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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“The eternal saying, ‘Go, assemble the Jew,’ has to give us new life once more, and to exalt us from our lowliness”

(Ma’amarei HaReiyah 155)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:
We Are Brothers

Here is the condolence letter written to the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, Rabbi Ya’akov Shapira, shelita, by the secretary of Kibbutz Ein Shofet, Yaniv Sagi:
Dear Rav Shapira,
At this moment, you are taking leave of the eight students murdered last night. My heart is with you, and I would like to express my personal condolences, and to be a mouthpiece also for the public over which I preside as secretary of Kibbutz Ein HaShofet.

Deep ideological differences exist between us, but we are brothers. Your pain is ours. Your sorrow is our sorrow. I am writing this letter out of a sense of profound partnership, a sense that what unites us is greater than what separates us, based on a perspective of “the tribes of Israel, united,” one that transcends the disagreement between us.

I would like to convey our condolences, through you, to the bereaved families, the students, the teachers, and the rabbis. It is important that they should know and feel that your mourning is not sectarian. It does not belong only to the Religious Zionists. It is the mourning of the entire Jewish people weeping for its sons who have been taken.

The more we find within us the resources to deepen and magnify the partnership over the disagreement, the more we will succeed in uniting the tribes of Israel. By such means we will succeed in bringing about a better future.

In this moment of tragedy, it is important to me to stand by your side. Continue in the path of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who saw so much importance in the connection and link between the faith community and the Labor-Zionist community.
Yaniv Sagi,
Secretary of Kibbutz Ein HaShofet

These days we are set to read Megillat Esther, in which Esther called out to Mordechai, when the sword of destruction loomed over the Jewish people, “Go, gather together all the Jews in Shushan” (Esther 7:16). The gathering together and unification of the Jews is the apt response to the utterance of wicked Haman and Achashverosh, “There is one people scattered and dispersed among the nations” (Esther 3:8).

All the Jewish People, in all their various streams, must make the effort to unite and to gather together, as one man, with one heart. This will enable us to face up to our cruel and murderous Arab enemies, who are trying to steal our land.

The murderer who killed the eight holy and martyred students of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav and the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva High School is continuing in the path of all the enemies of Israel down through the generations who chose to strike at the very heart of the nation, the source of its spiritual and moral strength – those engaged in Torah learning, and its standard bearers.
Our answer has to be to strengthen Torah learning everywhere, and to unite and to return to our roots, including settling all the portions of the land of our life’s blood. When the Jewish People are in Eretz Yisrael, it brings light and goodness to the entire world. By such means, may we merit great salvation and great comfort, speedily in our day.
Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Bet El

What is Joy?

Our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook teaches us that “Joy is natural for man.” Moreover, “man is naturally meant to love life and its joy,” and he must avoid factors that eclipse that joy. (En Aya, Shabbat Chapter 1: 30).
He is thereby teaching us two things: not only that joy is part of man’s nature, but that it is constitutes a positive part of his nature that he should preserve. How does Rav Kook know this?
The answer is simple: Good traits fulfill a mitzvah of the Torah. As Rambam wrote, “We are commanded to follow the middle path, and that is the good and upright approach, as it says, “Follow his ways” (Deuteronomy 28:9) (Hilchot De’ot 1:5). One of the positive traits is joy as Rambam says: “One should not be overcome with levity nor with sorrow and sadness. Rather, all one’s life one should exude calmness and contentment.”
We thus derive that as with every other trait, with joy, as well, one must avoid exaggerated revelry, which destroys one’s inner purity. As Rav Kook wrote:
“The inner tranquility of the saintly is always connected to the perfection of their path and the purity of their hearts,” as opposed to when people “fill up their emptiness with the frenetic externals of life, with frivolous laughter and overeating”. (En Aya, Shabbat, Chapter 1: 38)

