From the World of Rabbi Kook
“When a person diminishes himself and is filled with humility, he draws nearer to his essence and the crux of his soul is revealed to him in all its glory. From its reflection he sees all the heavenly majesty in the depths of his own infinitely great soul.” (Erpalei Tohar 125)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Founder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Israel and Ishmael”
Before Ishmael is born, the angel tells Hagar, “You are pregnant and will give birth to a son. You must name him Ishmael, for God has heard your prayer. He will be a rebel. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him” (Genesis 16:11-12). Rashi comments, “‘His hand will be against everyone’: He will be a bandit. ‘Everyone’s hand will be against him’: Everyone will hate him and provoke him.” Sure enough, following his birth, Sarah discerned that he was a violent, dangerous boy: “But Sarah saw the son that Hagar had born to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac’” (21:9-10).
He would argue with Isaac over the inheritance. They would go out into the field and he would take his bow and shoot arrows at Isaac (see Rashi, ibid.). Abraham heeded Sarah’s voice and sent Ishmael out of Eretz Yisrael during his own lifetime: “To the sons of the concubines that he had taken, Abraham [also] gave gifts. Then, while he was still alive, he sent them to the country of the East, away from his son Isaac…. Ishmael lived in the area from Havilah to Shur (which borders on Egypt), all the way to Assyria. He overran all his brethren” (25:6,18).
It is true that Ishmael ultimately repented at Abraham’s funeral, as it says, “His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in Machpelah Cave” (verse 9). We see that here Ishmael “placed Isaac before him” (Rashi), i.e., he showed him respect. Yet following the funeral he slid back from his repentance. Verse 25:18 can be rendered, “Before all his brothers [i.e., after his father’s passing], he fell” (Rashi).
Today, Ishmael’s relationship to Israel since the times of the Patriarchs has not changed. He still has the same ambitions about stealthily and violently robbing Eretz Yisrael from the Jewish People, employing the false claim that this land, so to speak, belongs to Abraham’s two sons. Today, the Arabs do the same thing. Some of them say, “It is all ours.” Others, for tactical reasons, say “Part of it is ours.” To our great misfortune, we have amongst us people of little intellect and faith. The Ishmaelites have succeeded in convincing those people to believe their false claim that the land of our life’s blood belongs to the Arabs as well, G-d forbid.
The Christian world as well, headed by American President Bush, thinks that Eretz Yisrael belongs also to the Arabs. It is all because they lack the understanding and knowledge possessed by Sarah and Abraham, that Eretz Yisrael is the holiest place on earth. This is the land that G-d chose for bringing light and goodness to all mankind by way of the Jewish People. Israel are G-d’s Special People, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, chosen by G-d to be the heart of mankind, and a brain for the whole world (Kuzari 2). It is forbidden for a foreign people to rule over them, especially one who from creation are rebels, whose hand is against everyone and everyone’s hand is against them.
The meaning of establishing a state for the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael, G-d forbid, is to let murderous terror triumph. It is to encourage the violence and evil spirit from which mankind, and ourselves in particular, are suffering today. Quite the contrary, we believe that the Arabs have to repent, and we look forward to their doing so. They have to honor the Jewish People and the State of Israel, and they have to admire and be grateful for the goodness we bring them. They also have to recognize our exclusive right to Eretz Yisrael. By such means we will be privileged to see with our own eyes the fulfillment of the prophetic vision, “They shall break their swords into plowshares…Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any longer” (Isaiah 2:4). Looking forward to complete salvation,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
We have to do some soul-searching following the terrible expulsion. Soul-searching need not be negative. It can also be positive. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote that throughout the exile, the Rabbis would customarily rebuke the Jewish People harshly for their sins, sometimes weeping as they did so. Yet the time has now arrived to tell of Israel’s praise and to reveal their glorious side (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 279).
Therefore, I now stand humbly and reverently before the National Religious community that passed with flying colors the awful test of the expulsion from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. They behaved without violence, but with remarkable gentleness. For that matter, this is something else that Rabbi Kook explained in that same article, “Nechamat Yisrael.” There he said that the cause of the exile was the corrupt behavior of man to his fellow man, which prevented the Jewish State from functioning properly. And if we are now returning to our Land, in accordance with a divine mandate, it is a sign that we have already been largely cured of this illness (ibid., 281). When all is said and done, the most important thing is a good heart.
Yet when does the test come of whether a man is truly good-hearted? It happens in hard times, times of crisis. For an entire year the media harshly defamed the people of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria as being violent, and they predicted incessantly that much blood would be shed. The people there were both expelled and defamed. Now, every politician and newsman who predicted a bloodbath must approach the people expelled and beg forgiveness so that his sin can be forgiven.
It is true that among the opponents to the expulsion people sometimes expressed themselves in a worrisome manner. To this we have to provide two responses: First of all, a minuscule percentage was involved, hence it is dishonest to generalize. Such generalizations, after all, were employed by anti-Semites throughout the exile. Surely there are exceptions within every society. Second of all, it turned out that those people being defined as violent really are not violent at all. Rather, they chiefly express themselves in a violent style. They shout insults and damage property, yet they are gentle people who would not hurt another human being. And once again, we are not talking about exceptions who actually indicate something about the majority. The ones who are really violent are our prime minister and those who voted with him in the cabinet and the Knesset to destroy in several days the toil of generations, and to throw people into the street without an appropriate housing solution, without work, without a supportive community and without an educational framework for the children. Compared to that violence, even the harsh expressions heard from our youth, expressions with which I humbly differ, are like a drop in the bucket.
