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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“The turbid, stormy waters of secularity roar and foam, as they seek to swallow up all that is sacred. In their quaking enormity, they inundate nations and peoples, but the strength of Israel shall never founder.” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 150)
In last week’s leaflet, in my translation of Rav Aviner’s article, my accidental use of the word “me” instead of “him” gave the impression that victims of abuse themselves bear some responsibility for what happens to them. This was a serious error on my part and certainly was not the intent of Rav Aviner’s article. I apologize to Rav Aviner and to readers who may have been hurt or misled. Raphael Blumberg – Translator
Be sure to catch Rabbi David Samson’s weekly Torah insight on “Israeli Salad” at www.israelnntv.com (produced in cooperation with Machon Meir).
Rabbi Dov Begon – Founder and Head of the Machon
Message for Today: “Increase Light!”
We customarily read the episodes about Joseph on the Shabbat that falls out on Chanukah, and that is no coincidence. The miracles performed for Joseph were akin to those performed for Israel during the Second Temple Period. Joseph was thrown into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, and he was saved. He lived in Egypt among corrupt people who were at the bottom of the forty-nine rungs of impurity – yet he remained righteous. He was in prison, and he rose to greatness, even becoming viceroy of Egypt.
In the same way, Israel, during the Second Temple Period were ruled over by the Greeks. They had no political independence. The Greeks and the Jewish Hellenists longed to swallow up Israel within the Greek Empire, to blur their Jewish identity and to make them forget their holy Torah and its mitzvot. Israel was like a person sitting in a dark pit, with snakes and scorpions all around him. Yet a miracle was performed, and the Hasmoneans defeated the Greeks. The few vanquished the many and the weak vanquished the strong. At the end of the war they lit the menorah in the Temple, thereby demonstrating for all to see that they had emerged from darkness to light. And the light of Israel continues to shine forth from Jerusalem.
Today, we are grateful not just for the miracles performed for us in those times, but also for those performed for us now. We have to open our spiritual eyes and see how G-d performs miracles for us, and how He brings salvation and comfort. After two thousand years, we have emerged from the “pit” of the dark exile, which was full of snakes and scorpions. The Jewish People lives on despite countless attempts by the nations of the world and their religions to bite and sting us, to poison the nation’s soul.
And just like Joseph, we climbed out of a deep pit and ascended to a high roof, from Holocaust to Rebirth, from a poor country, governed by austerity at its creation, to a country that by the world’s standards is economically and militarily strong. Yet it is not enough to be strong economically and militarily. We have a duty to become stronger from a spiritual and moral standpoint, for “where there is no vision the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18).
Certainly we have faith in the eternity of Israel. No effort will succeed in blurring our identity, uniqueness and purpose as an eternal people intent on bringing light to the world. They will not succeed in extinguishing the lamp of Israel. Yet our own duty is to increase the light, the light of Torah, the light of love, the light of faith. We have to learn to recognize our identity and destiny down through the generations and especially at this moment. By such means we will be privileged in our day to see a new light shine over Zion!
Write a letter of support to Jonathan Pollard, in jail for 20 years because of his love for the Jewish People and our Land! Address letters to:
Jonathan Pollard # 09185-016
FCI Butner Medium
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Butner, NC 27509 (USA)
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“I Met a Japanese Man”
The bus was late in arriving at the Bet Shean bus station, and the Japanese man sitting by me found in me someone he could talk to. This is a true story from when I was a member of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Bet Shean Valley. The story happened forty years ago, but the conversation is still etched in my memory:
“What are you doing in Israel?” I asked him.
I’ve come to study Hebrew.
“And why do you need Hebrew?”
To study the Bible.
“There’s no Japanese translation of the Bible?”
There is, but in Japanese it’s just not the same. I’ve got tefillin, too, he said.
“What are you doing with tefillin?”
I put them on. What else does one do with tefillin?
“But why do you put them on?”
Because the Bible says you should!
“What? Everything written in the Bible you fulfill?”
Why not? Why else was it put in writing?
“You’re right,” I thought to myself. “Do you have a tallit [prayer shawl]?”
“In Japan you make a succah and eat matza?”
“Where do you get matza from?”
I order it by mail! – He looked at me like I was some primitive creature.
“Do you keep Shabbat [the Sabbath]?”
Of course I do!
“Where are you staying?”
“Does anyone else there keep Shabbat?”
No, I am the only one there.
“On Shabbat, what do you do all day?”
I wear my tallit and I pray and study Bible.
“Are you Jewish?” Finally I asked the “big” question.
“The Bible doesn’t say one should be Jewish?”
No! he answered innocently.
He’s right! Nowhere does it say, “G-d spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and tell that you must be Jewish!’” The Torah, to begin with, was given to Jews. That same friendly Japanese, of the Makoiah Sect, is rewarded for mitzvah performance. It is not the reward of one who does mitzvot after being commanded to do them, but the reward of one who does them without having been commanded (except for Shabbat and tefillin – Rambam Melachim 10:9-10; Radbaz). Yet he is not a Jew. By contrast, the members of Kibbutz Hefziba, who do not keep Shabbat, are Jews.
One is not a Jew because he keeps mitzvot. Rather, one keeps mitzvot because he is a Jew. The Jewish People were chosen as G-d’s people before they kept mitzvot. Yet once G-d chose them, He gave them mitzvot because of His love for them (Rambam, Hilchot Avoda Zara, at the end of Chapter 1). The mitzvot do not create our nature. They reveal it.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook taught us that before we learn Torah the blessing we recite does not praise G-d for having “given us His Torah and chosen us from all peoples.” If we said that it would sound as though our entire worth derives from our mitzvah observance, such that if G-d forbid, we stopped keeping the mitzvot, we would no longer be G-d’s people. That, in fact, is a major principle of Christian theology. Rather, what we say is, “Blessed are You… who chose us from all peoples and gave us His Torah.” Since we are G-d’s special people, a nation of priests and a holy people, G-d therefore gives us His Torah.
