From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
(First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) “How can a person come to fathom G-d’s greatness? By increasing his store of knowledge, by giving his mind and imagination free reign, by increasing his knowledge of the world and life, and by living life to its fullest… The person with a profound spirit will know how to purify all of the preceding…” (Erpalei Tohar 46)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
“Restore Our Judges as at First”
“Envy, lust and a craving for honor shorten a man’s life” (Avot 4:21). Korach craved honor, and as is well known, “Craving honor is what drives the heart of man more than all the other passions and desires on earth… it is one of man’s greatest stumbling blocks” (Mesillat Yesharim, Nekiyut). Indeed, Korach sinned and he led those around him to sin, bringing a serious calamity upon them and upon himself.
Yerav’am ben Nevat likewise sinned and led others to sin. Even though he was learned in Torah, he still fell prey to the pursuit of honor. As our sages teach, G-d took hold of his cloak and said to him, “Retract your plan of dividing the kingdom in two, and you and I and the David will stroll together in Eden!” Yet he replied, “And who will walk in front?” to which G-d answered, “David will!” Yeravam ben Nevat then responded, “If so, I do not wish to retract” (Sanhedrin 102a).
The outcome is well known: for hundreds of years during the First Temple Period, the Jewish People was split into two countries, such that instead of there being “one nation in the Land”, there were two.
Not only in the past did the pursuit of honor by some of Israel’s leaders cause a crisis of the land and people being torn apart, but in our own day as well. Today, the moral deterioration of some of those running the country, and of others who long to attain the reins of leadership, has led us to mistaken, illusory thinking and plans, like the wretched, dangerous Oslo accords. The purpose of that accord was to split up Eretz Yisrael and to establish for the Arabs a state, whose entire purpose would be to destroy the State of Israel, as we can see with our own eyes.
We must pray and seek mercy from G-d that He should place at the head of our government idealistic, pure-hearted men who have no ulterior motives and no craving for money or for honor. They must be men whose entire goal is to strengthen the State of Israel, and to strengthen our hold on Eretz Yisrael. We need leaders who will unify the Jewish People, who are likened to a tree with many branches. And just as a tree is united through its roots, so, too are the Jewish People united through their roots.
The roots of the Jewish People, from which they have been drawing strength for thousands of years, are Jewish tradition and the study of our holy Torah in fear, love and faith. By such means we shall become the living fulfillment of the prayer: “Restore our judges as at first, and our counselors as at the beginning. Remove from us sorrow and sighing” (Shemoneh Esreh)
Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
Before “Operation Defensive Shield,” a friend sorrowfully informed me, “I am setting out on an educational mission of two years in the Diaspora. How can I sit there when my friends are going to war?”
“Don’t worry,” I answered him. “There will be more wars when you come back, and for your sons and grandsons as well.”
“You’re not very optimistic, are you?” he answered.
“Oh yes I am,” I answered. “Being pessimistic means believing we are headed for pogroms and a holocaust. In our situation, optimism means believing there will be wars.”
Is there no way to achieve peace? War is such a harsh, difficult thing. Perhaps we should concede to our enemies’ demands? Isn’t the main thing peace?
That is the question. Do concessions advance peace? That is a profound controversy between sociologists. They have researched why there are wars between nations in the first place. Are all the nations on earth so lacking in understanding that they don’t understand how tragic wars are?
The first answer is this: It is natural that there should be differences of opinion between nations. There are quarrels between individuals as well. The Mishnah describes the case of “two people holding a garment, and each of them claiming it is all his, or that he, alone, found it.” If a person can attain what he wants quietly, all the better. Otherwise, people say, “Whoever is the stronger, wins.”
Here is how the famous Russian military theoretician, Carl Von Clausewitz defined war: “War is a continuation of diplomacy by other means.” As he put it, war is a last try at attaining one’s goals.
