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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“Prayer is a concrete activity… Still, its outcome hinges entirely on the holiness of the worshipper’s individual will, and on the divine content that fills his soul. The prayers of the righteous foment an enormous, beneficial upheaval in the values of the entire world.” (Orot HaKodesh 3:48)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:
Rosh Hashana Preparations

“Hidden things may pertain to the L-rd our G-d, but that which has been revealed applies to us and our children, forever. We must therefore keep all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28). Rashi comments, “I [Moshe] do not punish you for ‘hidden things,’ i.e., what is hidden in your heart. That pertains to G-d.” It is G-d who will punish that individual about whom it says, “Today, there must not be among you any man, woman, family or tribe, whose heart strays from G-d, and who goes and worships the gods of those nations” (verse 17).

As for “what is revealed,” that applies to us and our children. We must destroy the evil from our midst. If we do not execute judgment against sinners, the masses will be punished by G-d. And even regarding that which is revealed, G-d did not punish the masses until Israel had crossed the Jordan and undertaken the oath at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval, by which all of Israel because one another’s guarantors (see Rashi there). Indeed, when they crossed the Jordan and Achan violated the taboo, the entire nation was punished, suffering defeat at the War of Ai, which melted the hearts of the people like water (Joshua 7:5). Only after judgment was executed against Achan, whose sin brought suffering upon the entire nation, did Israel achieve a great victory in the second war on Ai.

Today, a covenant of mutual responsibility has been renewed in our generation with the establishment of the State of Israel. The immoral behavior and corruption of the individual is not the private business of this person or that. It affects the entire nation and influences the plight of society, security and the economy. Upon all of us rests the responsibility to educate ourselves and others to integrity and morality, good character and fine deeds, and we must help others to return to Jewish sources and roots, for it was from there that the Jewish People have drawn life from time immemorial. “It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it” (Proverbs 3:18).

At the same time, we have to take to task those corrupt individuals, especially if they hold the reins of leadership, whose immoral and irresponsible behavior have a negative influence on the entire nation. During this season, the time of Selichot and judgment, we must search our souls, as individuals and as a nation, eradicating evil and rectifying whatever needs improvement. By such means, we shall march forward on the path winding upward towards complete redemption and repentance. And may we merit salvation and great consolation. With blessings for a good, sweet year, and looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!

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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Bet El

You’re Confusing Judaism with Idolatry!

