From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“The spiritual side of our national ascent depends on the spiritual betterment of every individual Jew ”
(Orot Yisrael 158)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
Bar Yochai – Happy the Nation that Learns from You
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was privileged to have the day of his passing, which fell out on on Lag BaOmer, become a major celebration in which myriad of the Jewish People go forth and light bonfires in his honor. Those bonfires are like a memorial candle commemorating the lofty soul that merited to be amongst the elite – to see the countenance of the divine presence, to make personal, direct contact with G-d. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai merited this stature by virtue of self-sacrifice. He was ready to exempt the whole world from divine punishment through his suffering instead of them for their sins, like loving parents who are ready to suffer so that their children don’t have to suffer (see Succah 45b). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai particularly felt the pain of the Jewish People and of Eretz Yisrael. He couldn’t bear to have a foreign nation, the Romans, ruling over the People and Land of Israel, and he spoke to the Roman’s detriment. As a result, the Romans pursued him and wished to kill him, and he was forced to hide in a cave for twelve years with his son.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s self-sacrifice for the People and Land of Israel stemmed from his clear faith in and recognition of Israel’s essence and purpose, as well as of the meaning of Jewish rule over Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish People and for all mankind. Not only Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai understood and recognized the connection between the People and Land of Israel, but all the mystics who followed and who continue to follow in his path, such as Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, Ramban, the Arizal, Ramchal, the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and of the Vilna Gaon, and others, who exhibited self-sacrifice for Eretz Yisrael, going there despite the great dangers and hardships involved.
Today, as we joyously sing the song, “Bar Yochai, how fortunate you are! Anointed with the oil of joy by your colleagues,” we have to recall that he merited what he did through his self-sacrifice for the People, Land and Torah of Israel. Not only Bar Yochai merited in this way, but all who have followed in his path down through the generations, especially in our own generation, the generation of rebirth and of the ingathering of the exiles, whether they are aware of it or not. The merit from self-sacrifice for the sake of the Jewish People, Torah and Land shall defend them, and through it they in turn bring merit to the entire generation and to all generations. The day is not far off when through us will be fulfilled, “Bar Yochai! Fortunate your forbears! Fortunate the nation that learns from you, fortunate those who dwell on your secret, enveloped in the breastplate of your Urim VeTumim!”
Looking forward to complete salvation,
Thousands of hours of free Torah videos! – www.machonmeir.net
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
Bar Kochba, from Then Until Now
Between Pesach and Shavuot, we decrease our joy slightly, because according to tradition, twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva died at that time. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest scholars of his generation, and simultaneously he supported the national rebellion of Bar-Kochba. Rambam writes:
“Rabbi Akiva was a great sage of the Mishna, and he was the armor bearer of Bar-Kochba, the king. Rabbi Akiva would say of him that he was the Messianic king. He and all the sages of his generation envisioned him being the Messianic king” (Hilchot Melachim 11:3). True, it turned out in the end that he was not the Messiah, yet we have to understand that there was no mistake here. Rabbi Akiva envisioned the POSSIBILITY of his being the Messiah. Rambam codified as law that if a Jewish king emerges, immersed in Torah and mitzvoth, and he rules the people according to the Torah and fights G-d’s battles, he should be related to as the Messianic king. If he succeeds in everything, it will become clear that he is the Messiah for certain. Otherwise, he will turn out to have been a king of Israel who did the best he could (ibid.).
Rambam also proves from the support of Bar-Kochba given by Rabbi Akiva and the sages that we needn’t require the Messiah to perform miracles. Rather, he can operate by non-miraculous means, such as through wars. That same Rabbi Akiva was a spiritual giant in his generation, but at the same time he was a militarist on behalf of the Jewish People, and he saw no contradiction between the two. In the same way, the Hasmoneans were both holy men and warriors .
In his day, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote that we are certain that when Rabbi Akiva in his time encouraged support for every vision of Jewish national liberation, he was expressing a doctrine of truth. Precisely from the fact that the attempt failed at that time and the Jewish People fell from the standpoint of their national freedom, we know that the time for this vision will come, and that time is approaching now, and Israel will not suffer again. Not in vain did Israel fight the battle for their survival. (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 202-203).
And indeed, our Jewish State arose and it stands strong. Here we are safe both spiritually and physically.