According to this theory, if we concede to the other side or if we arrive at some compromise, peace will come automatically. Parenthetically, following this line of reasoning, there is an interesting paradox: Who is to blame for war? Not the attacker but the attacked. The attacker does not want a war, but only a particular piece of land, and the victim’s agreement would spare a war. Hence the victim is guilty!
Yet there is another theory about the cause of war, different from the first, or supplementary to it: Man is aggressive by nature. People are not violent because of disagreements. The opposite is the case. It is due to their violence that disagreements are created. Those disagreements are only the result of the bursting forth of those aggressive passions. The researcher Conrad Lawrence carefully analyzed the aggressive components in the beast and in man.
Obviously, we already knew before that within man there is a beast. When there were two men on earth, the one rose up and killed the other: They couldn’t coexist in one world. That was not a very promising beginning. Why did Cain kill his brother? “Cain said to his brother Abel… and he killed him” (Genesis 4:8). What did he say to him? Our sages comment, “They divided up the earth between them. Cain took the land and Abel took the movable objects. Yet with that the problem was not solved. Abel said to Cain, “Give me your clothing,” and Cain responded, “Get off my land!” Some say that each of them said, “The Holy Temple will be built in my section.” Some say they quarreled over who got to wed their sister…” These are the causes of war: economics, religion, and romance.
Yet already before all that, G-d refused to accept Cain’s offering. Why? G-d explained it to him: “Sin crouches at the door” (verse 7). G-d was explaining to Cain: You are full of a passion for violence. True, it hasn’t yet revealed itself, yet it is concealed within you and you must rectify it. There is no value to your offerings if you leave within yourself all of your aggressiveness (see Rav Kook’s Orot, page 32). Yet Cain didn’t rectify himself, and in the end, his violence burst forth over matters of property, religion or romance.
It all started with the beast within man. Sometimes people ask: Is it true that man is descended from beasts, as the theory of evolution claims? The answer is this: It doesn’t bother us whether or not man is descended from beasts, but rather, whether or not man has yet reached the level of man! Man has psychological components in common with mammals, and other traits in common with reptiles, which are even more beastly. One philosopher said: “The moral barometer of a people is their behavior during war time.” In war, there are no boundaries. Everything is permissible. One can steal and pillage and torture and rape. The only nation on earth that during wartime treats murderers, terrorists and evildoers with equanimity is our people, the Jewish People. We have no aggressive tendencies and we do not go forth to war in order to give our passions free rein, but only to ensure our survival (ibid., page 2).
If this is the cause of war, then the fundamental solution is not so close. In the meantime, there is only one way to avoid it: deterrence! Frightening a violent man helps the victim and helps the violent man himself. That way he stops. Unfortunately, our neighbors are violent not only to us, but amongst themselves as well. They behave dreadfully, with a minority ruling over a majority by means of a terror regime inside their country, while externally they fight other countries with unparalleled cruelty. It pains the heart to see what is happening in Lebanon thanks to the aggressive hand of Syria.
We mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking that peace is about to arrive. No illusion could be more dangerous. This could also convince us to put women in combat units. After all – the thinking would go – we are a peacetime army, not an army of fighters.
Every attempt to convince our neighbors from within and from without to accept true peace, when they lack the slightest concept of humane behavior, even amongst themselves, and they teach their children to murder and to commit suicide, is like the attempt to convince Nazis that they are not anti-Semites. Regarding Nazis and their ilk, there is no room for indulgence and restraint. We must rather understand the legitimacy of using force.
This is the way; there is no other: deterrence. As the Latin saying goes, si vis pacem para bellum: “If you want peace, prepare for war. We do not love wars. We therefore prepare for them. Thank G-d, the I.D.F. is ready for wars. It’s an excellent army. Sometimes renowned strategic institutes publicize that the I.D.F. has the capability of routing all the Arab armies together in one blow. Certainly our enemies know this as well. After all, since the Six Day War, they have not joined together to attack us, thank G-d.