We have to wonder how we attained this remarkable achievement before which even our opponents lower their heads. Yet the answer is simple: We emerged victorious by dint of forty years of education! By contrast, half a year of training has succeeded in rendering many soldiers insensitive. The government has behaved in a shameful manner. Those soldiers knew the truth, but they were trained not to feel anything. When they awaken from the training and relive the difficult scenes in which they were participants, they will undergo a terrible crisis.
All of the media’s threats proved to be nonsense. The fact that no one was hurt was thanks to us, and thanks to our education, and we have to be proud of that. Obviously, we mustn’t fall asleep, for sin crouches at the door. Every good trait is liable to become worn. Adam was placed in Eden “to work it and to preserve it” (Genesis 2:15). We have to work hard in order to achieve good traits, and we have to preserve those traits so we do not lose them. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto teaches us that how to acquire good traits, and he also describes the factors that destroy those good traits and how we can work against those factors. I am afraid that difficult times await us in the nation, days of tension and of public struggles. Therefore, we must preserve that same gentleness lest it be eroded. This is no easy task. The Rabbis’ constant call to avoid violence was not because they feared that the public was violent, but precisely because they knew them to be gentle. After all, if someone is violent, it won’t help to arouse him to be gentle. People don’t become gentle based on several warnings by rabbis. Rather, it involves a long educational process of many years. All the rabbis’ warnings were in line with the principle that “one should only rebuke those capable of listening.” Yet as noted above, we have to be careful, for even a person on the highest spiritual level can fall. Indeed the Torah tells us just this about Adam, and not without reason. All the more that we, who are on an infinitely lower level, must be careful as well.
Truthfully, we must ask how the Prime Minister and other ministers and Knesset members, the nation’s leaders, could destroy, with a flick of the hand, the labor of years. How could they destroy so many families? How did they fall to such a low level as this? The answer is simple: A man has a good impulse and an evil impulse, a divine spirit and a bestial spirit. There is in man the image of G-d, and also a beast. If man is not careful, then the beast within man bursts forth.
As is known, there is a theory in Biology that man is descended from animals. It is hard to prove or disprove this theory. Yet we should not be bothered by what man was in the past, but by what he is in the present. The question is not whether he came from the beasts, but whether he has yet achieved the status of man. It is not scientific theory that worries us, for science is tested by the yardstick of scientific truth. Rather, it is the philosophical ramifications that people want to draw from it. Some have argued: If man is descended from animals, it is good and proper for him to nurture the bestial spirit within him. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains that this theory can be either a life-giving balm, or a fatal poison. It can be used to weaken all the bounds of morality. After all, for a creature who came from beasts, the theory offers more than enough of an excuse to abandon morality. Yet it can also be used as a warning to man: Remember the awful depths you came from! Be careful! You are liable to fall back down there (Orot HaKodesh II:543).
Therefore, we cannot either forgive or forget what the wicked people of the earth did to us. We will long be sunken in deep mourning. The scars will long be painful. We are surely joyful over the triumph of the spirit. We rejoice in our victory over our evil impulse. Yet that does not nullify the terrible destruction, the terrible injustice. We will not take revenge, for we are not vengeful. Surely the Torah states, “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge” (Leviticus 19:18). Yet there are some who hold that one is allowed, and perhaps it is even a mitzvah, to take revenge and to bear a grudge (see Yoma 22b; 23a). We will not refrain from taking revenge or bearing a grudge because it is forbidden, but because we have pity on the purity of our souls. Yet neither will we forgive or forget, and when those perpetrators of injustice receive their punishment, we will know that G-d takes the side of the persecuted.
What I wrote above is harsh, but truth be told, the deeds committed this summer are infinitely worse. We will take pity on our souls and will forever remain gentle in deed, and in our speech as well, even in the heat of the complicated public struggles that await us in the years to come. One might say: “If we act gently and morally we will never vanquish the enormous forces that stand against us.” Yet that is not so. We are familiar with Darwin’s theory that the strongest are the ones that survive. That is the law of natural selection. The fittest survive. The egotist survives. Yet if so, perhaps Darwin can explain the riddle of why the monstrous, petrifying dinosaurs disappeared. Perhaps he can explain the survival of delicate birds, full of maternal compassion for their young. Darwin mentions this question yet he has no answer to it. We say: It is morality that wins out. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk justifies our being allowed to eat meat due to the moral inferiority of the animals. Therefore, if the mother bird defends her young, that represents a sort of moral spark, and we are forbidden from touching that bird due to its maternal emotions (Meshech Chochmah).
We shall continue to fight for our people, our land and our Torah. In parallel, we shall fight for the purity of our souls, and for our gentleness. We especially must not fall prey to the temptations of our bestial spirit disguising itself in the cloak of morality and ideals. Rather, when we identify within ourselves the impulse towards violence, we must admit that it is there and fight it all the way. We must keep our eyes open every day, for the seeds of violence are there within our soul, and the rains of angry public struggles make violence sprout forth like weeds in a field of grain.
To be gentle! To be noble! That is our longing. Or, more precisely, to continue being gentle and noble. Even those whose path in struggling over our land I disagree with, I have to admit are gentle, noble people. I fear myself, as well, lest under momentary stress I will be possessed by the urge towards violence. How fortunate we are that we have been privileged to be born into the Jewish People, who are merciful, shy and kind.
PARASHAT CHAYE SARAH
From the World of Rabbi Kook
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