From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“Israel’s undertaking mitzvah observance before they had heard the details has always been their strength. It derives from our inner feeling that all of Judaism’s holiness is hidden deep within us… First and foremost, we must awaken and be true to ourselves. We must shake off all self-denial and we must know how to defend proudly our pristine nature.”
(Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 171)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
The Modern Day “King’s Legion”
At the start of the Book of Numbers, G-d commands Moses to take a census of Israel: “Take a census of the entire Israelite community. Do it by families following the paternal line, according to the names of each male, taken individually” (Numbers 1:2). Rashi comments:
“Because the Israelites are precious before G-d, He counts them all the time. When they went out of Egypt He counted them [Exodus 12:37], and when they sinned with the Golden Calf He counted them to know how many remained. When He came to cause His Presence to rest upon them He counted them. On the first day of Nissan the Tabernacle was set up, and on the first day of Iyar He counted them.”
Indeed, G-d, who lovingly chooses His People Israel, counts Israel like a shepherd counting his flock, as we say daily in prayer: “Know that the L-rd is God. It is He who has made us, and we are His, His people, and the flock of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
Not just as a mark of love does G-d count us, but also to teach us the proper order by which the tribes should proceed as they trek through the desert, as well as the task of each tribe and the place of every single Israelite within his tribe and within the Jewish People. It thus says: “The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia. They shall camp at a specified distance around the Communion Tent” (Numbers 2:2). Rashi comments, “Each banner had as its insignia a colored cloth hanging from it. Each one’s color was not like the other’s. Each color corresponded with the hue of its gem set in the breastplate. By such means, everyone could recognize his banner.”
The heart of all the tribes was the tribe of Levi. Levi had a special task and it was set apart from all the other tribes: “Do not take a tally or census of the Levites together with the [other] Israelites” (Numbers 1:49). Rashi comments, “It befits the king’s legion to be counted alone.” Levi’s task was to carry the tabernacle and to minister to it, “and to camp around the Tabernacle” (1:50).
In every generation, G-d shows His great love for His people Israel. Even when we were in the exile, He did not stop loving us, nor will He ever abandon us in the future: “The L-rd has chosen Jacob to be His, and Israel as His prized possession. He will not abandon His people, nor forsake His heritage” (from ‘Yehi Kavod” in the morning prayers). Like a shepherd counting his flocks, rejoicing over every kid that is born, so does G-d count us even in this generation, and He rejoices over every single infant born, with their benevolent souls that are being revealed in our generation.
And just as in the desert every one of the Israelites knew his tribe, his place and his task within the Jewish People, so, too, at the end of the remarkable process of the ingathering of the exiles in which we are living, every member of the Jewish People will find his place and his task within our people.
In the desert, the Levites were in the center, around the Tabernacle, and they had an influence on all of Israel, like the king’s legion who are close to him and do his bidding. In just the same way, in our generation those who learn Torah and support it are like the king’s legion, and their task is to bestow their spirit and their Torah upon Israel and to bring the entire Jewish People closer to our Father in Heaven, with love and faith. By such means shall be fulfilled through us G-d’s promise:
“A redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob – says the L-rd. And this is My covenant with them: My spirit that is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor the mouth of your seed, nor the mouth of your seed’s seed, henceforth and forever.” (Isaiah 59:20)
Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner- Chief Rabbi of Bet El
How is the Entire Land Being Conquered?
Open your eyes and see how all the expanses of Judea and Samaria are becoming more and more filled with towns and inhabitants. Who accomplished this? Who attracted so many Jews to come there despite the difficulties? Was anyone forcing them? Did they do it for financial gain? Certainly not! Yet the answer is simple: love of Eretz Yisrael. And the settlement enterprise is a miniature model of our entire country. Who built up the Land? Who brought about the return to Zion? Who was responsible for the Jewish State’s establishment? Was anyone forcing the Jews to do it?! Rather, it was just the love of Eretz Yisrael and the faith in Eretz Yisrael, aroused in the hearts of Israel, which brought it about.
The illustrious Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna wrote in his “Yeshu’ot Malko” responsa, that “without a doubt settling Eretz Yisrael is a great mitzvah, because the ingathering of the exiles constitutes atchalta de’geula [the start of redemption]. Especially now, when we have seen the great relish to fulfill this mitzvah, amongst the irreligious, semi-religious and religious, it is almost certain that the great spirit will burst forth” (Yoreh Deah 66). We thus derive that the longing for Eretz Yisrael is the greatest sign of redemption.
When, G-d forbid, there is no longing for Eretz Yisrael, then everything collapses, as the “Sefat Emet” writes regarding the sin of the spies. He compares Eretz Yisrael to Talmud study. Because it is so hard, only if a person has a thirst for it will he be willing to invest the hard work and toil required to study it. He adds:
“When G-d said, ‘Send forth men’ [the spies], He meant, ‘It’s up to you. Send them if you wish.’ Eretz Yisrael is like the Oral Torah that one must ardently strive to learn. Thus, conquering Eretz Yisrael depends on the willingness of the Jews themselves. As G-d said to the tribes that wanted to remain in Transjordan, ‘When the land is then conquered before G-d, you may return home, and you will be free of any obligation before G-d and Israel’ (Numbers 32:22). G-d only provides His consent and assistance. Therefore, when the spies rejected the Land, Israel could no longer enter it.” (Parashat Shelach 1893, s.v.: “ve’inyan shelach lecha”).
Certainly the spies faced problems. They weren’t lying. Yet when there is longing, then all the problems shrink and are solved by way of fortitude and valor, with assistance from G-d.
Surely we know that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering, and who is interested in suffering? Yet, when we love Eretz Yisrael, we cannot feel the suffering so much. Therefore, “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai says, ‘G-d gave three fine gifts to Israel, and all of them exclusively through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come'” (Berachot 5a). When we know that something is a “fine gift”, we are willing to undergo suffering.
