From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“The anticipation of the building of the Temple and the Temple service is the most noble, lofty longing that any gentle spirit or poetic soul could envision.”
(Erpalei Tohar 10)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
“Be Strong and of Good Courage!”
We are at the height of a milchemet mitzvah, a compulsory war, as Rambam taught: “What is a milchemet mitzvah? It is a war to assist Israel against an enemy that has attacked them” (Hilchot Melachim 5:1). During such a war, the people’s morale must be strengthened. A kohen is therefore appointed to address the people during the war, and he is called the “Mashuach Milchamah” [the anointed for war]: “He stands on a high place with all the armed forced before him, and he says to them in Hebrew: Hear O Israel! Today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. The L-rd your G-d is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you” (Rambam, ibid., quoting from Deuteronomy 20:3-4).
Rambam also says there: “When a person enters the thick of battle, he should place his hope in G-d, who saves Israel in time of trouble. He should be aware that he is waging war for the sake of G-d’s Oneness. He should muster his courage and have no fear… Whoever starts to think too much in battle, alarming himself, violates a Torah prohibition: ‘Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them.’ Moreover, the lives of all Israel depend on him. If he does not do all he can, with all his heart and soul, to be victorious in battle, it is as though he has shed blood, as it says, ‘Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralize his brethren’ (Deuteronomy 20:8)… Whoever fights with all his heart, without fear, and his intent is solely to sanctify G-d’s name, can rest assured that he will not be harmed and no evil will befall him. He will build a strong family in Israel, bringing merit to himself and to his descendants for all time, and he will merit the World-to-Come.” (Rambam, ibid., 15)
Today, we are in the period between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av, when we recall the Destruction of the First and Second Temples. Together with that, we must look toward the future. We must learn, understand and gain awareness that we are at the beginning of the building of the Third Temple, which began with the ingathering of the exiles, the establishment of a sovereign Jewish entity, the State of Israel. All the prophets and sages who relate to the rebirth of the Jewish People in their land after the two thousand year long exile, note that the Third Temple will be built amidst wars, as our sages said, “In the seventh year there will be wars. At the end of that period the son of David will come.” The nations of the world have not resigned themselves to the idea that our people is rising to rebirth. They are striving to their utmost to extinguish the flame of Israel, that is burning brighter and brighter.
Thus, our wars are “milchemot mitzvah” – compulsory wars. The ideas aired in recent years by political leaders according to which we are fighting to achieve peace have no foothold in the cruel reality that we face. They are mistaken, and they are based on the unfortunate fantasies of dangerous diplomatic programs such as Oslo, the Separation, the Disengagement and the Convergence Program. To our enemies, all these programs send a message of surrender and weakness. Such programs that confuse the heads of the army and demoralize the troops are the result of an error in understanding reality.
At present, we must pray and call to the nation and to its leaders: Open your eyes! Know the enemy and his goals! Fight back hard! Smite the enemy and deter him! By such means G-d’s name will be sanctified on earth. We must be strong and courageous on behalf of our people and on behalf of the cities of our G-d. Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner- Chief Rabbi of Bet El
An Attractive Bride
Question: I am involved in matchmaking and I don’t know what to do. Even boys from the best yeshivot treat outward appearances as the main thing. I am disgusted!
Answer: True, they’ve learned a lot of Torah, but they missed out on the main point, that what’s important is inside. Unfortunately, they learned superficial Torah and they’ve remained superficial themselves. If they exercised a bit of common sense, they would understand that beauty is of no benefit in educating one’s children, in fine character or in the fear of G-d, neither does it help the couple to love each other. If the girl is attractive but egotistical, she becomes like Chanukah candles, which we have no permission to touch but only to see. When all is said and done, a person’s essence is not his outward appearance but his soul. “Favor is false and beauty is vain. It’s the G-d-fearing woman who is praiseworthy” (Proverbs 31:30).
How impressed Rambam is in his “Guide to the Perplexed” by Abraham’s never having gazed at his wife Sarah the way the non-Jews look at women (III:49).
