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Parashat VaYikra


8 Adar B, 5765 March 19, ‘05

This Week’s Insights:

· A Thought from Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, zt”l

· Rabbi Dov Begon, Founder and Head of Machon Meir –

Message for Today: Quite the Contrary – From Perplexity to Joy

· Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim –

A Time to Embrace

· Rabbi Elisha Aviner –

Education Corner: Drawing Near and Thrusting Away– Open Letters to Youth (Part III)

A Thought from Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, zt”l:

“The eternal saying, ‘Go, assemble the Jew,’ has to give us new life once more, and to exalt us from our lowliness.”

(Ma’amarei HaReiyah 155)

Rabbi Dov Begon, Founder and Head of Machon Meir

Message for Today: Quite the Contrary – From Perplexity to Joy

“Reading the Megillah at the right time is a Rabbinic positive precept and all are obligated to read it, even kohanim busy with the Temple service must stop to hear the reading. All mitzvot are delayed in favor of the Megillah reading.” (Rambam, Hilchot Megillah 1:1)

The reason for this obligation is “pirsumei nisa” – publicizing the miracle. We have to learn and remember the miracles performed for the Jews on Purim in those times, but in our own times as well. As we say in the “Al HaNisim” prayer: “We thank G-d for the miracles He performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time.”

What was the essence of the miracle? The nullification of evil Haman’s decree. Haman sought to annihilate all the Jews, and towards that end he bribed Achashverosh with ten thousand silver talents. He succeeded in enlisting the king and the entire legislative system, as well as the empire’s law enforcement agencies towards what became the government’s most important mission – annihilating the Jews. He also prepared a precise timetable, as with any military operation. The law was passed and signed and publicized throughout the country, so there would be no misunderstandings.

“Letters were sent by post into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, slay, and cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to take their spoil.” (Esther 3:13)

“The decree was given out in Shushan the capital, and the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed” (verse 15). The Jews in Shushan were perplexed. They were sorrowful and wept. They did not know what to do to nullify the decree of Haman and the king, while the non-Jews were joyous (see the Targum).

Mordechai’s response to the royal decree was that they mustn’t despair. Quite the contrary, they must operate on several different planes. First of all, they had to pray: “Mordechai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry” (verse 4:1).

Second of all, he demanded of Esther that she influence Achashverosh to nullify the decree. When he sensed that she was avoiding her mission, he castigated her, “If you hold your peace at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows whether you are not come to royal estate for such a time as this?” (4:14).

Esther accepted the mission, taking upon herself the risks. She asked of Mordechai that the Jews should pray and fast for her, saying, “Go, assemble all the Jews in Shushan, and fast for me” (4:16). Indeed, she persuaded Achashverosh to nullify the decree, saying, “How can I endure to see the evil that shall befall my people? How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” (8:6). With G-d’s help, and through the self-sacrifice of Mordechai and Esther, the decree was nullified, and quite the contrary, “the Jews ruled over those that hated them…. and the city of Shushan shouted and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor. (9:1; 8:15-16).

The Purim story is known to all. It repeated itself through the generations, each time in a different garb. In our own time as well, the decrees enacted to uproot Jews from their land and their homes remind us – albeit imprecisely – of the decrees passed against the Jews in former times. And just as the decrees of Achashverosh and Haman were nullified, so may the decrees of the present government be nullified – through the merit of the self-sacrifice of the descendants of Mordechai, the settlers of Judea and Samaria who daily risk their lives for their people and their land, and through the merit of the millions of our people Israel the world over who pour out their hearts like water, praying to G-d in the synagogues and in private for the nullification of the present decree. And through the merit of the rabbis and Torah scholars, almost all of whom everywhere have come out with a loud call against the decrees of Sharon, may those decrees be nullified. And may the Jews have light and gladness and joy and honor.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim

A Time to Embrace

“There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). When things are complicated and tension fills the air, that is a time to embrace. When a child runs amok, cursing and behaving wildly, that is a time to embrace. A time to embrace more and more tightly.

Have you never heard of loving your fellow Jew? Sure you have! Yet you say: “Love your fellow Jew? Of course! But not people like THAT!” If that’s what you say, you haven’t heard a thing! As for those delightful Jews who speak only sweetness and light, I love them even without the Torah commanding it. The verse is intended precisely regarding “people like THAT,” those who dance around the Golden Calf, the Golden Calf of convenience and of the base pleasures of our transient existence.

