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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook

“Be strong and fear not! The light of the Messiah is shining. Everlasting redemption is everywhere visible through the window slats. From the darkness of despicable wickedness and heresy, forsaken of men, shall emerge a supreme light, which will set Israel on the right path and exalt the stature of the nation that knows its G-d.”            (Orot 67)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:

“He That Sits in Heaven Laughs”

A person who brings first-fruits, when he sets out to thank G-d for granting him the privilege of living in Eretz Yisrael and raising its fruits there, begins his pronouncement before G-d with an exceedingly sharp expression regarding Laban the Aramean: “An Aramean destroyed my father” (Deuteronomy 26:5). Rashi comments, “This refers to Laban, who sought to uproot everything when he pursued Jacob. And because he thought about doing so, G-d treated him as though he had in fact done so. G-d treats the evil thoughts of the nations as deeds.”

Indeed, Laban pursued Jacob when Jacob was fleeing from him: “Laban took his brothers with him and he pursued him for seven days” (Genesis 31:23). His goal was to kill him. Yet G-d prevented him from doing so, as Laban states to Jacob: “I have it in my power to do you great harm. But your father’s G-d spoke to me last night and said, ‘Be very careful not to say anything, good or bad, to Jacob” (Genesis 31:29). Rashi comments, “Why was [the covenantal monument between Jacob and Laban] called Mitzpah [watchpost]? Because each said to the other: “May G-d keep watch between you and me” (31:49) to ensure that neither violates the covenant.”

The thoughts and plans of Laban the Aramean to destroy “Jacob”, i.e., the Jewish People, have never ceased until today. Since the time of Laban, numerous enemies have arisen and tried in various bizarre ways to attack, fight and destroy Israel. Only a generation ago our greatest enemy rose up with intent to destroy the entire Jewish People. Today as well, as the Jewish People are rising to rebirth in Eretz Yisrael, and establishing a strong, cohesive country, those same evil thoughts are still rampant on the earth. As King David said, “Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter in vain? The kings of the earth stand up. The rulers take counsel together, against the L-rd and against His anointed” (Psalm 2:1-2). In fact, at this very moment, the nations of the world are gathering together with bizarre plans intended to weaken, diminish and defeat the State of Israel, and to establish for the Arabs a terror state in the very heart of the land of our life’s blood. They even intend to tear Jerusalem, the heart of the nation, to smithereens. And everything they do follows in the path of Laban the Aramean [arami, whose Hebrew is an anagram for ramai, liar]. Unfortunately, those holding the reins of leadership are tempted to fall into the dangerous trap, which our enemies are laying for us, enemies who are supposed to be our “friends”, from America and Europe.

Yet we know that just as G-d did not let Laban the Aramean kill our father Jacob, neither will he let them carry out their plot. Quite the contrary, the words of King David will be fulfilled: “He that sits in heaven laughs, the L-rd has them in derision…. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ (Psalm 2:4-9). And as for the “kings of the earth” (headed by the American President), who are gathering together at Annapolis with the goal of dividing our land and our heart, and of weakening our beloved country, they must heed the words of King David, who said, “Now therefore, O you kings, be wise; be admonished, you judges of the earth…. Do homage in purity, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when suddenly His wrath is kindled” (Psalm 2:10,12. See Rashi who states that whoever hurts the Jewish People earns the ire of G-d, such that he will lose his way).
Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El

Character Improvement

The history of character improvement can be divided into two periods: before the appearance of the book “Mesillat Yesharim” and after. Mesillat Yesharim is a summary of all the books that preceded it, and the foundation of all the books that follow. Its author, the illustrious kabbalist, blessed with ruach hakodesh [divine intuition], Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto [Ramchal], was also a special divine emissary to attend to Israel’s character improvement.

Indeed, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna [the Gra] loved Mesillat Yesharim (Tosafot Ma’aseh Rav):
“There is an oral tradition that when Mesillat Yesharim was published, and the author was no longer living, the Gra read the book and pronounced, ‘A great light has gone forth to the world.’ He learned it by heart 101 times, and he paid a sizable sum to purchase it. In the case of most holy tracts, the Gra would say that the book was greater than its author. In this case, however, he recognized that the author was many times greater than the book.” (HaGaon Me’hachasid Mevilna 179).