Therefore, Rav Kook explains that Beit Shammai devoted their lives to ensuring that the Jewish People not “rejoice unto exultation, like the nations” (Hoshea 9:1), and in this, the law has come down in agreement with them. In this regard, there is a distinction between pleasure and happiness. Generally speaking, “not all of the nation can be saintly, holy people”, who perform only holy deeds. Our sages therefore did not wish to burden the Jewish masses making it impossible for them to enjoy food and drink, etc., outside the context of mitzvah performance and holiness. (Ein Aya, Shabbat, Chapter 1:76).
Yet as far as happiness, that is different. Our sages did not wish “for Israel to rejoice like the nations during weekdays the way they do on holidays, enjoying wine and beer and riotous levity… in mass, public gatherings” (ibid., 77).
It is true that Hillel held that “it is appropriate to recognize the principle of mass joy as one of the essential needs of life. It should only be restricted for the most essential reasons” (ibid., 78). Yet Beit Shammai held that “it is not the corrupt life of the marketplace” that should determine our behavior. Moreover, “it is totally impossible to have the nation lead lives of purity and holiness that are based on joy.” We mustn’t surrender to life and we mustn’t determine the truth of Torah based on the marketplace. “G-d forbid that the corruption of life outside the Beit Midrash should influence the practical workings of Halachah.” (ibid., 79).
“Hillel, the man of kindness, saw all of life, including the human spirit, on its good side.” Hillel therefore held that “for the upright person… expansive joy would do no harm. Such a person should be effusively happy and rejoice in his heart.” Shammai, by contrast, took into account that “the human spirit contains evil as well, the force that bursts forth to swallow up all that is holy.” If we allow a person that “expansive joy… ‘levity and frivolity will accustom him to sexual sin'” (Avot 3:13). Joy will exceed acceptable limits and will be followed by sorrow… and joy will diminish his holiness and modesty.”
Shammai “was well aware of the evil aspects of the human spirit… He presented the shortcomings that unfortunately have been absorbed even amongst Israel and the way in which they require protection from every corruption and trespass.” Hillel heard these arguments, and “didn’t find the strength to oppose them.” “That day Hillel sat stooped before Hillel like one of his students” (Shabbat 17a). In other words, “He bent his own approach of relaxed benevolence in favor of the clear truth of reality” (Ein Aya, ibid., 80).
In the end, “Shammai and Hillel enacted this measure, but they would not accept it from them. Yet their disciples came and enacted it, and it was accepted from them.” (Shabbat 17a). In their generation, the nation still possessed strength and valor, and they could not yet grasp why these restrictions were essential. Yet Hillel and Shammai saw what was coming in advance. “Their recommendation proved beneficial. Later on, in the times of their students, when the generations were becoming weaker and weaker, and Jewish sovereignty was weakening as well, their students opened their eyes to see that not through the material joie-de-vivre of the nations would Israel be gloried. By contrast, it was clearly revealed how the shortcomings of coarse rejoicing affect the foundation of Jewish morality.” (Ein Aya, ibid., 81).

Rabbi Itiel Ariel


The Maggid of Dubno told a typically marvelous parable to explain a verse in our Haftara: “And you have not worshiped me, Jacob, that you should have tired of me, Israel” (Yeshayahu 43:22). This verse, like other verses in the Haftara, uses the metaphors of yegiya, fatigue, and ‘avoda kasha, hard labor, to describe the sacrificial service in order to claim that G-d takes no pleasure in this “fatigue” unless its offerers’ motives are pure.

In his parable, the Maggid of Dubno speaks of a hauler who charged a customer too little for his services because he underestimated the weight of the goods that he had to haul. At day’s end, the hauler accuses the merchant of having misled him by describing the goods as light in weight. Not only did the merchant deny the accusation but he also offered a surprising argument of his own: “The goods that you carried on your back must not have been mine. After all, my goods really are light. Therefore, I owe you nothing whatsoever for your work.”

The Maggid interpreted the verse similarly. If your sacrificial services really make you tired, you must have come to the wrong address and your efforts aren’t being made in the service of G-d at all. If a person who engages in G-d’s exalted service considers it a source of fatigue, it can be only mean that he finds it hard to identify with the inner contents of G-d’s mitzva (commandment). This difficulty can only lead the person into a series of errors, each feeding the next, that lock him into a closed circuit from which escape is difficult.

The alienation that such a person feels toward the inner contents of G-d’s mitzva prompts him to busy himself with its external facets. He tries to fill his inner spiritual void by making the practical burden of the mitzvah artificially heavier. For example, the more alienated the offerer of a sacrifice feels toward the value of intimacy and forgoing, the more motivated he is to offer a large and expensive sacrifice in order to compensate for his distance from G-d. These desperate exertions, however, are doomed to failure and ultimately do more harm than good. This is because when a person works harder and harder to force himself into a state of spiritual excitation, he only becomes more and more frustrated. The harder he works, the less it “pays.”

The Torah goes out of its way to emphasize that it is not quantity but quality that counts. It does this for a good reason. The Torah spares no words in presenting a wide variety of animal and meal offerings, ranking them from the most expensive to the least. Its purpose is to teach us that “One offers profusely and another offers sparingly, but all that matters is that one aims one’s heart at Heaven.”

This idea is reflected in the commandment of seasoning every meal offering with salt (Vayikra 2:13). The nature of salt is that its flavor enhances food only when the chef makes sure to apply it sparingly. A profusion of salt ruins the entire dish. Rabbenu Bachya (ad loc.) made an additional point: the covenant with G-d is consecrated with salt because salt can sustain the world or destroy it. On the one hand, it is the most fundamental of the spices that make our food tasty and pleasing. On the other hand, too much salt may make fertile soil infertile.

One may, in a manner of speaking, liken the “flavor” of a mitzva to dipping one’s food in salt. Whenever the mitzva is the main object of identification and the flavor of the salt is subordinate to it, the salt is beneficial indeed. But when salt attempts to take over the main role, it ruins the entire dish as nothing else can. Such is the way of true service of G-d: one must find the right salt in the right dosage, in order to add flavor to the true value of the mitzva—“Taste and see that G-d is good” (Tehillim 34:9).

May it be Your will, dear G-d, that we soon merit the flavor of those who are truly free, whose custom it is to dip their food in salt….

Translation: R. Blumberg

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