Ra’avad (Rabbi Avraham ben David), brings a Talmudic source recommending that when a yeshiva student weds he should bring a simple Jew along with him to ensure that no other woman is substituted for his own bride (Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 21:3). This indicates that Torah scholars would not customarily take an interest in externals.
After all, Esther was not particularly attractive. Our sages state that quite the contrary, she had unattractive skin tone. Even so, “she impressed all who saw her” (Esther 2:15), even non-Jews. How did this happen? It was due to her good character traits, her refinement and nobility.
We thus may derive that what is inside has an influence on one’s outward appearance, and that is what we learn from the Torah, contrary to the view of the materialists, that externals have an influence on what is inside.
Why then does the Talmud recommend our praising a bride’s physical appearance at her wedding? Bet Hillel says that we must praise every bride, in the groom’s presence, as being beautiful and graceful. Bet Shammai counters that we should praise her precisely as she is, for physically she may not be so beautiful. Yet Bet Hillel holds that we always do praise her beauty. Bet Shammai asks, “What happens if she is lame or blind? Do we call her beautiful and graceful? Doesn’t the Torah say, ‘Stay far removed from falsehood’ (Exodus 23:7)?” Bet Hillel replies, “By your approach, if someone made an unfortunate purchase should his friends praise it before him or speak disparagingly of it? Surely they should praise it. In line with this our sages said, ‘One should always stay attuned to the human mindset.’”
Certainly it is forbidden to lie. Yet here, at the wedding, there is no lie. It is all true. Maharal explains in his “Netiv HaEmet” [the Pathway of Truth], from his work Netivot Olam, that subjectively speaking, even the unattractive bride is attractive to her husband. Otherwise, he would not be marrying her. Where beauty is concerned, the subjective is objective. The groom considers her very attractive, and if we attune ourselves to the groom’s mindset, then we will understand that it is all true. Put simply, it is not because she is beautiful that he loves her. Quite the contrary, his love for her makes here the most beautiful woman on earth, and it doesn’t bother him one bit that she is lame or blind.
Certainly one should wed a person one finds pleasing. Yet that is not necessarily a matter of external beauty. There is also internal beauty, the beauty of the soul. Precisely in order to understand this we learn Torah.
Rabbi Lior Engleman
The Link Between Destruction and Redemption
On Tisha B’Av, many study the Talmud’s tales about the Destruction. Often, troubling thoughts creep into our minds when we learn these stories. So many points of similarity can be found between those times and our own day, from the moral-social perspective, as far as governmental corruption, as far as relations between Jews and the Jewish People and its G-d. Sometimes it seems as though some of the tales describing the hard-heartedness of the Jews for one another, and describing in morbid terms the family unit and the Jews’ ignoring their mutual responsibility to one another, were written today, in our very own times. Unfortunately, we are no strangers to groundless hatred and to the economic gaps within society. We stand distraught on reading these stories, lest we ourselves face a fate similar to that faced by the residents of Jerusalem in those times.
Such is life that the extremes resemble one another. Childhood resembles old age, birth resembles death. Each pair shares the same construct. The blood of birth recalls the blood of death, and the pain of childbirth is as hard as the suffering of death. The newborn infant is as weak and dependent on his surroundings as the aged man approaching his last day on this earth. The end and the beginning are enormously similar to one another.
Those same events that signified the start of the bitter exile are being repeated, but this time they signify the start of redemption: “In the generation in which the son of David arrives… the Galilee will be destroyed and its residents will wander from city to city and receive no compassion. The wisdom of scribes will be disparaged and the G-d-fearing will be loathed. The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog. The truth will disappear… youths will shame their elders. Elders will stand up for youths. Daughters will attack their mothers, and daughters-in-law their mothers-in-law.” (Derech Eretz Zuta 10).
