From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“When we seek something in our prayers, we have to make certain our ultimate intent is for G-d to remove evil and darkness from the world and increase the goodness and light associated with lives of perfection and holiness. When people lead such lives, not just one lack is filled, but all needs are met and everything flawed is rendered whole. Deep within our souls we long precisely for this perfection” (Olat Re’iyah 1:16)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
The Holiness of Time and the Holiness of Man
The first mitzvah commanded to Israel was to establish a Jewish calendar, as it says, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you” (Exodus 12:2). It is true that time is something that cannot be touched the way a place can, yet our very existence is found within time, just as man, created in G-d’s image, is found in this world.
Time is the order of man’s life in this world. Man’s existence is linked to time and place. There are steps in time, in place and in man. It is Israel who sanctify time, as in our blessing G-d who “sanctifies Israel and time” (Festival Shemoneh Esreh). In other words, Israel uncover the divine content of time, they invest value and content in time and in man’s reality in the world, by dint of G-d’s revealing himself to them. Israel uncover man’s holiness in the world (see “Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda on Shemot, page 132).
Today, our generation has a great need to discover and to strengthen the holiness of time, place and man. They have to separate and distinguish between “the holy and the profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between Shabbat and the six days of work” (Havdalah).
The materialistic worldview blurs the holiness of time, space and man. This worldview leads one to think that all times are equal. The sun rises on Shabbat and festivals precisely the way it rises on weekdays. Therefore, there is not, so to speak, any difference between them. There is no Shabbat, no festival, and no intermediate days within the festivals.
The world is round. Therefore, every place on the face of the earth is equal. Seemingly there is no difference between Eretz Yisrael and the rest of the lands, between Jerusalem and the other cities in the world. This outlook leads us to concede parts of our holy land to the Arabs, G-d forbid. For people with this outlook, there is no difference between the Jewish People and other nations. Therefore, they permit themselves mix marriages and assimilation amongst the nations.
How fortunate we are that we merit to sanctify time. How fortunate we are that G-d chose us from amongst all the nations and gave us our Torah. How fortunate we are that are regaining Eretz Yisrael and Zion. “For the L-rd chose Zion. He desired it as His abode… The L-rd will not abandon His people, neither will He leave His inheritance” (Yehi Kavod). Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
Question: It seems like there are Rabbinic decrees that are no longer relevant, and their rationale has already ceased to hold true. For example, “Mayim Acharonim”, washing one’s hands ritually at the end of the meal, was enacted due to the prevalence of Sodom Salt, which could cause blindness. Yet that salt no longer prevalent. So why continue washing “mayim acharonim”?
Answer: Indeed, sometimes there is a Rabbinic decree whose status as binding depends on its rationale continuing to hold true. Regarding Mayim Acharonim, Tosafot (Berachot 52) wrote, “We, however, amongst whom Sodom salt is uncommon, are unaccustomed to washing after the meal,” and the Shulchan Aruch wrote the same thing (Orach Chaim 181:10).
We have a rule that if our sages enacted a decree based on a vote in which the majority quorum prevailed, then even if the rationale behind it has ceased to apply, it still requires a majority quorum of sages to nullify it, and it does not become null by itself (Beitza 5a). Yet if, a priori, the decree was only enacted in specific locales where the reason for the decree is relevant, then even in a place where that decree was enacted, if the rationale disappears, the decree becomes null by itself. Pri Chadash therefore wrote that we are unaccustomed to washing mayim acharonim after the meal, for Sodom salt is not common amongst us. Even lthough it was originally enacted by a majority quorum, another majority quorum is not required to nullify it, because Sodom salt is not common everywhere, but only around Sodom, and the original decree was only meant to apply in a place where the danger was present (Yoreh Deah 116:1).
All the same, many of the Acharonim hold that even in our own times we should wash mayim acharonim, because another reason applies, that “dirty hands disqualify one from reciting a blessing… ‘Be holy’ (Leviticus 19:2) – this teaches us about mayim acharonim” (Berachot 53a). This law applies, obviously, not just regarding the blessing after meals, but regarding someone who eats a piece of fruit at the end of the meal and recites a blessing before it, and his hands aren’t clean (Orach Chaim 181, Mishnah Berurah 23).
Yet there are people who eat with a fork and knife and do not touch their food. According to what precedes, they should not have to wash mayim acharonim (Responsa Mor U’Ktzia). Yet the acharonim still reinforced this ordinance, mentioning that there is also a rationale based on “nistar”, the mystical, mentioned in the Zohar (quoted in Orach Chaim 181, Mishnah Berurah 22, in the name of many poskim). In other words, when our sages enact an ordinance or a decree, they do not always reveal all their reasons. Yet if someone refuses to conduct himself according to nistar, arguing that laws based on the secrets of the Torah do not bind him, we can argue against him by saying “lo plug” – we don’t distinguish between different types of rationales. Or, in modern terms, we “generalize”. When our sages enacted a decree, they did not wish to go into infinite detail about when it is binding and when not. Rather, they fixed simple rules in order not to confuse people with complex deliberations about every case. It is true that according to this an enactment will probably apply even in cases where it is irrelevant, yet that is a negligible burden compared to the need to judge each instance per se. We shouldn’t have to make certain in each instance whether or not the ingredients of the salt have changed, or especially, to examine to see if our hands are clean or not, including the question of just how clean our hands have to be. This way, we don’t have to sit at the end of every meal pondering our fingers.
