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PARASHAT BESHALACH

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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“A man without a land is not a man’ (Yevamot 43). This can be expanded to say, ‘A people without a land is not a people.’… The return to our land is the return to our natural home, the place earmarked for Israel from the beginning of Creation… Our sages view ‘planting’ as a symbolic reference to following in G-d’s path. Just as G-d planted trees in Eden as an expression of His connection to the mundane world, so were Israel commanded, upon entering the Land, to begin planting, as a first step, expressing their foothold in the Land” (Be’er Megged Yerechim, Rabbi Uzi Kalchaim, p. 49)


Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:
“Either Way, You Are Sons of The L-rd”
In Egypt there was harsh violence – the violence of Egyptians against Jews, as it says, “When Moses was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor. [One day] he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews” (Exodus 2:11). The Egyptian taskmasters beat the Israelite policemen, as it says, “The Israelite foremen, whom Pharaoh’s administrators had appointed, were flogged” (Exodus 5:14). And even Jews hit Jews: “he saw two Hebrew men fighting. ‘Why are you beating your brother?’ he demanded of the evildoer” (2:13). Rashi comments, “Even though he did not really hit him, he was called an evildoer for raising his hand.”

This terrible situation of violence, gossip and defamation between Jews brought Moses, the faithful shepherd and great lover of Israel, to considerable worry about whether Israel might not be worthy of redemption (see Rashi on Exodus 2:14). Indeed, when G-d asked Moses at the burning bush to take the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses answered, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should remove the Israelites from Egypt?” (3:11). As Rashi comments, Moses was asking himself, “How have the Israelites merited that G-d should perform a miracle for them and that I should take them out of Egypt?” “They won’t believe me and they won’t listen to my voice” (4:1). In response, G-d hints to him that he has spoken evil of Israel. The staff in his hand turns into a snake, for Moses has taken up the craft of snakes, then snake having been the first creature to speak evil. Moreover, his hand was turned snow-white with leprosy, a further allusion to his having gossiped against Israel. The Rabbis said that one who harbors suspicions of those above suspicion will be physically smitten. Israel, despite their low spiritual level and their poor behavior, could not be accused of lacking faith. Faith was imprinted in their souls. The Rabbis called them “believers and the sons of believers” (Shabbat 97a). They inherited this faith generation to generation, and Moses should not have cast aspersions on them.

The Israelites’ verbal and physical violence in Egypt led Moses to suspect them of being unworthy of redemption. For suspecting those above suspicion he was smitten and punished. As stated, the Jewish People are believers and the sons of believers.

Even today, however, to our great chagrin, violence is raising its head. Violence has become our country’s blight, with Jews hitting one another in their anger. Verbal and physical violence can be seen everywhere, in school, on the street, in nightclubs, in sports, within the family, behind closed doors, among the simple people and the elite. Violence is a symptom of a terrible ill – the lack of both patience and tolerance, the lack of love and understanding, and the inability to listen to one’s fellow man. Violence is the result of anger accumulating between people, but all this can be rectified, and it will. We mustn’t give up on the Jewish People despite the terrible, painful situation. This is the same people, with the benevolent soul, that G-d chose – G-d’s special people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We even say this each morning: “My G-d, the soul You gave me is pure.” At the moment we say this, we should think not only about the pure soul that G-d gave us personally, but the soul that He gives every Jew, whoever he may be: “‘You are sons to the L-rd your G-d’ (Deuteronomy 14:1): Whatever you do – even when you are corrupt, you are still called sons of the Living G-d” (Kiddushin 36). Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!


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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Bet El

“What’s Going To Be?”

Question: With all our recent troubles, it’s hard for me to concentrate on anything I do. I am exceedingly worried about the future of our entire land. I am also worried by the state of the Torah in our land. Is there a solution?