In order for permanent, everlasting world peace to arrive, man’s inner character must change. In the meantime, we can hope that we can prevent wars by being ready for them, and not surrendering to pressure. Our enemies have to know that wars do not frighten us.
King Solomon as well has a large, mighty army, and that is how he ensured himself of peace, without the need to use that army. We wish the same for ourselves.
Certainly we cannot build peace on falsehood and theft. The Golan Heights are ours in accordance with the Bible, history, morality, the Balfour Declaration’s decision to grant us a national home, and in accordance with simple human logic – for since the Six Day War we have transformed a desolate region to a Garden of G-d by way of human self-sacrifice.
We haven’t given up hope. Mankind shall ultimately be purified and refined, the world shall be perfected as the Kingdom of the Almighty. No nation will raise a sword against another, neither will they learn war anymore. World peace will come.
“Therefore, fear and trembling shall befall all the nations together. Their hearts shall fear when the one nation ascends. That nation’s paths shall succeed.” (from “Agil Va’esmach Bilvavi”, sung on Saturday Nights).
Rabbi Yoram Eliyahu– Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Divine Worship (clinging to G-d) – Only in Accordance With G-d’s Command”
Following the episode involving Korach and his assembly, G-d commands Moses, “The fire pans belonging to the men who sinned against their souls have been presented before G-d and thus sanctified, so he shall make them into beaten plates to cover the altar. Let this be a sign for the Israelites” (Numbers 17:3).
This is puzzling. Why did these 250 men who sided with Korach merit that their fire pans should be made into beaten plates with which to cover the altar?
The Netziv, Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, explains that what they wanted was different from what Korach, Datan and Aviram wanted. While the latter had evil thoughts, and all they wanted was to quarrel with Moses, seeking glory and power for themselves, the 250 men were actually truly great men in every way, including the fear of G-d. They also knew that G-d spoke the truth through Moses. They only harbored a craving to cling to G-d as much as possible, and to achieve this they were ready to give up their lives, to die for their love of G-d. They knew that the spiritual level of the priesthood, and the burning of incense in the Tabernacle, led one to cling to G-d and to love Him, and they sought a way to attain this service, even at the cost of their lives. They were therefore considered to have “sinned against their souls”, for they sought to commit suicide just in order to achieve a high level of saintliness and love of G-d. Just it was not in keeping with G-d’s will (Ha’amek Davar).
Accordingly, the Netziv links together the Korach episode with the end of Shelach, which deals with the mitzvah of tzitzit, where we are twice commanded to remember: “Remember all My mitzvoth” (Numbers 15:39); “In order that you should remember and do” (verse 40). These two rememberings, expressed through the tzitzit strings, white and sky-blue, serve as an allusion to two types of people in our nation:
“The first is the person who follows the regular path of the masses, earning a living, etc.. All the same, he has to make sure to perform the mitzvoth in their right time. The second is the person set apart to serve G-d, isolating himself, and absorbed in his love of G-d. He, too, has the obligation to keep mitzvoth in the right time, and not to neglect mitzvah performance because of his clinging to G-d.
“That is what our sages meant when they said, ‘Showing guests hospitality takes precedence over greeting the Divine Presence.’ They didn’t mean that someone who is hospitable is greater than someone absorbed in clinging to the Divine Presence. Rather, they meant that what is most desirable to G-d is that even if someone is absorbed in clinging to G-d, and the mitzvah of showing hospitality comes along, G-d’s will is that he should cease what he is doing and hasten to show hospitality, as Abraham did.
Thus, the white string of the tzitzit alludes to the first type of person, the worker. His work should not make him forget doing mitzvoth on time. The sky-blue “techelet” string alludes to the second type of person, enveloped in lofty love of G-d. All the same, he must remember to do mitzvoth at the right time.” (Ha’amek Davar, end of Shelach)
Let us follow the path paved for us by the Torah, and do only what G-d commanded us. Then we will merit to cling truly to G-d and His Torah.