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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook

“The secrets of the Torah, coming from a supreme source, the secret place in the soul, can penetrate all hearts, even those that have not achieved broad, profound Torah knowledge.” (Orot HaTorah 10:5)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:

Israel and Jerusalem – Heart of the Universe

Our holy Torah opens with the words “In the beginning” and ends with “Israel”. In Hebrew, the first letter of the Torah is “bet” and the last letter is “lamed”. Together, these spell “lev” [heart], for Israel is the heart of the universe and the heart of mankind. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi taught: “Israel amongst the nations is like the heart within the body.” In fact, the first verse of the Torah can be retranslated, “For the sake of that which is first, G-d created heaven and earth”, and, as our sages taught, “that which is first” can only refer to the Torah or to Israel.

The purpose of Israel, themselves, is to increase and magnify the glory of G-d in the world, and G-d’s glory is magnified by way of the glory of Israel. Israel’s glory, in turn, comes by way of their rebirth in the Land of Israel and their victory over their enemies who attack them.

It says, “G-d subdues peoples under us, and nations under our feet,” and then, “O clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout unto God with the voice of triumph! For the L-rd is most high and awesome, a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47). Likewise, Ezekiel 38:23 states, “I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations. They shall know that I am the L-rd.”

The Torah’s first verse about “beginnings” presages the End of Days. From “In the beginning” we learn that the world was created for Israel’s sake, and that in the end of days, everyone will be able to see that indeed, out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem – to the entire world. Jerusalem is the light of the universe – literally.

Only, we have a tradition from our prophets and sages that when the Jewish People arise to rebirth in Eretz Yisrael, the nations will fight us with the goal of snuffing out the candle of the world and of Jerusalem, as it says, “Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain? The kings of the earth join ranks. The rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed” (Psalm 2:1-2). The threat comes not just from without, however, but from within as well. Jews of weak faith, who have not learned, and who do not know or understand the national and universal significance of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, will rise up, and they will talk about partitioning Jerusalem and handing it over to foreign nations. They will not understand that allowing the nations control over Jerusalem, or even over part of it, means darkness for the world.

Yet the day is not far off when G-d’s promise to Israel and to the entire world will be fulfilled: Israel will return to Jerusalem and bring light and goodness to the world. Then we will be living fulfillment of Isaiah 66:13: “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Looking forward to complete salvation,
With blessings for a joyous Sukkot & Simchat Torah. Shabbat Shalom.

Hundreds of hours of free Torah videos! –

Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El

Save a Life!

About a thousand people are waiting for organ donations. If they don’t get them, they will die. In fact, people are dying from this all the time, and good organs that could save them are buried in the ground. It makes you want to cry! Jewish brethren longingly wait for months, and finally die. It’s so sad!

You might say, “It’s forbidden to kill one person to save another.” That’s certainly true. Many years ago HaGaon Rav Moshe Feinstein forbade heart transplants, saying, “You’re killing two people: the donor, who hasn’t died yet, and the recipient, whose body will reject the organ.” Yet since then many years have gone by, medicine has advanced. That same Rav Feinstein long ago declared that brain death is considered death. Following his lead, the Chief Rabbis of Israel agreed about twenty years ago, which in principle makes the transplants possible. In other words, there is no longer a need for the heart to die. Rather, it suffices to have the total cessation of brain activity, including the respiratory system.

You might also ask: “But maybe the physicians are scoundrels and falsely declare that someone has died in order to carry out a transplant to increase their own stature or otherwise gain.” Such an argument is just plain wicked, pure libel, against good people who are devoting their lives to serving people. And what do they get for their efforts? Blanket condemnation! Surely it’s possible to have a physician be a scoundrel, as in any profession, yet that’s no reason to engage in blanket accusations like those of the anti-Semites. “If one man sinned, can you be angry at the entire congregation?” (Numbers 16:22). It is true that various physicians have been caught behaving corruptly, yet in normal countries, there has not been a single case in medical history of a physician murdering a living patient to use his organs. And anyway, the physicians who determine the moment of death are not the ones who perform the transplant.

As a rule, physicians are wonderful people who use transplants to save people from death, and they not only restore life but quality of life. I personally know a case of a woman who was a broken vessel, hooked up to oxygen, and after a transplant she returned to real life and to her work as a nurse in a hospital.

It’s not true that people are afraid to donate organs. Thank G-d, there are a lot of people who are not afraid. Sometimes, thanks to one person, seven lives can be saved. What a big mitzvah! The people who donate the most organs in Israel are Arabs, and Jews from Russia. I don’t know why the Arabs donate so many, but Jews from Russia do so because they are tough people unencumbered by religious complexes.

Here’s a marvel for you: people who are irreligious all their lives, and suddenly their bodies become religious! Actually the opposite is the case. They were religious all their lives, and after their death they gave life to others. Surely our Torah is a living Torah.