Answer: Of course there is a solution, besides the obvious political track. Since we are a country, certainly the political leadership has a big say in matters, but we are not politicians. Even so, we have a main artery for influencing our national lives. The solution is to be found in the brief utterance of our holy sages: “Let a man first take upon himself the yoke of Heaven and after that the yoke of mitzvoth” (Berachot 2:2). Faith precedes observance, and it is the foundation of observance. If I believe in something, I will practice it, and if I believe in the divine holiness of the mitzvoth, I will fulfill them with holy reverence and in joy. If I believe in the deep familial connection between myself and my wife, then I will invest greatly to preserve and strengthen it. And if I believe in the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, I will devote myself to the work. Therefore, the best counsel regarding a solution to the problem of Eretz Yisrael is to fill our people with great faith that this is our land, this is the land of our delight, our holy land. It is this faith which must inform all our actions.

A British philosopher once said, “There is nothing more practical than theory” (G. K. Chesterton). One time, two Israeli generals were talking. One said, “Even the French ultimately had to evacuate Algeria.” The other responded, “You compare our relationship to Judea and Samaria to the relationship of the French to Occupied Algeria!?” “Yes, I do!” he replied. “If so,” said the other, “There is nothing for us to discuss.”

Indeed, this is the ultimate question: Do we believe that Judea and Samaria are ours or not. If not, that’s important for me to know, for every so often I go abroad to speak to the hearts and minds of Jews to convince them to move to Israel. I hate leaving the country, but for such a mitzvah one needs devotion. From now on my work will be easier, much closer to home. I will only have to convince the Jews of Beit El, Ofra and Pesagot – to move to Israel… The truth is that it all depends on faith, for fulfilling the mitzvah of settling the Land constitutes fulfillment of all the mitzvoth.

One time Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the “Chafetz Chaim” was asked: How does it happen that sometimes a person learns many years in yeshiva and then on the day he leaves he throws away his yarmulke? How can one explain such a sudden crisis? He answered with the parable about the Cossack. There was one Cossack who was the epitome of military discipline. At the end of his service, he received a high pension and started spending all his time in pubs, getting drunk. Ultimately one night he was arrested by the police, and spent the night in the lock-up. How did that disciplined soldier become a drunkard? The answer is that even when he was serving, his heart was already in the pub. In the same way, that yeshiva student indeed learned much Torah, but his mind was elsewhere, his heart was elsewhere. His deeds were praiseworthy, but his faith was lacking. He didn’t undergo any crisis. His faith had already been flawed for a long time.

He drew a further parallel to two classes in a school. One was marked by superb orderliness, royal silence, clean notebooks and homework that was always ready. Only one thing was missing: the inner desire to learn and to know. In the adjacent classroom, there was noise and chaos, but the teacher succeeded in igniting in the students the love of knowledge, such that they were poised to go from success to success in their studies, throughout their lives.

In still another parable, two patients arrived at a hospital emergency room, and were examined by the physician on duty. The first patient was covered with blood; the second one was clean and had a normal appearance. Yet precisely for the second patient the physician called in all his entire staff, while sending the second patient to wash himself up with soap and water and to wait until he was free to help him. How could this be? The answer is that a physician is unimpressed by blood flowing out of external wounds. The second patient was on the verge of a heart attack. On the outside he looked healthy, but on the inside he was about to fall apart. In this parable, the patient’s heart represents faith.

In light of all the preceding, we are optimistic. We have a cure for the sickness of the generation. It is a guaranteed cure, but not a wonder cure. It is not a wonder cure to solve such complex problems in a minute. Yet it is a guaranteed cure to increase faith, courage and joy. Despite all the severe shortcomings we are encountering in our lives, we can still see that we are rising to rebirth. We are being infused with a powerful spirit: “The winds of the Messiah are blowing in, coming towards us. We are rising and awakening, seeking out a new life, the renewal of days of old” (Orot, Orot HaTechiyah 10).


Rabbi Eran Tamir

The Four Groups by the Sea – Then and Today


It is not hard to imagine the pressure, fear and confusion that gripped Israel when they arrived at the Red Sea, with the sea before them and Egypt behind. They must have felt totally impotent, caught “between a rock and a hard place.” The truth is that our sages describe Israel’s plight then in various ways. One of them is what they say in a number of places (e.g., the Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 2:5; Mechilta, Beshalach 2): “There were four groups by the sea: One said, ‘Let’s fall in the sea.’ One said, ‘Let’s return to Egypt.’ One said, ‘Let’s make war against them.’ One said, ‘Let’s cry out against them.’”