Question: I became very close to G-d, but recently I’ve had a lot of troubles, and since then I am very angry at Him, and it’s now hard for me to pray to Him.
Answer: There’s a hidden assumption in what you write. God owes you something. That’s totally mistaken. God doesn’t owe you anything. God doesn’t owe us a thing. Quite the contrary, it’s we who owe Him. See the title of the first chapter of Mesillat Yesharim, that profound work about pristine service to God: “Man’s Duty in His World”. God doesn’t owe us the thing, and we owe him everything.
You think this world is an amusement park, and God is the maintenance man. Therefore, when something bad happens, you go to Him with your complaints. But that’s wrong! We are His servants.
It’s true that we are at His servants, but we are also His sons. Seemingly, a master’s relationship with his servant is more serious than a father’s relationship with his son. After all, a son is spoiled, and he does his father’s will only when he feels like it. By contrast, a servant is responsible and obedient, and he can be relied upon.
Not so, say the Zohar. The son is a servant as well. He, too, is serious and obedient, but in addition, his father reveals to him his hidden treasures. The son is full of recognition and faith in his father’s path.
The rule is this: We are G-d’s servants, and if the Master-of-the-Universe heaps His bounty upon us, it is not because He owes us anything, but because He so wishes, in His great kindness and benevolence. Yet, it is G-d, who decides what benevolence to perform for us, and when, and how.
Sometimes it seems to us as though He is doing bad things to us, and later on it turns out that even those things were for our own good. Our sages therefore taught us that we have to bless G-d for the evil that befalls us just as we bless Him for the good that befalls us. We have to recite “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” [“Blessed is the True Judge”, recited over misfortune], with the same happiness with which we recite Baruch HaTov VeHaMetiv [“Blessed is the One who is Good and Benevolent”, recited on hearing good news].
The rule is this. G-d doesn’t owe us anything, and everything we receive from Him is a gift. Moreover, let us not forget that the main reward for mitzvoth is in the World-to-Come, as is explained in that same first chapter of Mesillat Yesharim. This world is a world of toil, and the World-to-Come is a world of pleasure, just as Friday is a day of toil and Shabbat is a day of pleasure.
I fear that you have confused Judaism with idolatry, where everything is built on two-directional deals made with the deity.
In idolatry, there is a method for catching hold of any deity and forcing Him to fulfill our request. If one knows how to grab hold of him, then he is caught, and it doesn’t depend on the deity at all. He has no free will. True, sometimes he lies, but – what can you do – even then he is still caught.
Every deity has his own theme. Each deity supplies something else. And with every deity, there is a way to catch him. It’s easy! If you wish to perform any villainy, it’s enough to locate the deity that permits it and to buy its idol. After all, there are so many deities. Hence whichever sin you are looking to legitimize, you will always be able to find a deity that permits that act and even sanctifies it.
We, however, are the disciples of Abraham, who fought against paganism. We are the servants of G-d, and that is our pride, that is our joy, that is our freedom and that is our contentment.
Returning to the matter at hand, let us take a look at Rambam, Hilchot Mezuza: “Regarding those who write on a mezuza the names of angels, the names of saints, or a verse, or add a seal,” thinking that by way of this addition, the mezuza will be strengthened and enhanced and will be rendered more effective, “none of those people has a portion in the World-to-Come. They have no hold on eternity. They are material, temporal, and they understand nothing.”
Likewise, whoever adds anything to the body of the parchment takes away from it and invalidates it. “The mezuzah trains our thoughts on G-d and on our love for Him and His worship.” That is the purpose of this mitzvah. It serves to remind us, each time we enter a room, that the content of our lives is faith in G-d, and the love and fear of G-d. The people who tamper with a mezuzah “take a great mitzvah and treat it as though it were an amulet, to bring themselves benefit.” It becomes a sort of mystical, spiritual trick, intended to derive from it material benefit. It is as though they foolishly think the mezuzah serves to bring them pleasure from worldly vanities. Those fools who have no understanding of what the Torah is, think that serving G-d is just a way to attain material benefits, which are nothing compared to the supreme ideal of faith in G-d, and love and fear of G-d. (Hilchot Mezuza 5:4; see Kessef Mishnah, ad loc.).
Still, if someone heard that through the merit of the mezuzah one has angels guarding over him, he is not entirely in error, but he has missed the main point. Rambam therefore writes, at the end of Hilchot Mezuza: “One has to be cautious to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah, because all Jews are constantly obligated in this mitzvah. It is an all-encompassing, permanent mitzvah. Every time someone enters or leaves a room, he encounters the Oneness of the Holy One Blessed-Be-He.” Every moment one will recall that Hashem is One. “He will recall his love for G-d, and will wake up from his somnolent preoccupation with temporal vanities, and he will realize that nothing lasts forever but the knowledge of G-d.” All worldly matters are transient, but knowing G-d and clinging to G-d and to His traits is eternal, and gives man a foothold in the World-to-Come. Seeing the mezuzah, “one immediately is aroused to return to the upright path.” The mezuzah serves to remind us of what we are and what lives mean.
Our sages of the Mishnah taught, “When someone has tefillin on his head and arm, and tzitzit on his garb and a mezuzah on his door, that ensures him against sin, for he has many reminders.” These are constant mitzvoth that a person sees every moment. Rambam concludes:
“THESE are the angels that save a person from sinning, as it says, ‘The angel of the L-rd encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:8).” (Hilchot Mezuzah 6:13). These mitzvoth save us from sin and give us a foothold on eternity, here in this world.
“Blessed be our G-d, who created us for His glory, setting us apart from those that stray. He gave us a Torah of truth, and planted eternity in our midst” (U’va LeTziyon)

Rabbi Eyal Vered

The central mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the Shofar. Although this mitzvah is decreed by the Torah (Leviticus 23:24), Rambam offered a further allusion, saying, “Awaken, sleepers from your sleep, and slumberers from your slumber!

Improve [shifru] your deeds!” We, as well, shall follow in his footsteps and try to find in the details regarding shofar, allusions to man’s service on Rosh Hashanah.

As is well-known, there is no mitzvah to blow a shofar, but only to hear it. On the Day of Judgment, a man is required to LISTEN. All year long the mouth doesn’t stop talking, until we sometimes forget, through so much talk, that man’s main task is to listen – active listening, constructive listening, the sort that enables one to absorb exalted matters and to internalize them. Reality has its own voice. We need only listen. We need only open up to the voice of G-d knocking on the door of man’s heart and calling on him to return to his life and to the life of his soul.

The origin of sin involves man being frightened by G-d’s voice instead of letting it give him life: “Adam said, ‘I heard your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). Hence, in order not to hear this voice which demands of man the primal question, “Where are you?” man creates an unceasing babble of noise throughout the year. We therefore have this day, in which the shofar blast creates listening: “He shall blow the great shofar and the delicate sound of silence shall be heard” (Rosh Hashanah prayers). Here it becomes clear that only by way of silence can G-d be heard. The shofar helps us to understand that our chief task is to listen to G-d’s word and to the divine reality that is revealed to us, in our souls, in space and in time.