There will seem to be total moral bankruptcy, signifying the end of Jewish survival. Many will sin through their inability to distinguish between the different types of blood, the blood of birth and the blood of death, and the public agenda will be awash with erroneous analyses sowing fear and despair, as though our suffering and our failings are unrectifiable. All the same, the sages of Israel, with their subtle discernment, teach us that what looks like the blood of death is really the blood of birth, Messianic birthpangs and not the death throes. Our suffering foretells a new beginning.
Two Types of Blood
“‘The ringing of the nose brings forth blood” (Proverbs 30:33): Any pupil of Torah who remains silent the first time his teacher becomes angry at him will merit to distinguish between ritually unclean blood and clean blood.” (Berachot 63b)
“Ritually unclean blood”, i.e., menstrual blood, expresses the cessation or loss of life, or the inability to bring life into the world. It is very important to identify it, to know that it represents cessation of life, that it is blood that separates husband and wife, blood beyond hope of building a family.
By contrast, if a rabbi judges that blood produced by a woman is not menstrual [i.e., for example, blood resulting from a cut], then that blood bears tidings of life, i.e., that the woman can still become pregnant that month. Yet such blood is particularly misleading. Whoever looks at it with regular eyes will think it is the unclean, menstrual kind of blood, its appearance being so similar to that of the blood that expresses the cessation of life. Unless one is expert at distinguishing between the two, he is liable to think it is menstrual blood. A wrong classification of that sort can cause grievous harm, for the blood is clean blood, the blood of life, and it is important to classify it as such so that the couple can continue having the opportunity to produce blessed new life.
Not every student merits distinguishing between the two types of blood, between the blood that announces life, and the blood that locks the gate before them. Due to the similarity of appearance, and due to the threatening appearance of all blood, one is very liable to identify all the blood as menstrual. One requires special skill to distinguish. One has to have a penetrating eye to discern that beyond the appearance of blood there is the chance that life will emerge. One requires skill and valor to proclaim that the blood is not menstrual.
The Talmud identifies the person who will be able to distinguish between the two bloods: “Whichever student remains silent the first time his teacher is angry at him.” Anger, like blood, is an essentially unpleasant phenomenon. It is unpleasant to encounter anger, all the more so when it is trained on you, yourself. Most of the time, when a student’s yeshiva rebbe is angry at him, that student will identify the anger as a personal attack, an attempt to hurt him. Hence he will hastily respond and justify his own actions. All he will be thinking about is how to ward off that anger.
Yet the student described here is different. He is capable of distinguishing between anger coming from someone who truly wishes to criticize him and to belittle his worth, and anger coming from a yeshiva rebbe who loves him and hopes for him to succeed. Superficially, such anger looks no different from any other, but inside it is the rebbe’s love for his student. This student succeeds in seeing that this anger is a sign of life.
This student is not a slave to the outward appearance of anger. He penetrates beyond that outer layer and discovers that this anger was born for his sake. He therefore remains silent, does not respond to his rebbe and instead looks inside himself, seeking to rectify his error. The Talmud promises that such a person will not be alarmed at the sight of blood. He will take a deeper look and will discover non-menstrual blood, blood that is not impure, blood that foretells life.
Such blood is a parable for all the not-so-simple occurrences in our life, which to the external observer seem to presage destruction, but which people with a subtle, optimistic viewpoint will succeed in viewing as an aperture to hope.
King David classifies himself as someone busy all his life attempting to identify which is the pure blood: “Master-of-the-Universe! Am I not righteous? All the kings of east and west sit amongst their retinues, ensconced in their splendor, while my own hands are soiled with the blood of the birth canal, seeking to render wives permissible to their husbands” (Berachot 4a).
King David, from whose offspring will come the Messiah, saw it as his great duty to identify the blood of life, thereby rendering wives permissible to their husbands. The ability to distinguish between what appears problematic on the surface but which constitutes a sign of life, is a Messianic talent that brings the world redemption.
Fortunate those who know how to distinguish between clean blood and unclean blood, between the hardships at the end of the road and the good omens at the start of a new road. The ninth of Av is not just an expression of mourning and despair. It also conceals within it hope of complete redemption, speedily in our day.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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