Yet on a more mystical level, we understand intuitively that the longing found amongst the Jewish nation to return to their land and birthplace fundamentally constitutes a longing for G-d, whether or not they consciously realize this.
The cause of this crisis is not the collapse of ideology. Quite the contrary, it is because our generation thirsts for profound ideals, and since they do not find them, they turn to despair and denial. Our generation demands an accounting of all the treasures of the spirit to which we are devoted. Yet this accounting is being delayed because study of the spiritual segment of the Torah has been neglected. Yet the longing for G-d is concealed within the blueprints of the generation, just as the soul is hidden within the body, and just as the World-to-Come is hidden within this world. Our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook explains that the nation’s longing to return to their land and birthplace truly contains within it the light of repentance. Only, it is covered over by masks that conceal it (Orot HaTeshuvah 17:2). He further explains that the redemption appearing before us is built into the soul of the Jewish People and undergoes processing deep in the soul. Therefore, all we can do is to arm ourselves with patience and increase the light of the nation, for out of them shall emerge salvation.
Rabbi Elisha Aviner – Education Corner
Open Letter to Our Youth: “To Enlist of Not to Enlist”
Recently a petition has been circulating that calls upon youth to forego their army service. This was to be expected. Time after time, our country’s leadership has been warned that their policy is causing a rift in the nation. The heads of the army have been warned that enlisting the army in uprooting Jews from parts of Eretz Yisrael and their massive involvement in the expulsion would lead to profound estrangement from the army. For many, the army is no longer perceived as a people’s army. It has lost its luster. Hence, it is no surprise that young people are speaking negatively about the army and are embarrassed to wear its uniform. The main question is this: Does the present crisis of confidence regarding the army justify not enlisting in it? Is this a proper step? Is it an appropriate response? This grave episode warrants examination from various angles:
1. Israeli army service is a mitzvah. We do not enlist in the army because we support the political steps being taken by the prime minister or his defense minister. We do not enlist because of our enormous admiration for the head of the army or one of the generals in his staff. Rather, we enlist because it is a mitzvah. Enlisting is not a political step that expresses faith in the government or the Knesset. Rather, it is a mitzvah. What mitzvah is it?
First of all, it is a mitzvah to take part in Israel’s compulsory wars defending Israel from its enemies. The Israeli army ensures the safety of the residents of the State of Israel. It is doing this in these very times. It fights terrorists from within, and provides deterrence against the many enemies who surround us from without. Iran, Egypt and Syria are not suspected of excess love for the Jewish People. They sit “quietly” only because of the Israeli Army. Therefore, whoever enlists in the army fulfills the mitzvah of “defending Israel from its enemies,” protecting the state’s inhabitants from slaughter by the enemies of the Jewish People.
The army also ensures Jewish sovereignty over sections of Eretz Yisrael. It is the central vehicle to fulfilling the mitzvah of settling the Land, enabling us “to prevent the Land from being in the hands of any other nation” (Ramban). Even if the army has betrayed its role regarding Gush Katif, it still continues to fulfill its role as far as the rest of Eretz Yisrael, from Kiryat Shemoneh to Eilat. We are angry at the army. We are angry at the heads of the security establishment. That anger is justified. It has to find expression via various kinds of protests, yet that does not free us from fulfilling an important mitzvah relating to the entire Jewish People. G-d has not exempted us from fulfilling this mitzvah.
2. A similar question has been dealt with in the past, and has already been decided by great rabbis of Israel. The question came up in relation to our integration in the Zionish Movement. The Zionist movement not only worked towards Jews moving to Zion, but expressed its position regarding the borders of the Land. It was ready to concede many portions of Eretz Yisrael, and at a certain point it even considered exchanging Eretz Yisrael for Uganda. It formally proclaimed that it had nothing to do with religion, and when the State was first established, it worked against religion and made an effort to distance new immigrants from their religious roots. Therefore, there were those who called for people not to “enlist” in the Zionist Movement, and not to “serve” in its ranks. Yet many great rabbis called upon Jews to join it and to be active in it, due to its contribution towards the redemption of the Jewish People and the return to Zion. We have already mentioned a few times Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s interpretation of the Jerusalem Talmud’s words, “Greater is the sanctification of G-d’s name than its profanation.” Isn’t it obvious that the former is greater than the latter? Yet, as Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained, even when G-d’s name is being simultaneously sanctified and profaned, the sanctification wins out. Such thinking led to the decision of many great rabbis in favor of Zionism, as well as to their decision in favor of enlisting in the army. The army’s activities greatly sanctify G-d’s name, and even though they sometimes profane His name as well (as with Jews being expelled from their land, a terrible profanation of His name), the sanctification is decisive.
3. The army is one of the central expressions of Israeli society in the aggregate, perhaps the most central of all. This has led to the deep bond of Israeli society with the army, and to their distaste for anyone who wishes to harm the army or to avoid its ranks. Therefore, whoever cuts himself off from the army cuts himself off from Israeli society. He can proclaim a thousand times over that he feels like part of the State of Israel and Israeli society despite his not having served, but Israeli society does not accept that and does not view him as part of it. In other words, the army is one of the central, tangible expressions of the Jewish People. Whoever sets himself apart from the army, literally sets himself apart from the Jewish People.
This brings us to the profound explanations appearing in Maharal and Rav Kook regarding one’s duty not to set oneself apart from the Jewish People under any circumstances. Maharal stresses that the argument over whether a Jew who sins remains a Jew or not focuses on individual Jews. Regarding the Jewish People in the aggregate, however, even if they worship idols they remain the Jewish People, and we do not cut ourselves off from them. Obviously there are different spiritual levels within the roots of the Jewish People. There is a spiritual hierarchy. Sometimes our people are called “Knesset Yisrael” [the assembly of Israel]; sometimes they are called “Tiferet Yisrael” [the glory of Israel], etc. The Jewish People remain pure and holy at all times.
Still, it is not just the ideal “Jewish People” that we have to remain connected to, but also the real-life Jewish People in the flesh, “standing before us today, from the wood carriers to the water drawers.”
4. The petition against enlisting in the army is an expression of anger. Injustice arouses anger and requires a protest. One is allowed to be angry and to protest; it is even a mitzvah to protest. Yet it is forbidden for one’s anger to take control, because it is impossible to build by way of anger. Anger is a destructive force, not a constructive one. In response to the destructive proceedings being carried out by the State’s leadership, we must increase our rebuilding. We must increase our hold on the Land of Israel; our spiritual influence on the State; our social involvement; our rebuilding within the Jewish People, together with the Jewish People. We know that by way of this partnership, we will not encounter just light, but we must maintain it all the same. Let us continue to build within the Jewish People, together with the Jewish People.
Hence, we shall continue enlisting in the army, not because we take lightly what occurred; and not because we are indulgent towards those in the political and security establishment responsible for uprooting part of Eretz Yisrael, but because we feel a responsibility for the State’s future and an obligation to fulfill the Torah’s commandments.