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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook

“Man’s desire to be good constitutes the divine spirit of Eden blowing in the soul and filling it with infinite bliss, until even the Hell-fire of deep pain is transformed to a river of delight.” (Orot HaTeshuvah 16:13)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:

“Return us to You, O G-d, and we Shall Return”

Regarding the mitzvah of returning a lost object, and the mitzvah of helping someone to lift up his fallen animal, or to unload an animal whose burden is too heavy for it, the Torah states, “You must not ignore it” (Deuteronomy 22:3). The Torah teaches in this regard: “If you see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray, you must not ignore them. You must return them to your brother” (22:1); and, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him, but [instead] you must make every effort to help him [unload it]” (Exodus 23:4-5); “If you see your brother’s donkey or ox fallen [under its load] on the road, you must not ignore it. You must help him pick up [the load]” (Deuteronomy 22:4). Rashi comments: “‘You must not ignore it’: You mustn’t hide your eyes as though you do not see.”

The Torah relates to returning lost objects such as an ox, lamb, donkey, garment or anything else that got lost. In every case, it is a mitzvah to return it to its owner, and it is forbidden to ignore it. Likewise, it is a mitzvah to help an animal by unloading its burden if it proves too heavy for it, or to raise the animal up and to help reload it. The reasoning behind these mitzvoth is to teach us compassion vis-à-vis animals or vis-à-vis people who are sad over losing an object or money (see Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 80).

If an animal gets lost and goes astray, we are commanded to restore it to its owner. All the more so that when we see people who are straying in their path of life, getting lost and becoming far distanced from themselves, their families and their people, it is a great mitzvah for us to bring them back to them, and by way of that to their Father in Heaven. After all, we are all His sons, even all those who stray and sometimes get lost on the path of life, and it is a great mitzvah to restore sons to their fathers.

Likewise, if one has to help an animal that is failing under its load, all the more so that we must help people who are suffering under the burden of personal difficulties related to health and finances, and we must ease their burden. And if, G-d forbid, they have already fallen, we have a mitzvah to help them get back up again.

In these days, the days of repentance, a time of divine grace, we have to strive hard to return our straying brethren and to help those who fall. And by way of our offering our fellow man encouragement and performing many good deeds, we will merit complete repentance, and we will be the living fulfillment of, “Return us to You, O G-d, and we shall return. Renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).

Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom

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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El

“I Got Over It”

Question: How does one get over a crisis, be it personal or national?
Response: A crisis is something that happens against my will. But all of life is strewn with crises. That’s how the Master of the Universe built His universe. Psychologists call them challenges; we call them nisyonot, ordeals. Ramhal (Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto), at the beginning of his book Mesilat yesharim, warns us that life is full of nisyonot and that it’s our job to overcome them. Then we are privileged to be free people (Chap. 1). How do we do this?

For the most part, people go through five phases:
a. Denial. When something bad happens, we refuse to accept it. For example, a young child whose father dies in an accident refuses to accept the fact of what happened and waits for him to return. She even asks whether he’s cold or bored in his grave. This is the initial response of a healthy human organism that fights for life; one shouldn’t be shocked by it unless it persists.

b. Anger and blame. After we confront the bitter reality, we erupt with anger and, of course, have to direct that anger at someone. The little girl whom we met above, for example, blames her mother, or the police, or G-d, or herself for her father’s death. The idealistic resident of Yesha tries to blame the expulsion from Gush Katif on one culprit or another so that he can vent his rage against them. Once he does this, he’ll ease off and calm down. However, healthy people emerge from this phase, too, when they realize that their accusations aren’t true and do them no good. If anger could raise the dead, one might consider it, but it doesn’t help a bit. Instead, it causes the person further suffering. Once one realizes this, one “calls off the offensive” against the other, against G-d, or against oneself, and faces the terrible void defenseless.

c. Grief and despair. This is the most difficult phase. At the denial phase, the problem “doesn’t exist”; at the anger-and-blame phase, we put up a fight. As long as the war is going on, there’s life. Now, in one’s grief, there is a void, an abyss, a blank space. Even grief, however, is ultimately the healthy reaction of a person who refuses to treat the void as something to shrug off. The main thing is not to mire oneself in grief endlessly. In Judaism, for example, we designate three days for weeping, seven days for eulogies, and thirty days or a year for bereavement. It was in this spirit that G-d asked His prophet Shmuel, “How long will you continue mourning for Shaul?” (I Sam. 16:1). After the destruction of the Second Temple, too, some very pious Jews wanted to avoid meat and wine. Rabbi Yehoshua told them, “It’s impossible to refrain from mourning altogether but also impossible to mourn excessively.” Therefore, one should leave a square ama in one’s home unpainted, take similar measures, and draw the line there (Bava Batra 60b).
d. Overcoming and adjusting. This happens when people realize that they must continue living, that there is life even after devastation, and that they have to adjust to the new situation and establish a new way of life and a new mental equilibrium in view of the changes. We need eyes in the front of our head, not the rear. We mustn’t look back – if we do, we might become pillars of salt – but ahead. We have to rebuild the demolished world as best we can. Grief and despair get us nowhere if we persevere at them. Despair is the most dangerous thing that a person can entertain. It is a horrifically evil impulse that destroys everything in its path. Therefore, we marshal our forces, take inventory, and reorganize calculatingly. Did someone’s house burn down? We build a smaller house atop the remaining stones and furnish it with whatever survived. As a man who fell victim to a paralytic illness and was confined to a wheelchair explained, “Before I could do 10,000 things; now I can do only 9,000.”

e. Exaltation. Even after we “get over it” and adjust, some residual sorrow remains: “Why was I put through that ordeal? Even if I’m back to where I was, why did the Master of the Universe bring it on me?” Here’s the answer: it happened because we are intended to gain something from it. Something good will emerge from the bad, some form of light will emerge from the darkness, something sweet will emerge from something bitter. To tell ourselves this, we have to marshal our inner strengths: What did I gain from my dear one’s passing, from having lost my job, from the uprooting of Gush Katif, from the terrible exile, from the Holocaust? Obviously, the higher the price, the greater the gain must be. Even when the hardest thing in life happens – the opposite of life, i.e., death – the living should gain elegance and dignity, meaning and sanctity (‘Ein Aya, Berakhkot 5:15). Nothing is purposeless; everything belongs to the order of the Divine conduct of the world. It’s all for the best.