If you like, the matter can be compared to marriage. When a couple loves each other, then the difficulties they share are not burdensome. Quite the contrary, they strengthen the bond. Yet when their love grows weak, then their entire association becomes something repugnant. Our sages drew the following parable: “When our love was fierce, then we could have slept on sword’s blade. Not that our love is no longer so, a thirty-meter-wide bed does not suffice for us both” (Sanhedrin 7a).
Regarding our entire struggle over Eretz Yisrael, our initial question must be this: Is Eretz Yisrael just a vehicle to something else, or it is itself vital? If Eretz Yisrael is just a vehicle towards my individual welfare, then everything is measured by the yardstick of what benefits me most, involving issues such as economics and security, and that’s when the serious problems begin. Yet if Eretz Yisrael is itself vital, i.e., if it is our life’s blood, the Land of the Living, then our relationship with it is like the relationship between husband and wife, in which the very bond is the underlying assumption and the couple overcome all problems happily. And just as a couple cannot be forced to wed, neither can the bond with Eretz Yisrael be forced.
And how do we increase the love of the Land? Surely that is a matter of emotion, and we have no direct control over will and emotion. Yet the Torah is replete with mitzvoth dependent on will and emotion, and we have free choice to think those thoughts that arouse our will and emotion. As Rambam stated regarding love of G-d:
“It is well-known and clear that the love of G-d does not become bound in a person’s heart until he affords it constant, appropriate thought. He must abandon everything in the world besides it, as G-d commanded, ‘with all your heart and with all your soul’. We must apply our minds to knowing G-d, and in accordance with our intellect and our faith we will achieve greater or lesser success in our effort” (end of Hilchot Teshuva).
Thus, this is our task – to fill the people who dwell in Zion with thoughts, ideas, perspectives and beliefs that will lead them to love Eretz Yisrael. Then we will be the living fulfillment of:
“You shall no more be termed ‘Forsaken’, neither shall your land any more be termed ‘Desolate’. Rather, you shall be called ‘My delight is in her’, and your land, ‘Espoused’; For the L-rd delights in you, and your land shall be espoused. For as a young man weds a virgin, so shall your sons wed you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your G-d rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:4-5)
Rabbi Azriel Ariel– Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“They Shall Camp Around the Tabernacle”
There were two tents called the “Ohel Moed”. The first was that of Moses, which was erected after the sin of the Golden Calf, and it stood off in the distance. “Moses took his tent and set it up outside the camp at a distance. He called it the Ohel Moed [Meeting Tent]. Later, whoever sought G-d would go to the Meeting Tent outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7).
By contrast, the other “Ohel Moed”, the “Mishkan” or “Tabernacle,” belonged to G-d, and Parashat Bamidbar states that it had to be erected within the camp, at its very center, with all of Israel encamped around it. All the same, the people were divided into two groups. Some camped near it and some camped far from it. Of the Levites it says, “They shall camp around the Tabernacle” (Numbers 1:50). In fact, the Torah reiterates, “The Levites shall camp around the Tabernacle of Testimony” (1:53). As for the Israelites, however, it says, “They shall camp at a distance from the Meeting Tent” (2:2). What is the meaning of the difference between the Levites and their Israelite brethren regarding the Tabernacle? What is the significance of the various names, the “Mishkan HaEdut” [Tabernacle of Testimony] in relation to the Levites, and the “Ohel Moed” [Meeting Tent] in relation to the Israelites?
The “Mishkan” is where the “Shechina”, G-d’s Presence, rests. It is where G-d comes to encounter man and to sanctify man’s life. By contrast, the “Ohel Moed” is a term used even to refer to a place that human beings live in. It is man’s abode, where man comes in order to encounter G-d.
The same difference exists between the terms “Edut” and “Moed”. The “edut” [literally “testimony”] within the Mishkan was the Torah, the “tablets of testimony” given by G-d to Israel, His people. The Tabernacle, and the Torah within it, attest to G-d’s having chosen to rest amongst His people.
“Moed”, by contrast, has two meanings. On the one hand, it can mean “gathering together” or “meeting together”, and on the other hand it can mean “longing”, as in the words “ya’ad” and “yi’ud”, both of which mean “destiny”.
The “Mishkan Ohel Moed” has a dual function. One role is for the Divine Presence to come to rest there, descending from the Infinite “there” [Hebrew “Sham”], which we call “Shamayim”, down to the earth, down to man. The second role is to serve man’s longing to be exalted, to ascend to Hashem his G-d and to experience closeness to Him. When many people share that same longing, they commune together.
The first function of the Mishkan is under the responsibility of the Levites. They, charged with holiness, were required, on behalf of all the people, to encounter the divine illumination resting upon the Mishkan, the Shechinah. They therefore had to be close by, and from their perspective, the Tabernacle was the “Mishkan HaEdut”, the “Tabernacle of Testimony”, attesting to the Shechinah’s resting upon Israel.
The second function of the Mishkan was directed towards the Israelites. They were unworthy to experience the Divine Presence up close. For them, the Mishkan symbolized their longing, a meeting place, an avenue for them to focus on their destiny, a place in which for them to be cognizant of their distance from the possibility of fulfilling their longing completely. This was so much the case that “the non-Levi who drew near would die” (Numbers 1:51). They therefore camped “from a distance”. Precisely this emphasizing the distance, the feeling of being far away, accentuated their longing and increased their efforts to achieve their destiny.
Both camped around the Tabernacle. The Levites camped around the “Tabernacle of Testimony”, and the Israelites “from a distance, camped around the Tent of Meeting”. The shared longing of both united the hearts of them all to their Father in Heaven.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
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