Precisely when the people danced around the Golden Calf, that was when Moses’s self-sacrifice was revealed, as it says, “Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:32). That “book” is referring to Moses’ portion in the World-to-Come, as Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook explained (Igeret Takanah). In the last year of his life, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would explain this section of the Torah every single Saturday night, and he emphasized that in order to persevere under such circumstances, Moses needed nerves of steel.

His talks constituted a spiritual will and testament instructing us that days would come when we would need nerves of steel to continue loving the Jewish People. And such was his way, that he spoke more and more about loving your fellow Jew, and he explained that learning a section of the Torah a hundred times cannot be compared to learning it a hundred and one times. One disciple, who had already become an important rabbi, asked: “Why do you speak all the time about loving your fellow Jew?” By this he meant, “We understand the point. We’re not stupid.”

In response, Rav Tzvi Yehuda banged on the table, stood up and his voice rang forth: “I shall speak about this constantly! You should be so lucky that a little bit of what I have said should remain with you when the test comes!” The greater the crisis, the greater must be the embrace.

An example: The Altalena episode, when Jews shot at Jews; when Jews killed Jews; when Jews holding weapons meant to serve the country murdered other Jews who likewise were holding weapons meant to serve the country. Nothing could be worse than this! And what did Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook write in response? (in his article “MiMa’amakim”, in LeNitivot Yisrael (I:128):

“Along the path of our ascent, returning to our home, in the course of our redemption, we have fallen to the terrible level of Jew killing Jew, right here in our Land, and for the sake of our land. And if we had to undergo this extraordinary event, surely the point is for us to know and to recognize the value of this suffering for cleansing us.”

After all, temporal culture is built upon heresy and hatred, whereas “Torah is love” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah Ch. 17). Therefore, we have to open up the emergency storehouses of love and brotherhood. “The storehouses of strength of our genuine Jewish unity… shall surely spit out the weakness of heresy and the slackness of hatred.” We shall arouse “the psychological valor of mutual understanding and forgiveness.” “The sanctification of G-d’s name, represented by true brotherhood encompassing us all, will come and sweep up, by way of its powerful purity, all the petty vagueness of hatred.” Now, “the renewal of birth… the great light is shining, which is being renewed over Zion. We shall thus merit the blessing of peace” (Ibid., 128-129).

When tensions rise, don’t be right. Be smart, be loving, and you will thereby be more right than anyone. Rav Tzvi Yehuda was opposed to any clash with the nation. His father, Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, wrote earlier that the greatest profanation of G-d’s name is clashes between brothers (Ma’amarei HaReiyah 365). When the first evacuation of Elon Moreh took place, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda wept, and he explained that he was weeping for two reasons: 1) because Jews were being uprooted from Eretz Yisrael, and because 2) what was happening was causing Jews to quarrel with one another. He was opposed to all the quarrels and to all the tensions. At most, he was prepared to see “small unpleasantnesses,” and only if they occurred amidst a sea of love.

Torah scholars are masters of the hug, especially the greatest scholars amongst them. They strive and toil to preserve the nation’s unity above all else, and they teach us how to struggle over Eretz Yisrael without using force, G-d forbid. We remember how during the terrible evacuation of Yamit, the army flew in two illustrious rabbis of the generation in order to reach our hearts and minds and persuade us not to make war. When the helicopter with the two rabbis was lifting up, two youngsters in whom the hot blood of youth had not yet cooled shouted after them, “Traitors!” Yet those two rabbis certainly were not traitors, G-d forbid, but loving, responsible brilliant masters of the hug. Certainly the youngsters were also masters of the hug, but there are different levels of hugs.

Somebody wrote regarding the sin of the Golden Calf and our own situation: “Don’t commit the sin of Aaron the Kohen Gadol [High Priest], who loved peace and pursued peace.” I therefore reiterate our sages’ declaration: “Be amongst the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow man and bringing him near to the Torah” (Avot 1:12).

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook stressed that our sages did not say, “Love your fellow man so as to bring him near to the Torah,” for that is not love. Rather, one should love him for the sake of loving him. Rav Tzvi Yehuda further stressed: Which fellowman is at issue here? Those already near or those far removed? It would seem to be those far removed, for those already near do not need to be brought near. This teaches that we have to love even those far removed – for the very sake of loving them.

There is a time for love.

Rabbi Elisha Aviner,

Education Corner: Drawing Near and Thrusting Away

– Open Letters to Youth (Part III)

Our sages taught, “Always let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near. Not like Elisha who thrust Gehazi away with both hands, and not like Yehoshua ben Perachiah who thrust one of his disciples away with both hands” (Sotah 87a).