Rabbi Azriel ArielGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir

The Secret of Yibum

For long months those learning the Daf Yomi have been toiling over Yevamot, considered one of the hardest tractates in the Talmud. Beyond the difficulties involved in understanding the complex issues of the tractate, the student is further burdened with understanding the significance of Yibum [Levirate Marriage – Deuteronomy 25:5-10].

The basic message of the Torah’s section on Yibum consists of the family’s responsibility to carry on the deceased, childless brother’s life works. Those life works do not end with death, and his closest relatives – his wife and brothers – must ensure that “his name not be obliterated from Israel” (25:6), that he shouldn’t leave this world without leaving behind some vestige. Yibum is not a new marital bond but the continuation of the previous bond, and this finds expression in various ways in the laws of Yibum.

On top of this basic explanation comes a much deeper layer, which Ramban (here and in Vayeshev) only hints at, and that layer deals with reincarnation. Rabbenu Bechaye writes:
“Yibum brings great benefit to the soul of the departed. It is well-known that the pleasure of the soul greatly increases when it is reincarnated in someone who is a close relative, since the soul has a close association with that relative.”

What this means is that the deceased brother’s soul is supposed to return to the world in the body of the infant born to the new family established by the widow with the brother. It thus says, “The first-born son whom she bears will then perpetuate the name of the dead brother” (25:6). Rabbenu Bechaye expands as follows:
“This matter (i.e., reincarnation) is G-d’s kindness to Israel in order that all the souls should be enlighted with the Divine Light…. We find this theme in the poetic language of Elihu (Job 33:29-30): ‘Lo, all these things does G-d work, twice, yea thrice, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of the living.’ The verse is saying that G-d enlightens a soul twice or three times with the light of the living on earth to save that soul from Hell…”

The question of reincarnation is part of a great controversy between the great sages of Israel. Rabbenu Sa’adya Gaon, for example, absolutely rejects belief in reincarnation (Emunot VaDe’ot, Ma’amar 6), as do the author of Sefer Ikarim and others. Yet most of the great sages of Israel, headed by the Kabbalists, accepted belief in reincarnation, relying on verses in Scripture and the Midrash.
To make this clearer, I shall quote here from a lecture given about this by Rabbi David HaKohen, the “Nazir”, fifty years ago:
“The matter was first publicized, albeit clandestinely and only hinted at, by Ramban. The book of Job, especially Elihu’s response, is largely based on this idea. Ramban in his commentary on Job (33:29-30) alludes to reincarnation with oblique references, in explaining the answer of Elihu, which actually reiterates the views of the three friends. Yet his words are found more acceptable to Job than theirs: ‘Lo, all these things does G-d work, twice, yea thrice, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of the living.’”

Ramban explains that Elihu is hinting, by his words, at a new answer to the question of why the righteous suffer, namely, that the righteous person is being punished for his sins in a previous reincarnation. Rabbenu Bechaye (Kad HaKemach, Entry: Divine Providence), elaborates on Ramban’s mysterious ideas, and amongst the verses explained in accordance with Ramban’s thesis is the above verse. Likewise, another verse thus explained is Job 33:25: “His flesh is tenderer than a child’s; he returns to the days of his youth.” That is, after a person grows old, his soul returns to a young, new body.

In “Sefer HaBahir” this idea provides the key to solving the question of the righteous sufferer, and the evil who achieve success. The book offers a parable about a person who hoped to grow grapes from his vineyard but produced only unripe fruit. He then uproots his vineyard and replants it. Once more it doesn’t produce nice fruit, and once more he uproots it and replants it. He does this many times.

The parable is relating to a soul that is sent down to our world to fulfill its mission but fails. It is therefore sent a second time to rectify its misdeeds, and a third time as well, to make up for what is lacking.

We mustn’t see any contradiction between reincarnation and our faith in the Resurrection of the Dead. Neither must we ask: If the soul returns and is reincarnated in many different bodies, how can all those bodies rise to rebirth? The soul is not a material entity. It is a spiritual creation, far surpassing our understanding. We observe its behavior and associated phenomena, but we cannot know its essence. Just like – not to compare the soul to G-d – we cannot know G-d’s essence, for “G-d’s thoughts are not ours” (Isaiah 55:8), and just as we mustn’t compare the reality we see with our eyes to the reality of G-d, likewise, we mustn’t ask questions based on material concepts regarding spiritual concepts.
We shouldn’t intrude in a debate far beyond us, but we can at least bring one quotation from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l, dealing with this topic (Shemoneh Kevatzim 7:179):
“Taking a straightforward view, there is no room logically for rejecting reincarnation. Why shouldn’t the soul be able to attach itself to the body for the purpose of processing, polishing and refurbishing particular new qualities within itself? And why can’t this process be repeated many times when the desired effect has not yet been achieved? We can view with perplexity those few sources that reject this logical theory…”

Translation: R. Blumberg

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