From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“G-d’s word endures forever. The holiness of the Land of Israel, and G-d’s love for it, has not changed neither will it change…all its desolation and destruction could not overcome this…It is the merciful love for an unfortunate mother, coupled with the glorious, majestic love for a royal queen.”
(Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, p. 324)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
Parashat VaEt’chanan and Parashat Ekev are linked to each other. The former’s main theme is our receiving the Torah from G-d and our undertaking the yoke of Heaven through our reciting the words, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One.” The latter’s main theme is our fulfilling all of G-d’s mitzvoth in general, and our fulfilling them in Eretz Yisrael in particular. As Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha said, “Why did the first paragraph of the Shema precede the second? It was so that a Jew would first undertake the yoke of heaven and only then the yoke of mitzvoth” (Berachot 2b).
Our faith in Hashem’s being the One G-d, and our duty to love Him and to learn His Torah, precedes mitzvah fulfillment, which is a corollary detail extending from that faith, in the same way that the roots and trunk of a tree precede its branches. This does not mean, G-d forbid, that we should not fulfill mitzvoth as long as we haven’t yet learned and the Torah does not yet permeate our entire being. Quite the contrary, the heart is influenced by deeds. Still, we have to distinguish between general points and specifics. When a Jew fulfills mitzvoth without being full of faith, that is a shortcoming evincing a situation of “For it is precept by precept, precept by precept, line by line, line by line; here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). The integral Torah is then transformed into separate bits and pieces, a plethora of details without any unifying link, and then crises surface. As our sages said, “In the Messianic era, impudence will prevail” (end of Tractate Sota. See “HaTorah HaGo’elet, Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda zt”l, I:154).
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l, was the seer and faithful Shepard of our generation and all the generations to come. He possessed a deep understanding of the roots of the crises befalling our generation, the generation in the footsteps of the Messiah. He taught us what improvements are needed not only for us to overcome those crises, but also how to ascend spiritually to the higher levels that the Jewish People, rising to rebirth are encountering with G-d’s help.
In relating to the spiritual, moral and religious crisis we are facing, and how to rectify it, he writes:
“The impudence of the pre-Messianic era develops because the world has been sufficiently prepared to demand an understanding of how all the details are linked to the whole, and the generation cannot rest if any detail remains unexplained…” (Orot HaTeshuvah 4:10).
The study and strengthening of faith, i.e., the undertaking of the yoke of heaven, is the greatest need of our generation. Through that, and through being infinitely patient, we will also arrive at mitzvah fulfillment performed loving. Indeed, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, son and torchbearer of Rav Avraham Yitzchak, zt”l, worked all his life to strengthen faith, mitzvah fulfillment based on love and faith, and with G-d’s help we will merit a new light over Zion.
Looking forward to complete salvation and to complete consolation.
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
1.There’s a story about a ninth grader in a yeshiva ketana who was a slow learner, and no matter how much the teacher tried to explain the material to him, he couldn’t grasp it. That student tried very hard, but without results. The teacher therefore assigned a patient student to help him, but that didn’t help either.
At the end of the year, when everyone went up to tenth grade, the boy was forced to repeat the ninth. He made a great effort, but unfortunately got nowhere. The same thing happened for seven straight years.
Then, when he was twenty, he saw that it was now or never, and he cried out bitterly to G-d. Starting then, his situation improved slowly. He moved on to tenth grade and beyond that, then to post-high-school yeshiva, until he became the head of a Kollel (from the book, “Sod Hatzlacha, by Rav Shmueli, page 235).
2. Another story concerns a boy who moved to Israel from abroad, entered yeshiva and didn’t understand a thing. He was also too embarrassed to ask questions, because he was afraid that people would make fun of him.
When he finally got up the courage to ask a question, it was a stupid question but his teacher didn’t want to insult him so he acted as though it was a real question and answered him. That student didn’t despair, and ultimately became a Rosh Yeshiva (ibid., 238).
3. When Rabbi Re’uven David Nawi was a young lad he toiled very hard at his studies, but he still never achieved clear understanding. Yet he persevered, entreating G-d to enlighten him, until he became great in Torah and was appointed Chief Justice of the Baghdad Rabbinical Court (ibid., 248).
4. Rabbi Amram Azulai was not a particularly gifted student during his youth, and no matter how much he toiled, he did not achieve marked success. Yet he did not despair, but continued studying until he became a extraordinarily diligent student in the Porat Yosef Yeshiva (ibid., 250).
5. Rabbi Menachem Racanati, a disciple of the author of “Sefer HaRokeach”, who wrote a commentary on the Torah, was a poor caliber student when he was young, but he loved Torah and ultimately became a great rabbi in the Jewish People (Sefer Shalshelet HaKabbalah).
6. There was a seventeen or eighteen year old boy who came to the Chatam Sofer and divulged to him his desire to learn Torah. At the time, that was considered old, so the other students laughed, wondering how a boy who hadn’t ever learned could want to immerse himself in learning now. Yet the Chatam Sofer castigated them, saying, “Why should you laugh? Surely all who want to learn may come and do so.” He drew that lad near to him and set him up with study partners of an hour each.