Moreover, Rambam explains that the same rule applies regarding Torah law as well. The Torah, itself, has a general situation in mind, and not exceptions, and we cannot make the Torah fit every individual in accordance with the data applying to him. Otherwise, “the Torah would be given over to measurements” (Shabbat 35b), it would be only relatively and not absolutely binding. We cannot make mitzvoth suit the changes undergone by individuals and the times the way medicine does. Rather, the Torah’s laws must be absolute and far-reaching. As it says, “There shall be one law for the entire congregation” (Numbers 15:15; Guide to the Perplexed III:34). Rabbi Shem Tov ben Shem Tov in his commentary there states that the same applies regarding the laws of nature. For example, Rain represents an enormous kindness for the human race, but sometimes too much rain can cause damage. G-d’s calculation relates to people in the aggregate and not to the individual, and out of this calculation the individual benefits as well – even if sometimes it hurts him.
Rabbi Yaakov Filber
“Leadership: Central Component of Redemption”
Even though the redemption from Egypt was miraculous, G-d was careful to ensure that it involved human activity as well. G-d could have taken the Jews out of Egypt without man’s having to do anything, as happened when Israel were faced with an attack by the Assyrians. As it says, “An angel of the L-rd went forth and smote the Assyrian camp, killing 185,000” (II Kings 19:35). II Chronicles 32:21 adds, “The L-rd sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains, in the camp of the King of Assyria. So he returned shamefaced to his own land.”
All the same, the leader remains an important component in the redemption process. In our own day, one of the most pressing problems is the lack of leadership, such that the Jewish People right now are really like a flock without any leader.
Moses was an example of the perfect Jewish leader. When the Torah describes Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses in the bulrushes, it calls Moses a “na’ar”, literally a “lad” (Exodus 2:6). The word na’ar is composed of three Hebrew letters, nun, ayin and resh. Our sages say the word “na’ar” here is a mnemonic for three qualities possessed by Moses. Moses had integrity [Hebrew “ne’eman”, starting with a nun); “humble” [“anav”, starting with an ayin]; and a shepherd [“ro’eh”, starting with a resh].
An “anav” is a person who doesn’t think about himself, but negates himself before others. We see Moses’s humility already at the start of his path, as a prince living in Pharaoh’s palace, enjoying all the luxuries of life. Despite these circumstances, he gave up his status and went out to his brothers, not as a tourist looking in from the side at what was happening, but as someone who was there to lend a hand to his persecuted brethren to the point of being ready to endanger his own life. In the end, he was forced to flee from Egypt, and to seek out a foreign, distant land.
By the same token, Moses had integrity. A leader’s integrity does not stop at his being cautious not to throw around promises he cannot keep, lest he say one thing today and do the opposite tomorrow. It does not stop with his claiming that what he sees from the position of leader cannot be seen by those not in that position. A leader’s integrity also includes his not trampling those who stand in his path, impeding his personal advancement. We see Moses’s integrity when he refuses to accept the leadership role at the expense of his brother Aaron. As the Midrash explains:
“Do you think that what held Moses back was that he was afraid of being leader? That is not the case. Rather, he was showing honor to Aaron. Moses said, ‘Before I came along, my brother Aaron was the prophet ruling the Israelites in Egypt for eighty years. Shall I now impinge on his territory as competition?’ That is why he did not wish to accept the position.” (Tanchuma Shemot 27).
Moses demonstrates still another type of integrity when G-d suggests that He destroy the Jewish People and make Moses into a great nation instead of them. By this, G-d actually wished to have Moses replace Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to start from Moses in establishing a new nation, with Moses as its father. Yet Moses rejected this offer and entreated G-d, “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Your servants” (Exodus 32:13). He was ready to forego his share in the World-to-Come for Israel’s sake, as in his request of G-d, “Blot me out of Your book” (32:32), G-d’s “book” being Eternity.
As for the trait of the true shepherd, G-d saw this in Moses when he was shepherding and a kid fled from him. Moses pursued the kid and found it drinking. Moses said, “I didn’t realize that you ran away because you were thirsty and tired.” Moses put it on his shoulders. G-d then said, “You possess the mercy to rule over the flocks of mortal man. I swear that you shall rule over My own flocks, Israel.” (Shemot Rabbah 2).
In the Talmud (Berachot 28a), Rabbi Yehoshua says to Rabban Gamliel, “Woe to the generation of which you are its leader, woe to the ship of which you are its captain! Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains in his book “Ein Aya” the difference between a leader [Hebrew “parnas”] and a captain [“kabernit”]. A parnas is responsible to listen to the problems of individuals and to satisfy their needs. The word “parnas” is related to “parnasah”, connoting the personal needs of every individual. By contrast, the ship captain does not get down into the details. He worries about the ship’s general welfare. He must bring it from its point of origin to its destination. He needn’t be aware of the personal needs of each and every passenger.
Rav Kook explains that the true leader of the Jewish People is one who knows how to synthesize these two types of leadership. He must both worry about the needs and concerns of the individual and also must know how to forge a general leadership policy that will provide solutions for the general needs of the entire population.
Moses had both of these talents. It thus says, “Moses went out to his brethren and he saw their suffering” (Exodus 2:11). According to the Midrash, Moses experienced two types of seeing here, that of the parnas and that of the kabernit. The Midrash teaches (Vayikra Rabbah 37):
“Moses saw large people carrying small burdens and small people carrying large burdens, men carrying women’s burdens and women carrying men’s, the elderly carrying burdens suited to the young and the young carrying burdens suited to the elderly. He went around switching their burdens.”
This was Moses filling the role of the “parnas,” dealing with the needs of the individual. At the same time, he also concerned himself with the needs of the people as a whole:
“He saw that the people had no rest, and he said to Pharaoh, ‘If someone has a slave and that slave does not rest one day a week, he will die. If you do not let your slaves rest one day a week, they will die too.’ Pharaoh responded, ‘Go arrange things for them as you say.’ Moses went and established the Sabbath day for them to rest.”
Translation: R. Blumberg
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