People tend to be totally accepting or totally rejecting of others. Why is this? There are two reasons, one spiritual and one psychological. We reject our fellow man due to the bad in him, and we accept him due to the good in him.

This being the case, the instruction always to let the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near relates to a person who is composed of both good and bad. The good in him arouses affection; the evil in him arouses repulsion. In order to reach a state of “letting the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near,” we must first and foremost recognize that our fellowman is composed of both good and bad, and we must observe both the good and the bad simultaneously. If the good conceals the bad, or the bad conceals the good, that will not be a simple spiritual task.

Even after we have passed the first hurdle and we succeed in seeing both the good and the bad in our fellowman, the second hurdle still remains. And what is that? Simultaneously to draw near and thrust away our fellowman. It is psychologically difficult to incorporate two disparate feelings – closeness and repulsion – at the same time. It is hard to love and to loath, and hard to evince both sympathy and antipathy at once.

Why have I included this introduction? It is because this rule of “letting the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near” was said not just regarding individuals but regarding communities and our entire country. Light and darkness coexist in our country, and we must draw near with our right hand and thrust away with our left. First we must uncover the good and the bad in our country, and then we must draw near the good and thrust away the bad. How does one “thrust away the bad”? Through protest, through public struggle. How to do we “draw near the good”? By admiring it, identifying with it and loving it.

This is all the more relevant in our own times. There is evil, there are weaknesses on a communal level, there are distortions in various spheres. There are weaknesses in the religious realm, there are weaknesses in loyalty to the Land of Israel. We must reject these, turn our backs on them.

Yet there is also good in our country. Ours is a Jewish country which allows every Jew to come live here. It protects us from our enemies. It settles vast expanses of Eretz Yisrael. It transfers monies to yeshivot and builds religious edifices. Some say, “This is not enough. Our country is not settling all of Eretz Yisrael. It isn’t careful to clarify the identity of new immigrants, and it enables numerous non-Jews to infiltrate. It does not sufficiently support yeshivot. It does not fight terror enough.” All that is true. Here we have a classic example of good and bad that obligates us to apply the approach of “letting the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near.”

There is an explicit Mishnah in Tractate Avot 3:2: “Rabbi Chanina the deputy high-priest said, ‘Pray for the welfare of the government, since were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow each other alive.’” The government prevents anarchy. The commentaries remarked that this Mishnah referred to “the welfare of the government” rather than “the welfare of the king” in order to include all sorts of regimes, both monarchies and democracies (see Tiferet Yisrael).

Some say: “Avot 3:2 is referring to a government that operates with honesty and fairness. We must therefore pray for its welfare, since it contains only goodness and light. By contrast, a government of evildoers does not deserve to thrive. Not only must we not pray for its welfare but we must pray for its destruction. We must curse and denigrate it.”

Our sages with their prophetic intuition foresaw that such arguments would be put forth, hence they related to such arguments and rejected them:

“Rabbi Yanai said: Always have the fear of the government upon you… as it says, ‘The hand of the L-rd was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel’ (I Kings 18:46)” (Menachot 98a).

Rashi explains that King Ahab would ride by himself, and that was not befitting the honor due him. Elijah therefore ran before him! Ahab was no great saint. He spread idolatry in Eretz Yisrael and persecuted the prophets. In fact, no king was as evil as he: “Ahab the son of Omri did more evil in the sight of the L-rd that all who preceded him” (I Kings 16:31).

Even so, Elijah treated him with respect, as is befitting a king of Israel. And why did he do so? Because monarchy is vital to Israel. Ahab fought against the enemies of Israel, and was even killed in battle. Elijah uttered sharp, biting criticism against Ahab’s kingdom, yet at the same time he honored him. He followed the rule of “letting the left hand thrust away and the right hand draw near.”

We too must conduct ourselves that way towards our own government. We must fight against the national and religious weaknesses; we must cry out against the moral and social injustices, yet at the same time we must draw near with the right hand. Some say that the right hand is more important that the left, hence drawing near takes precedence over thrusting away.

Let me take this opportunity to praise our marvelous youth, whose love of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish People knows no bounds. Our youth respond to every call on behalf of Eretz Yisrael. They participate in assemblies and demonstrations; they man tents, distribute public relations materials, and are active participants in every important public enterprise. A person is judged in his time of crisis. In this time of crisis, our youth are excelling in their involvement and their volunteerism. Their show of concern is amazing. Whoever said that our youth are apathetic? At this time, when a cloud is darkening the skies of our country, our youth are a ray of light. We draw consolation and hope from them. They are the hope of the future.

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