Making a free translation to our situation today, we could say that in the difficult situation of the Jewish People today there are four movements, four political parties.

1. There is the party of those in despair: They say, “Let’s fall in the sea. We have no chance. All is lost. Therefore, it is better for us to die of our own free will (gambling the whole kitty?), and not to be prey in the cruel jaws of the enemy.” Such despair can be found in our own day in various forms.

2. The Realist Party: In the name of practical reality, they say, “Let us return to Egypt. There is no chance at the moment to fight the Egyptians. Therefore, let us go back there. The main this is that we should live, even as slaves. Maybe a day will come when they will grant us equal rights and we will be able to live like other people in tranquility and dignity, to ‘be a man at home and an Egyptian when you go out’. We will lead ethical lives, like all the nations. We will develop our human intellect in the field of advanced technology in the Egyptian empire and we will blend in to the universal world culture.”

3. The National Honor Party – “Let’s wage war against them.” Who says we should go back to the Egypt of slavery? No way! We are not even willing to accept the rights of foreign residents in Egypt and to live in equality. Where is our national honor? We want to be a free nation that leads its own life, with its own politics, army and economy. We also want to have a fully developed culture with our own literature, theatre, music and Sports. Our slogan is “To be a free people in our land.” We have dreams of our own. We shall not submit to the enemy under any circumstances. Forward attack!

4. The Spiritual Party. “Let’s cry out against them!” The sefer “Torah Temimah” (Shemot 14) explains this to mean “Let’s cry out to G-d to answer us.” Through the merit of the power of prayer we will be saved. We will not win by war. Certainly we mustn’t assimilate among the Egyptians. The main thing is the spirit – we will win through the spirit — we will pray, and G-d will help us by a miracle.

Thus were these four groups arguing and fighting, which each one entrenching itself behind its own stand. None of them was willing to hear the views of the other at all. And who was right? Our sages continue (ibid.): “Moses to the group that said, ‘Let us fall in the sea,’ ‘Stand and see G-d’s salvation.’ To the one that said to go back to Egypt, G-d said, ‘You saw Egypt today but you shall not continue to see it.’ To the one that said, ‘Let’s wage war against them,’ Moses said, ‘The L-rd will fight for you,’ and to the one that said, ‘Let us pray,’ he said, ‘You remain silent.’”

It follows that according to our sages’ response, each group separately, was wrong. All the same, could it be that no particular side was right in the argument, an argument that has never ended from those days until now, an argument that echoes down through the entire complex and winding course of Jewish history?

The answer to this question is given by Rav Kook (Orot HaTechiyah 18): “Three forces are presently struggling for ascendancy within our camp. The fight between them is most recognizable right now in Eretz Yisrael, but the struggle has gone on throughout the life of our people. The roots of these three forces are fixed within the consciousness penetrating the expanses of the human spirit… holiness, nationalism and humanism. These are the three forces that make demands on us as Jews, and on every human being, in some form or another…”

If so, we are certainly not from among those in despair. We are people of faith, who understand that we have to join together the different forces. The source of them all is faith – holiness – the party of the spirit. It is that which infuses in us the divine values and goals which are meant to be revealed in every step of our lives as a nation. It is this which shall imbue the proper values into the “National Honor Party.”

Yet this does not suffice. We must, indeed, leave Egypt, and get away from “practical realism,” yet we must also extract from there all the tools we need, like the human intellect, advanced technology, etc. And we must discover, through them as well, the great spirit within us. Therefore, if it sometimes seems as though we are still incapable of harnessing all the forces, we still must not give up on any of them. We must work, openly and in the background, in the short term and the long term, to reveal all three forces together. With G-d’s help we will merit to continue the song of Moses, with the words, “Sing to Hashem a new song” – by way of the complete redemption of Israel with all its forces, and the whole world together with it.



Translation: R. Blumberg


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