The Bent Shofar
Jewish law requires that the shofar be bent, an allusion to us that we must bend our hearts in submission. A person arrives at the day of judgment loaded down with an entire year of arrogance. He is proud of how much he has accomplished during the past year, and he credits himself for it. Yet one cannot approach the King in such a state, for such a person cannot accept anyone else as master. Arrogance is a curtain that cuts us off from G-d, as our sages said, “If someone is arrogant, G-d and he cannot coexist together.” To coexist with G-d we must bend ourselves to submit… “Bending the heart” means developing great humility, thereby making clear to us that we are not setting out to ask G-d for something in exchange for this or that deed which we accomplished. Quite the contrary, we approach G-d as paupers, citing only our descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Full of abject humility, we understand that it is a free gift that we are seeking.

The Simple Tekiah Blast
The basic unprocessed sound that emerges from the inner depths of man is simple and uncomplicated. It expresses man’s simple longing to be close to G-d, to be upright and good in his actions, without calculations of profit and honor, with closeness to G-d being the most appropriate thing for man, and his greatest source of joy.
Before the other sounds of the shofar complicates matters, the shevarim and teruah with their emotional crises, one must remember what the starting point is. The foundation is simplicity. From there it all begins and to there it all returns. We therefore start with the tekiah.

Now comes the time to take a look at our present situation and to see just how fragmented it is. The result is not a simple sound, but a broken one, representing crisis. Life is divided up into different segments. We pray, we eat, we study Torah, we engage in mundane affairs, and generally we do not see the connection between these elements.
Yet life is actually simple and contiguous. Holiness is not confined to one corner or another, but bursts forth from everything man does. This is our primary level, and to that level we shall return. G-d says, “In the past I gave you Torah, and in the future I shall give you life.” Yet in the meantime, we are in a situation of fracture, of discontinuity, of dissonance between matter and spirit, the soul and the body. Each of these pulls in its own direction, and we have to create peace between the warring parties.
This is an illness over which we should be moaning, just as a sick person moans from deep in his heart over his plight. We should moan over the simplicity lost to us, over the sophistication and superficial luster that inundate our lives, over our terrible breakdown when we all chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, the tree of complex awareness, when we followed the advice of the serpent, so sly that he offered us illusory sophistication. We should instead have kept eating from the Tree of Life, from life itself, which sings out G-d’s glory in so simple and clear a manner, without any need of clever explanations.

The word “teruah” carries an allusion to the words, “Awaken [uru] sleepers, from your sleep.” The five Hebrew letters of “teruah” also spell out “erut Hashem” – “awakening by G-d”. In Parashat Bereshit we learn that G-d placed Adam in a deep sleep. NOWHERE DOES IT SAY THAT HE AWOKE. We are asleep, and we have a duty to awaken. The main lesson to be learned is that it is possible to awaken! What sometimes seems like such deep sleep can be transformed into a great awakening. We are the “people familiar with the teruah” (Psalm 89:16). We know the secret of awakening. “I am asleep but my heart is awake” (Song of Songs 5:2). The teruah serves to teach us: “You have it in your power to limit the gaps, to bring them closer together, to turn your lives into a contiguous, uniform whole, almost perfect like the tekiah with which we started. Do not despair! Awaken! Rejoice! Rediscover the light of G-d that fills up all the universes and sustains them. Crown G-d King over yourselves and over the entire world! Make it known to all that the world is not pandemonium, that the Divine Presence shall one day be revealed once more. Awaken and sing! G-d’s glory is to you revealed!

The Tekiah after Each Group
This second tekiah is entirely addressed to the great future that awaits us. We have not despaired of hoping for it. We stand at Rosh Hashanah and we proclaim that the end of this process will come when we once more hear the contiguous, rather than broken, shofar blast, the sound of the great shofar that will be blown and that will restore all to its original state; that will reconcile sons to their fathers and fathers to their sons; that will return sons to their borders, and the Divine Presence to its abode: “On that day, a great horn shall be blown; and all those lost in Assyria and dispersed in Egypt shall come; and they shall worship the L-rd on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13). All the various dispersed Jews in the various Egypts will emerge to eternal freedom. The world will become, once more, a world of spiritual listening. Hearing will be the chief thing, and not speech. Then even the King will be happy to hear us, saying, “Let Me hear your voice, for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is comely” (Song of Songs 2:14).

Translation: R. Blumberg

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