From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“From the bottom spiritual rung we are being created anew as in days of old. All the spiritual baggage of the past is seemingly being swallowed up in its source, and taking on a new, fresher form… ready for great growth, full of vibrant life.”
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
The Proper Way to Deal with Crises
“The Israelites marched a three days’ journey from G-d’s mountain” (Numbers 10:33). Rashi explains that they walked such this distance in one day, because G-d wished to bring them into the Land immediately. Yet then began a chain of calamities that delayed their entering the Land for forty years.
The first calamity came when they left Mount Sinai “like a child escaping from school” (see Ramban). In other words, they disengaged from the Torah. After that, “The people began to complain, and it was evil in G-d’s ears” (11:1). They resented walking in the desert. Rather than trusting in G-d and walking joyfully, they walked as though they were being forced to.
Then came another crisis: “The mixed multitude among the Israelites began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites began once again to weep, “Who will give us meat to eat?” (11:4). The worst calamity came with their betrayal of Eretz Yisrael, when they said, “Why is G-d bringing us to this land to die by they sword. Our wives and children will be captives? It would be best to go back to Egypt!” (14:4). This was followed by a terrible punishment, “Your corpses will fall in this desert” (14:29).
In our own generation, we are undergoing great crises and instability like those of the desert generation. Our first crisis is the abandonment of Torah learning – like a child escaping from school. The second crisis is a result of the first – there is no trust in G-d and no joy along the way. Rather, people complain about everything, even when things are going well. The third crisis involves people’s immersion in permissiveness and materialism – “Who will feed us meat?” The worst crisis in our generation is the way people relate to Eretz Yisrael as though it were a land that consumes its inhabitants. There are some people unwilling to pay the price of the struggle and the war over our holding on to it. They created the plan of disengagement from our birthplace, the land of our life’s blood, with the intent of handing it over to a foreign, hostile people!
We must search out the causes of these crises and repent in a fitting manner. First of all, we must return to our holy Torah. We must lovingly educate our children, hundreds of thousands of Jewish children, in the Jewish tradition. After all, the Torah includes everything good, “for there is no good but Torah”.
By such means we will be able to accept the hardships on the individual, public and national level in a good spirit and deal with them. After all, everything is for the good. “Everything that G-d does is for the good” (Berachot 60b). By such means, we will also be able to make due with little, and we won’t pursue materialism and permissiveness until they make us fall prey to violence, drunkenness and drugs and all sorts of other curses. By such means we will love our people and our beloved Land, and won’t abandon it to our enemies, G-d forbid. Through us will be fulfilled the words of Calev ben Yefuneh, whose personality was similar to his name, “Calev,” for he was “kulo lev” [all heart]: “We shall surely go up and inherit it. We can do it!” (Numbers 13:30). Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
That’s Not How You Learn Mishnah!
The new method of teaching Mishnah to children, known as “Bonayich – Revadim, Veshinantam Levanecha veDibarta bam” [Your Builders – Layers – Teach it to them and talk about it], has no relevance or connection to us. That’s not how you learn Mishnah!
How do you learn Mishnah? How do you really understand it, and how do you get people, young and old, to enjoy learning it? It should be noted that the very question is puzzling – as though only yesterday the Mishnah was given to us, and we are standing, impotent, before a new heavenly revelation. The Mishnah has been lying before us for nearly two thousand years, and there is a profound, spiritual, living method for learning it, namely – gemara. Yes! The gemara is the commentary on the Mishnah, and it truly goes into great depth in explaining it. Obviously, a small child is not yet able to learn gemara, and there are adults who have trouble as well. Therefore spiritual giants arose and explained the Mishnah employing a concise summary of the gemara, and that is the permanent tradition of the Jewish People, yeshiva students and working people, old and young, scholars and laymen. Moshe is truth and his Torah is truth. The gemara is truth and its Torah is truth. The traditional Mishnah commentators are truth and their Torah is truth.
You’ve got some wonderful commentaries on the Mishnah: Rabbenu Ovadia Bartenura and Tosafot Yom Tov, with the former being like Rashi on the gemara, in other words, an interpretation, and the latter being like Tosafot, in other words, an in-depth treatment by way of questions and answers. As a first step, one can learn “Ikar Tosafot Yomtov” [the Essence of Tosafot Yom Tov]. There is also Tiferet Yisrael, which is a marvelous, clear, well-organized and in-depth commentary, and that, too, has an interpretative part and a scholarly part. The modern-day commentary of Rabbi Pinchas Kahati is likewise a phenomenal effort.
The Layers Approach rejects the use of Rabbenu Ovadia Bartenura and Kahati (“they interpret according to the gemara, and that ruins the Mishnah’s simple meaning. There are just two commentaries that I am aware of as being in accordance with the Mishnah’s simple meaning, and that is Albeck and Levi” – from tape 358 of the spokesmen of the Layers Approach). For example, whoever examines the booklet, “The Mishnah and its Scholars – Learning Skills [Hebrew]” will find there lead questions touching on history and arrangement, and all sorts of explanations, and no quotations from Rabbenu Ovadia Bartenura or Rav Kahati, and no words of our sages, the Rishonim or the Acharonim.
