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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“We must proclaim openly this eternal truth: that the succah, built so precariously…is fit to be our tower of strength…Because G-d decreed that during this holy festival, it is to be our abode…”
Rabbi Dov Begon – Founder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Remember Days Long Gone – Ponder the Generations”
“Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation. Ask your father and let him tell you, and your grandfather, who will explain it to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would customarily repeat to his students that in our generation we have to learn and recognize “what we are and what our life means.” We have to know who the Jewish People are, what is unique about them and what is their destiny. Yet if we are to know “what we are,” we first have to learn history. As it says, “Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation.” Yet if you lack the strength to learn this on your own, you must “ask your father and let him tell you, and your grandfather, who will explain it to you.” “Your father” refers to the prophets, and “your grandfather” refers to the sages (Rashi, ibid.).
The history of mankind is not a random collection of events. It has a beginning and a purpose, and it is all connected to the existence and the centrality of the Jewish People. As it says, “G-d set up the borders of nations to parallel the number of Israel’s descendants” (32:8). He orders and apportions each of the nations of the world its rightful place on earth, and He does all this “parallel to the number of Israel’s descendants.” In other words, it is all in accordance with the Jewish People, who are the center of the world and of all mankind, and for whose sake the world was created. It is around them that the entire history of the world and of mankind revolves.
The Jewish People are the teachers and educators, the disseminators of the light of faith and knowledge to all mankind. “G-d’s own nation remains His portion. Jacob is the lot of His heritage” (32:9). Israel is a special nation, a chosen people. They are the nation of eternity. True, we are small in quantity, as it says, “You are among the smallest of all the nations” (7:7). Yet we are giants in “quality” – in the role we play and in the influence we have – past, present and future.
We are the nation of eternity, who recount and testify to G-d’s existence on earth. Thus, in the third and most important of the Torah blessings, we bless G-d “who chose us from among all nations and gave us His Torah.” We are a unique creation, as it says, “I created this people for Myself that they might tell My praise” (Isaiah 43:21). [The preceding is a synopsis of a talk given by Rav Tzvi Yehuda to soldiers in 1978]
This year our nation experienced the trauma of expulsion of Jews from Eretz Yisrael by their own brethren. That trauma has to arouse us to national repentance. Our weakness as a nation is not in the realm of economics or the army, but of the spirit. We established the State of Israel as a national home in order to solve the existential duress of the Jewish People in the exile. Yet there is no justification to establishing a national home just in order to eat and to drink and to be like all the nations, G-d forbid. The purpose of the State of Israel has to be drawn directly from the goal and purpose of the People of Israel. The world was created for our sakes, and a grave responsibility rests upon us for the world’s continued survival. In this generation, the generation of national rebirth, we see how the fallen Succah of David is rising up once more. Especially at this time, we must repent and return to ourselves and uncover our uniqueness. Thus we will be privileged to see with our own eyes the redemption of Israel and the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation… you shall be for a blessing… Through you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12). With blessings for a joyous Succot and looking forward to complete salvation,
Write a letter of support to Jonathan Pollard, in jail for 20 years because of his love for the Jewish People and our Land! Address letters to:
Jonathan Pollard # 09185-016
FCI Butner Medium
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Butner, NC 27509 (USA)
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“Torah Scholars and Sharp Tongues”
Question: You recently wrote that one needs deep reverence in relating to Torah scholars, yet we sometimes witness the incomprehensible phenomenon of Torah scholars expressing themselves very sharply regarding other Torah scholars. What sort of an example does that set for us?! One time I heard from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook that until this day we still suffer greatly from the controversy against Rabbi Yonatan Eibschitz. That controversy originated as a halachic debate but spread to personal defamation. Someone asked Rav Tzvi Yehuda: Wasn’t that controversy for the sake of heaven? He answered, “That made it all the worse, for it was thus destined to be perpetuated. That controversy presented the Rabbinic culture in a base, negative light and led people to the heresy of the Enlightenment.”
Answer: Not all sharp language constitutes defamation and strife. The test is whether aside from the controversy good personal relations abide. Generally, those Torah scholars are friends, always ready to help one another. When they meet they smile and kiss. Our sages taught us regarding the schools of Hillel and Shammai: “Even though the one group forbade things permitted by the other, the two schools did not abstain from intermarrying” (Yevamot 13b). “This teaches that affection and friendship reigned between them, in fulfillment of Zechariah 8:19: ‘Love truth and peace’” (14b).
It is only that Torah scholars customarily express themselves sharply. This is because their topics of conversation are not inconsequential, but Torah issues of earthshaking importance. Therefore, “Even a father and son or a Talmudic master and his disciple who are engaged in Torah study together and become enemies over a point of debate must not part until they become friends once more, as it says, ‘Et vahev besufa’ (Numbers 21:14), which may be rendered, ‘Love at the end’” (Kiddushin 30:2).