Yet besides being older, he was also a slow learner with little retentive ability, and even if someone learned a particular mishnah with him a hundred times, he still forgot it quickly, such that the next day it was as though he had never learned it.
All the same, his desire for Torah never ceased and he persisted in his studies until he ultimately reached the level of an outstanding scholar and was appointed head of a rabbinical court and chief rabbi of a city.
7. When Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) was twelve years old, he did not want to learn and he moved from teacher to teacher, but to no avail. One day he heard his father in the kitchen, worriedly saying to his mother, “What shall we do with our Naftali? I’ve tried everything and he doesn’t want to learn. Perhaps we have to teach him a trade?”
The boy was terrified. He ran into the kitchen and he began to cry, saying, “Abba! I’ll study!” and starting then he did begin learning, becoming an illustrious scholar (She’al Avicha Veyaged’cha 2:14).
8. During his childhood, Maharam Schick (Rabbi Moshe Schick) was not blessed with sharp intelligence or a quick grasp. His ability to absorb material was very weak, he had trouble understanding, and he couldn’t remember anything, not even one page of gemara. Yet he did not despair, and he toiled greatly, entreated G-d, reviewed his learning many times even though he didn’t understand the subject matter well, until he ultimately became amongst the most famous of his contemporaries (Sefer “Ashrei Mi She’amalo”, 3:56).
Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber
The Perfection of the Individual and of the Nation
Whoever ponders Jewish history will discover a disparity. On the one hand we find that activity is directed towards the improvement of all mankind. At the same time, however, we are commanded to turn inward and isolate ourselves within our national framework.
We discern three periods: The first was before Israel were a people, during the period of the Patriarchs. Abraham was called “father of many nations”, and Isaac was presumed to have worked in the same direction, as in our sages’ exposition:
“‘Jacob lived in the land of his father’s [Isaac’s] sojourning [megurei]’ (Genesis 37:1): Read ‘megurei’ [sojourning] as ‘meguyarei’ [converts].” [i.e., Isaac, like Abraham, brought many converts into the fold]
The second period was when Israel arrived in their land. Then, Israel ceased to influence mankind, turning inward to be “a nation that dwells alone” (Numbers 23:9). All the same, in the Prophets, we find a different tune being sung: “I have set you for a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6); “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem” (ibid., 2:4) – concern for perfecting the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook comments on this dual mission of our seeking our own perfection as individuals and of working towards universal perfection, and the connection between them, in his “Ein Aya” commentary on Berachot 9b. There the gemara notes that the first chapter of Psalms deals with our achieving perfection as individual Jews while the second chapter deals with the universal perfection of mankind, and it asks whether the two chapters are not really one. Ultimately the gemara concludes that although they appear as two chapters they are really one, due to the principle that any chapter that David particularly prized he began and ended with the word “ashrei”, “happy”. Here, as well, the first chapter begins with this word and the second chapter ends with it. We must ask: Philosophically speaking, what makes these two chapters one?
Every Jew operates on three planes: personal, national and universal, and he must seek perfection on all three. Yet, the matter cannot be achieved all at once, but only gradually. In the first stage, a Jew has to focus on perfecting his own self, developing his own character. At the same time, he cannot limit himself just to that, because for him to achieve true perfection, mankind must achieve perfection. Only, the universal perfection of mankind depends, in turn, on the Jewish People achieving perfection. Thus, mankind cannot succeed with this until the Jewish People succeed with it.
It follows that the individual Jew seeking perfection must be wary of two opposing pitfalls to which he is liable to fall prey: the first is that his concern for the Jewish People’s achieving perfection as a nation may lead him to neglect his own effort to achieve perfection as an individual through the development of his own character and personality. Truth be told, the individual Jew’s achieving perfection is likewise an important contribution to the Jewish People’s achieving perfection in the aggregate, because the nation cannot achieve success unless each of its component parts succeeds on an individual level.
Yet the opposite danger exists as well, that the individual Jew might think he can achieve perfection even if he does not work, in parallel, towards the perfection and success of his people. Only through the integration of these two perfections, personal and national, can the individual achieve perfection, and with him, all mankind, thereby achieving true happiness.
We find these two processes in the first two chapters of Psalms, which deal with these two perfections. The first chapter, which opens with the words, “Happy is the man who does not follow the counsel of the wicked,” deals entirely with the happiness and personal perfection of the individual Jew. That person’s delight derives from G-d’s Torah, as opposed to the evildoer, likened to “the chaff which the wind drives away” (verse 4).
By contrast, the second chapter, which begins, “Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?” deals with all of mankind, with the uproar of the nations, with their opposing G-d and His anointed as they set out on their way, and with the defeat of the nations in the end of days, and their submitting to G-d’s sovereign kingdom on earth. Therefore, on the one hand, the individual Jew and mankind are separated into two chapters, the first dealing with the perfection of the individual, and the second dealing with perfection of all mankind. Yet despite their being set apart in this way, the two chapters are really one, starting and ending with “Ashrei”. Only by unifying our efforts at achieving individual perfection and at effecting the perfection of mankind can universal contentment be achieved. Thus, these two chapters encompass all Jewish history.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
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