The Layers Method has one big problem, that it is very preoccupied with the layout of the Mishnah at the expense of content. In other words, it is busy understanding the layers of the Mishnah, as far as when each section was added in, by whom, and why. Here are several examples from the booklet “The Mishnah and Its Scholars – Learning Skills”:
“What is a layer in the Mishnah? Why does the Mishnah have layers? How many layers does it have? How, in general, does one identify a layer of the Mishnah? Are there other ways to identify one of those layers?” (page 86).
“What can one learn from the existence of layers in the Mishnah? Once we identify an additional layer of the Mishnah, what questions must be asked in order to clarify the layer’s background? Based on what authority did the sages of every generation continue to interpret and to apply more defined halachot?” (page 87).
“If several layers appear in the Mishnah, what does this tell us about the topic being dealt with in those layers? What leads to adding layers on a particular topic? What questions can be asked between layers that will help us to understand each layer and its contribution to the topic being dealt with?” (page 94).
“Describe an imaginary discussion between Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi and his helpers regarding the relative merits of preserving files in their original form as opposed to separating them according to topic” (page 51). And there is more.
Perhaps all of this is interesting and fine, but it is not the essence. It is not the way to teach the Mishnah. The clear proof of this is that the Rishonim and Acharonim certainly knew that there were different layers to the Mishnah and mentioned this occasionally, yet they did not make use of this approach in order to teach Mishnah or gemara. Their mentions of the existence of layers are null and void, amounting to a minuscule percentage of what they wrote. Out of a thousand pages of gemara, a commentator might mentioned the existence of layers perhaps one time!
Certainly there are different levels. Everything has different levels. There are levels to the Jewish People, levels to the Land of Israel, levels to the Written Torah and levels to the Oral Torah. Yet it is all one! These are levels from within unity.
Our holy sages strove and toiled to present the Mishnah or the gemara as a unified whole, with the unifying element being the ideas, the reasons, the inner logic weaving together all the generations.
This is also what lends pleasure and sweetness to learning. In other words, this is the cure to our children’s difficulties with learning Mishnah: the sweetness. And we say that the main thing is the thinking, the conjecture: “The reward to learning is the conjecture” (Berachot 6b). Rashi explains, “When one strives and toils and calculates to understand the reasoning behind things.”
There is likewise a view expressed in the gemara: “Even if someone learned the Torah and the Mishnah but did not avail himself of Torah scholars, he remains an ignoramus” (Berachot 47b). How could that be when the person knows the entire Torah and Mishnah? Yet he is still lacking intellectual interaction with Torah scholars. Rashi: “That is the gemara, which depends on the ideas that gave the Mishnah its reasoning. The scholars would gather together and study the Mishnah, and the result was the gemara, compiled by the Amoraim.” (see Rashi on Megillah 28b; Eruvin 54b; Avoda Zara 19a; etc.). Therefore, a method that rejects the study of the reasons behind the Mishnah, in accordance with the gemara, Bartenura, and Kehati, is not for us. And we shall continue to delve deeply, together with our precious pupils, and to endear the Mishnah to them, for that is the soul of the Oral Torah.
I am speaking very briefly. Whoever wishes to read these ideas in greater elaboration will find my chapter on the Layers Approach in my humble work “Chayei Olam” [Everlasting Life] (pages 171-227).
Yet the truth must be stated, that all of this is my own humble opinion, which is neither here nor there, for I have no right to make decisions on earthshaking matters such as the best approach for learning Mishnah. This is something that the great luminaries of our generation, and of all generations, must decide.
As a rule, any new approach to serving G-d needs strong proofs. I am not against novel ideas. Quite the contrary, the expression “chiddush”, referring to novel Torah thoughts, is an object held in the highest esteem. Yet the new must be profoundly based on the old. The old is known and familiar, and it has proven itself for hundreds of years and built up in the Jewish People magnificent generations. The new has to prove itself. Especially a new approach to teaching Torah to Jewish children must receive the approbation of the great Torah luminaries of Israel. It is true that the Layers approach claims that many great luminaries support it, but it is not enough to make general, anonymous claims of that sort, especially on so grave a topic. They must publicize the names of those great rabbis, as well as the sources where they said what they said, and the arguments they used, so that it will be possible to consider and to clarify their words.
Consider especially that so many great rabbis have expressed displeasure with the approach (see the booklet “Mitorat’cha lo natiti” [from your Torah I have not swerved], and here are their names, according to the Hebrew alphabet: Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, Rabbi Zalmen Nechemiah Goldberg, Rabbi Moshe Gantz, Rabbi Tzefaniah Drori, Rabbi Akiva HaKarmi, Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss, Rabbi Sh. Y. Weizman, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi David Chai HaKohen, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yeshaya Meitlis, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, Rabbi Shlomo Fischer, Rabbi Shalom Klein, Rabbi Yehoshua Rosen, Rabbi Amiel Sternberg, Rabbi Yitzchak Shilat, as well as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (based on what I heard).
Therefore, we shall not veer from the living tradition, handed down by inheritance to us from our ancestors. We shall not get involved in the debate. We will learn Mishnah the way the gemara interpreted it. This is the way we rejoice in the Mishnah and this is the way we believe in it with all our heart and soul.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
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