Such is their style in the wars of Torah! It is well-known how Rabbi Avraham ben David, Ra’avad, would rail against Rambam. It was not because he disparaged him. Quite the contrary, he esteemed him greatly. He therefore saw a need to differ with him in strong terms. Yet he also wrote humbly, “Rambam did great work with his collation” (Hilchot Kila’im 6:4), or other expressions such as, “That is a fine point of logic,” and “He is saying something very nice,” etc. Ra’avad likewise attacked Rabbi Zerachiah HaLevi [Raza], author of the “Ma’or HaKatan” very sharply, saying things like, “That light is no light”… “excuses and blindness”… “Whoever called him a ‘light’ has never seen light in his entire life”… “He is weaving cobwebs. The whole essay is worthless and of no benefit.” Yet he also expresses admiration: “As I live, that’s a fine thing he is saying!”
Ra’avad also explained to Raza his astringent style. Since he viewed Raza as “having chosen the customs of the Sephardim, who love one another, yet who in their debates over Torah issues appear to be like one another’s enemies,” he therefore “decided to test him to see if he truly follows in their path or not.” He also said, “Don’t be troubled by everything you see in my commentary. I just wish to follow Sephardic practice” (Encyclopedia LiGedolei Yisrael, Entry: Ra’avad).
Therefore, do not be dismayed. On inspection you will be relieved to find that the attackers and their victims really love one another.
Rabbi Elisha Aviner – Education Corner
“Moving from the Negative to the Positive”
The move from Yom Kippur to Succot is sharp and sudden. The Yom Kippur service is characterized by a serious, weighty mood involving confession and repentance, fasting and affliction. A person puts all his energies in abeyance. He resembles an angel. This is a day that is self-restraint. By contrast, Succot is a holiday of joy, of doing many mitzvoth. Even eating becomes a mitzvah. Thus, the move from Yom Kippur to Succot is like a jump from one spiritual world to another.
Many of the sages of Israel have commented that the adjacency of Succot to Yom Kippur is no coincidence. Succot serves to fill in what we are lacking from Yom Kippur, and perhaps even to cure the burning sensation in our heart from that day. As Rabbi Eliezer Papo said in his book “Pele Yo’etz”, G-d “provided us with good counsel. He provided us with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which to atone for our sins. G-d, like a father, felt love and compassion for His beloved son. He wished to gladden us from the pain and sorrow of our days of repentance, so He immediately gave us Succot, commanding us to rejoice. He further assigned a good reward for our joy. Could anything be sweeter than that?” The joy of Succot serves to console us for the pain of repentance.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (Orot HaTeshuva) mentions a similar idea. The abundant work involved in repentance, “in the days earmarked for it” [the High Holy Days] purges the soul, refines the spirit and purifies one’s deeds. All the same, “it necessarily will absorb with it some of the weakness. Even the strongest of the strong will be unable to escape this.” Repentance fights against the evil in man. It blocks off man’s desire to do evil. Yet it is liable as well “to cause one’s good inclination to get smaller,” and to sap one’s life force. It is like the mentally ill person who does not control his deeds and behaves in a wild manner that imperils his health and his environment. One method of treatment is depressants that weaken the evil in him, but harm also the good – the healthy part of his personality. In Rabbi Kook’s own words, “When a mentally ill patient is cured by means of a strong electric shock, while it does banish his illness, it also weakens the healthy, vital force within him.”
Thus, Succot serves to strengthen a person’s good inclination by increasing his performance of good deeds, increasing his positive activities, “stirring up his good inclination and his wholesome life force. That makes his repentance complete.” Completing the repentance process comes about precisely through channeling all those forces in the direction of intensive, positive action.
From this we can likewise derive a major principle in educating children. We are often forced to restrain children, to forbid a particular activity because parts of it are undesirable. Sometimes, we punish children in a manner intended to paralyze the evil. Nonetheless, great caution is called for. Placing limitations, preventing activities and meting out punishments are liable to paralyze the child and to anesthetize the good in him as well. In educating children, one cannot avoid placing limitations. There is no escape from assigning punishments (educational ones!!). One cannot permit everything. One cannot educate without rejecting evil and without giving practical expression to such rejection. Yet it is forbidden to base education solely on prevention, limitations and rejecting evil. An educational approach whose only content is teaching restraint will fail. One cannot educate solely by subjugating evil. Subjugating the evil impulse generally harms its neighbor as well, the good impulse. Alongside rejecting evil and teaching restraint, one must also educate towards increasing the good, towards doing and creating. We have to provide an entire range of practical ways to express the good and to increase happiness.
Throughout the year, eating is a permissible activity. There is no prohibition against it, yet neither is there any obligation. On Yom Kippur, all eating is a sin. On Succot, all eating in the Succah is a mitzvah. This teaches us that a period of placing restraints has to be followed by a period of positive activity.
This counsel is appropriate also in teaching children. Each time we place limits or give a punishment, it is appropriate immediately to show a practical, positive way to encourage, strengthen and increase motivation towards the good. After every punishment we have to find a way to bring the child happiness through a values-based activity that can arouse that happiness.
Be sure to catch Rabbi David Samson’s weekly Torah insight on “Israeli Salad” at www.israelnntv.com (produced in cooperation with Machon Meir).
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