G-d does not love us because we keep His mitzvot. Rather, He gives us His Torah because He loves us: “With great love did You love us… Inspire us to understand and discern, to perceive, learn and teach, to observe, do and fulfill gladly all the teachings of Your Torah” (blessings before the Shema).
I heard the following definition: “We don’t go from the Torah to Israel, but from Israel to the Torah.” And I heard this: “The Baal Shem Tov hugs every Jew because he sees in him one letter of the Torah. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda learns Torah because he sees in every letter of it a spark of the Jewish soul.” Obviously, there is no contradiction. Recently, such a message has really been needed. If the path to the Jewish People is blocked, the path to the Torah is blocked. If the path to part of the Jewish People is blocked, the path to part of the Torah is blocked. Sometimes we are angry. Sometimes we don’t forget. Sometimes we don’t forgive. Yet we still love. We are still one people. We are together. We are all in the same boat, on the same platform. Jews must love each other – that’s the ABC of Judaism. The real mother doesn’t say, “Cut the baby in half.” It’s the heart of the matter – believing in the people. It’s the heart – escaping from all divisiveness as from fire. Divisiveness is the greatest danger. Arguments amongst ourselves for all the world to see are an enormous profanation of G-d’s name (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 451-452). We have to learn from history that the Second Temple’s Destruction occurred because of groundless hatred. Thank G-d, a new situation has been created of “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the Land” (I Chronicles 17:21). We have to preserve that status from all threats.
Don’t forget, we have terrible enemies from without and from within, and weapons don’t suffice to vanquish them. Rather, we need a fighting spirit drawing on the unity that soldiers feel for one another. I am not saying that loving our fellow Jew is just a means to make our country stronger. It is a lofty, independent ideal. In addition, all the blessings we have depend on it. The divisiveness amongst our people is just an optical illusion that makes us focus on the small details while ignoring the main point, and the main point is that G-d dwells amongst us, even when we are full of shortcomings. G-d “remains with the Israelites even when they are impure” (Leviticus 16:16). If one cuts himself off from the people, he cuts himself off from the Divine Presence (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk; see Olat Re’iyah 2:468).
This is the call of the hour: Let us return to our People!
Rabbi Elisha Aviner – Education Corner
“Teens and Growing Up” (Part 4)
During the teen years, social life becomes central to the adolescent. He spends a lot more time with his friends. Being with them is important to him. If he is in a youth group, that is all he thinks about. He will spend hours there, won’t miss any activities, and when the activities are over, he will spend long hours with his youth group buddies.
This is typical of adolescence. The teen is no longer fully attached to his parents. His connection to the family unit is weakened. He (partially) separates himself emotionally from his parents and seeks an alternative. That alternative is his peers. He shares his experiences with them, and with their help he tests his own thinking, his reactions to what happens to him and to what happens around him. He tells them his feelings on personal matters (regarding faith, family, school and friendship), and on matters that are part of the public agenda, and he waits to see if they support him or reject what he says. His friends’ reactions serve as a yardstick for what is desirable and what is undesirable, what is right and what is wrong.
Friends fill yet another role as well. After a teen’s attachment to his parents weakens, his friends provide him with the security he needs. Within the group he feels safe. His friends are not demanding. They are much more tolerant of his mistakes. They accept him the way he is, and during the teen years that is what he is looking for. If a boy has no sympathetic ear at home, if his family does not appreciate him enough (even if it just seems that way to him), if he does not receive support from his parents for his path, he will replace his home with his friends. His home will become nothing more than a boarding house. He will carry on emotional communication with his friends and not with his parents.
It is customary to say that parents are not “guilty” for everything that is happening with their son, that they don’t necessarily bear responsibility for the way of life he has chosen. He has free choice and personal independence. All this is true. Yet if the boy finds no sympathetic ear at home and flees to his contemporaries, then a large part of the responsibility for this lies with the parents.
There is a tendency amongst teens to cling to ideologically extreme positions and even to join extremist groups. That is no accident. In an effort to cut themselves off from the family unit and to liberate themselves from their natural attraction to their parents they pull themselves strongly in the opposite direction. Likewise, they seek to fashion their personalities. The teen prefers unequivocal, black-and-white positions that seem more solid than others in his effort to crystallize a clear, strong personality. The parents’ job is to balance, to soften, to point out the complexities of life and the complexity of ideas. Complexity is not the same as confusion, nor the same as doubt. Even in complex situations one can reach a conclusion, but first you need the complexity. An extremist ideology is one that ignores the different sides of reality or of the world of the spirit. It constitutes a one-sided perspective.
When teens advocate extremist positions, it is wrong to smash their beliefs or to disprove them totally. Frontal ideological clashes with teens will generally not reap the desired results. The teen is liable to react by further entrenchment in his position. He will not retreat or cast off his beliefs, because he views his loyalty to his beliefs as an expression of his spiritual independence and his personal identity.
Thus, the proper approach is to avoid brutally attacking their extremist stands. Rather, one should discuss their views with them with the goal of moderating, balancing and softening those views. One should point out what is lacking in their spiritual worldview and one should fill in the parts that are missing. (to be continued…)
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