Elders of the previous generation have told their children that when the book came before the Gra, he enthusiastically uttered, “If only Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto were alive I would trek to him on foot to learn morals and character improvement.” (ibid.)
In that same book, small in quantity and enormous in quality, several fundamental assumptions are laid out before each character improvement:
The first principle – There are no shortcuts. A person cannot change his nature overnight. He can change his deeds overnight, and then he will be greatly praised for having conquered his evil impulse. But as far as changing his personality, matters do not proceed so quickly. We must arm ourselves with patience, and ascend slowly. In such a manner did Ramchal build us a ten-step ladder, in accordance with our sages’ words.

The second principle – it is possible to ascend high. The way is open to every Jew to ascend very high. Every Jew must be a tzaddik, righteous, i.e., he must fulfill his duty, but what will bring contentment to G-d is that he should be a chassid, in other words, he should possess an enormous inner longing to serve G-d. Moreover, he can climb still higher, up to kedushah [holiness] and ruach hakodesh [prophetic intuition]. How does he do so? Each spiritual level sets before him the pathways to climb to the next level.

The third principle – Be careful not to fall. Even when, with G-d’s help you have achieved a particular level, you have to realize that you are just a person. Hence you are liable to fall. This we have learned from Adam, who was in a physical and spiritual Eden, and still fell. Hence one must ever stand vigilant and never fall asleep at one’s post.

The fourth principle – The intellect is a tool to self-improvement. According our great master Ramchal, it is the chief means towards that end. Obviously, this does not mean that neither emotion nor imagination nor any of the other mental force can be tools to character improvement. It only means that intellect is the main force. The intellect serves a dual role: 1. It enables us to learn well what is good and what is bad. 2. It enables us to examine well our situation on a daily basis, to see what is good and what is not, and to figure out ways to make amends.

Ramchal has many additional principles, but we shall focus on this principle, which is interlaced throughout Mesillat Yesharim, expressed in various ways. Ramchal again and again stresses that the divine task of character improvement must have our full attention and supervision. The great enemy of the intellect is the imagination. The intellect toils and strives hard to reach the truth, whereas the imagination, which is not interested in the truth at all. True, the intellect errs as well, yet it is always examining itself and correcting its errors, because its goal is to recognize matters as they really are. Not so the imagination, which depicts matters the way the person would like them to be.

People therefore love the imagination greatly, and the world is full of superstitions, tricks and ruses, harmful foolishness. The intellect tells you, “Your married life is limping along because you do not relate properly to your wife.” The imagination tells you, “No! Your wife is responsible for all the problems.” If so, surely the imagination is much more convenient and beloved. It tells you, “You are not conceited. You neither get angry quickly nor are full of lusts nor are lazy. How nice!”

Obviously, there is also a constructive imagination, which advances the world and human thought, but that happens after the imagination is examined by the intellect, which then gives it permission to make itself public.
Therefore, already Rambam waged a violent battle against the cult of the “mitakalmin”, the “talkers”. They hold that every thought we imagine is necessarily the truth, and will certainly not fool us.
Unfortunately, this struggle is still contemporary to our own times, in which we bear witness to the phenomenon of “the escape from reason”. The intellect has developed so much in our world yet people are still disappointed with it. And why is this so? Because it does not provide immediate solutions but is like “the slow-moving waters of the Shiloah Spring” (see Orot, “Yisrael U’Techiyato”). For example, a person, seeing that modern medicine did not solve the problem of a particular patient, might then turn to someone who engages in quackery, forgetting that modern medicine has solved the problem of millions and billions of people. Unfortunately, in politics as well people dream about wonder-solutions that fix nothing, but only ruin things all the more.