As for those who are unwilling to donate organs but are willing to receive them, I prefer not to speak about them, nor is there any need to. Everyone understands what I think.

Yet what can we do? In the meantime, there are people who are afraid of donating. They are caught in the debate between rabbis who want rabbinic supervision and physicians who don’t. And in the midst all this, people are continuing to die. I therefore suggest to the physicians: Please! Don’t be stubborn! If there is a family that demands rabbinic supervision from outside the hospital system, put your pride on hold and let such a rabbi with the appropriate expertise come in. Then we can hope that everyone will donate.

I say this: a donor card can bring a person blessing. People look for all sorts of spiritual pathways to blessing, and they are constantly inventing bizarre new ones that never existed before and have no basis. Here, however, is a wonderful new pathway: readiness to save a friend from death.

A comparison to soldiers will be illuminating. A soldier returns alive from battle, but he was ready to give up his life! That’s a very high level of idealism! Now, a person with a donor card isn’t sacrificing his life, but he is still showing readiness to save others, and great merit will accompany him all his life.

Rabbi Elisha AvinerGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir

Educating Children About Succot

Our sages provide numerous guidelines regarding educating children towards fulfilling the mitzvoth of Succot. The Talmud (Succah 2b) recounts how Queen Heleni built an especially tall succah, and our sages examined its kashruth in order to learn from her the laws of succah. Even though women are exempt from Succah, our sages still examined her succah because she had seven sons and was obligated to provide for their education. This story is an ancient echo regarding educating children in the mitzvah of succah.

The Mishnah states unequivocally that “a child who no longer needs his mother is obligated to keep the mitzvah of succah.” That is, if a child is independent enough that he does not constantly need his mother, he has to dwell in a succah like males over thirteen. Our sages debate what behavior signifies such independence. In the study house of Rav Yannai they held it refers to a child who “goes to the bathroom without his mother having to clean him.” According to Resh Lakish, it refers to “one who wakes up at night without calling out, ‘Mommy! Mommy!’” If a child wakes up without insisting stubbornly on his mother’s coming to him, that is a clear expression of the child’s independence. As far as the law, Rambam ruled that age five to six is the age when such independence begins, and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 640:2) concurred.

Our sages further debate whether a child’s obligation to dwell in the succah is Torah-based or Rabbinic. At first the Talmud (Ibid.) argues that it is Torah based: “‘Everyone included in Israel shall live in succot’ (Leviticus 23:42) – The word ‘every’ includes the child who no longer needs his mother.” Yet the Talmud concludes that this exposition, and hence the child’s obligation as well, is of Rabbinic origin.

The Mishnah (Succah 28a) relates that Shammai insisted that even the infants of his household must sleep in the succah. Hence when his daughter-in-law gave birth, he broke a hole in the ceiling of the infants room over the infants crib and covered the hole with kosher sch’ach.

This story is puzzling. Why did Shammai see fit to be so strict and to demand that a one day old infant sleep in a succah? We likewise must wonder: Why should our sages have entertained the idea that a child who no longer needs his mother should have a Torah obligation to dwell in the succah? (as opposed to all other mitzvoth where it is clear that he has no such obligation. Only his parents have a Rabbinic obligation to educate him).

It would seem that the answer is linked to special nature of the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah, regarding which it says, “Everyone included in Israel shall live in succot.” The succah replaces one’s home. Hence the whole family must move over to the succah, not as individuals but as a family! The focus of family activity is the succah. Thus, young and old, whether bar mitzvah or not, have to be there.

Our sages therefore posited that the Torah was imposing a personal obligation on everyone in the household to dwell in the succah, including the one day old infant. Yet their conclusion was that the personal obligation rested only on those over bar mitzvah. Shammai, by contrast, in his enormous saintliness, commanded his whole household to fulfill the mitzvah in accordance with its family-oriented character, and to bring into the succah even the infants.

The law is that only children aged five to six have to dwell in the succah, and this obligation is only Rabbinic, as part of the mitzvah of educating towards observance.

What emerges is that boys five to six years of age must dwell in the succah like their father. This includes eating and sleeping. In many places in the Diaspora, it was impossible to fulfill the mitzvah completely due to the difficult climate, or for fear of the non-Jewish environment. They therefore made due with symbolic fulfillment of the mitzvah, and the children made isolated visits to the succah. Here, however, in Eretz Yisrael, there is no justification to continuing such a practice. Older boys must eat all their meals in the succah and must sleep there as well.

Our sages in Tractate Succah relate that succah of Queen Heleni was built of a number of small rooms in addition to a central royal hall. Perhaps we should adopt this custom and build succahs with a dining room and bedrooms for the children. That would make clear to the children that their place is in the succah, day or night, and not outside of it.

Translation: R. Blumberg

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