Rectifying character traits is built on the intellect vanquishing the imagination, and on that same duel recognition regarding what is truly good and where a person truly stands. Each day we wage a struggle of the intellect against the imagination, and we win. When and how? By way of confession: We confess that we have sinned. Admitting guilt is the height of divine fortitude. It opens the way to all salvation. If the guilt for my having sinned lies with me, that signifies that I have the strength not only to sin but to make amends. How much joy and strength confession gives a person, and with its help he climbs higher and higher, improving his character and bringing joy to his G-d.

Rabbi Ya’akov FilberGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir

G-d Intervention in Free Will

Our sages’ rule that “everything is in G-d’s hands except for the fear of G-d” does not mean that man has total freedom to do whatever he feels like. The above rule has a parallel rule stating that man’s free will only applies for the individual, but where the welfare of the entire Jewish People is concerned, man does not have unlimited free will. Above the law of free will other rules operate within reality, serving the divine plan. One of them is this: If a man’s free will is liable to disrupt or encroach upon the divine plan, Divine providence then activates additional forces that direct man’s free will to positive channels. We see such a balance in the physical nature of reality. By such means, Divine Providence ensures balance in the spiritual realm as well. If G-d sees mankind being drawn in one extreme direction, He then activates opposing forces that will bring the human spirit to a proper balance.

In several of his articles, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook focused on this phenomenon, and I shall bring two examples. In his article “LiDemut Dyukano shel HaRambam” [Profile of the Rambam] (appeared in Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah I:113), Rav Kook explains that in man’s spirit, two movements have an influence on his faith, one positive and the other negative. The positive movement brings him closer to G-d, but this longing, when it flows unchecked and unsupervised by man, is liable to take a monstrous, heinous form, full of wickedness and foolishness. From such longing emerged idolatry and all the other types of forbidden worship.

Then Divine Providence arouses in man’s spirit a counter movement of negativism, a spirit of heresy, as a counter force to cleanse mankind of the filth of idolatry. This heresy is what shall refine and purify the longing for closeness to G-d, and shall liberate it from its dark perversions.

Another example of this phenomenon of two opposing movements within man’s spirit is brought by Rav Kook in his article “Gargirim Hegyoniyim” (written during his period as Rabbi of Jaffa), where he explains: Every entity has a task in Creation, and the greater the need for that task to be fulfilled, the greater the entity’s importance.

Rav Kook applies this principle also regarding the condition of religious philosophy, and he writes the following there: “In our day, the demand to know G-d has decreased, and this decrease has caused led to negligence and superficiality in our approach to theology. That same superficiality has led to a breakdown in man’s understanding of the spirit, and to the distortion of the concepts required for man to achieve perfection as far as Torah and G-d’s name.

“These distortions are mostly found precisely amongst Jews of full faith, those who are inherently good, with a proclivity for bearing the yoke of Torah and faith, either due to their inherent goodness or to the good education they received in the proper path. It is precisely they who cause philosophical chaff to mix in with the grain. Moreover, it is precisely the innocence of these people of full faith, whose spiritual outlook is blighted with weeds, which prevents them from being aroused on their own to examine their conceptual world as far as knowing G-d. And since our religious philosophy has to be purified, Divine Providence employs the brash attacks of the impudent of our generation. Thus, their influence will increase, and by their impudence they will remove from the public agenda the distortions in our philosophical faith.”

This option, writes Rav Kook, might be painful, but there is also another way to blunt the brash attacks of the impudent, and that is if those who seek G-d toil to achieve purity and truth in their concepts of faith and the ramifications deriving from them. The more all-encompassing will be the clarification process, the less need there will be of the ‘service’ provided by the impudent in purifying faith. When their task is completed, wickedness will then automatically fall away to nothingness when there is no longer any need of it.

Pursuing this thought, that negative phenomena can be rectified not by war but by a positive approach, we can understand Rav Kook’s guidance when he wrote: “Pristine saints do not complain about wickedness, but increase justice. They do not complain about heresy, but increase faith. They do not complain about ignorance, but increase wisdom” (Erpalei Tohar, page 39).

Translation: R. Blumberg

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