True, we have enemies around us, but psychologists have determined, contrary to the prevalent view, that the Israeli citizen leads a safe life and relies on our country and our army. Quite the contrary, the security threat strengthens our national cohesiveness, as well as the sense of safety of the people dwelling in Zion.
Indeed, the most important thing for us to preserve faithfully is our brotherhood and unity.
When French-Jewish historian and writer Andre Maurois (nee Emile Herzog), who died a hundred years ago, was asked to what extent it was possible to allow political quarreling in a democratic regime, he responded:
“The heads of our political parties may be compared to rival officers in charge of a large ship. As a passenger on that ship, I can allow them, at most, to hate one another, but under no circumstances will I consent to their hatred causing the ship to sink.”
Thank G-d, generally speaking there is a lot of love in our nation, yet we mustn’t fall asleep at the watch.
Obviously, our army is strong, but at the same time, contrary to what all the libelers and anti-Semites among the nations say, it is a moral army.
There’s a story about the recent Gaza Campaign that the soldiers of one of the reserve battalions found amongst one enemy force a very large sum of money. When the battalion commander heard about it, he moved his operations room there so that no one would mistakenly take the money.
Let us take this opportunity to mention another story about a unit that entered a home, and found cartons of fruit clearly marked as being headed for the “mehadrin” Shemittah market. In that same home, Kassam missiles were found. Obviously, orders were given to immediately destroy that house and the adjacent hothouses. It thus turns out that those who had claimed that buying fruit from the Arabs of Gaza was indirectly supporting the bombing of Israel were mistaken. It was DIRECTLY supporting it.
The main point is that fear of the Jews befell those terrorists. We encountered almost no resistance. Rather, those murderers fled to hiding places like hospitals. Obviously, the role of the Jewish army chaplain changed dramatically. No longer was he just an army chaplain dealing with the religious needs of the soldier as an individual. Rather, he also worried about that soldier’s functioning as a soldier, and about the success of the fighting. He was not just a partner in the education corps. Indeed, the Chief Chaplain of the I.D.F. wrought a change in this realm. He, himself, was a high-ranking military officer, and he brought in fighting army chaplains who were together with the fighters and strengthened the fighting spirit. He likewise founded, within the army chaplaincy, a department for strengthening the fighting spirit.
Therefore, if Bar-Kochba heard that in our day there are people who are disappointed with the country, and who say that we have to nullify Israel Independence Day or the prayer for the Jewish State’s Welfare, or that we have to change it, he would not understand what he was hearing.
Rabbi Yaakov Halevy Filber
The Suffering of the Righteous and the Thriving of the Wicked
In our world some people suffer and others are happy. This phenomenon per se arouses no questions, for we know that there is reward and punishment to man for his deeds. As we say in our prayers, “He bestows kindness on a man according to his works. He pays the wicked man according to his wickedness” (“Yigdal”).
The difficulty arises when we see the evildoer who is thriving and the righteous man who is suffering. In this regard we ask, “Shall the whole world’s Judge not act justly?” (Genesis 18:25). This question was asked not just by Abraham, but also Moses beseeched of G-d, “Make known to me Your ways” (Exodus 33:13). His intent was explained by our sages (Berachot 7a): “This teaches that Moses sought to know why there are righteous people who suffer and wicked people who thrive.” Did Moses receive an answer to this question? Our sages differ on this question. According to the Midrash G-d answered him, “You wouldn’t be able to fathom divine justice.” In other words, no man, even if he be as wise as Moses, can understand with his partial, imprecise knowledge, the divine justice that reigns in our world. In this way does Rabbenu Yona explain the Mishnah (Avot 4:14), “Both the ease of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous are out of our hands.” He says, “We cannot fathom why it is so.”
On the other hand, some of our sages hold that suffering visits the righteous to purge them of their sins (for, as the Torah states, “There is no man on earth so righteous that he will just do good and never sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)) and to bring them to the World-to-Come. Likewise, the goodness enjoyed by the evil man in this world is meant to make him lose out on the World-to-Come, as it says, “He pays back His enemies to His face to destroy them” (Deuteronomy 7:10). Rashi comments, “In his lifetime G-d pays him the reward coming to him to make him forfeit the World-to-Come.” Of this the Midrash states (Tanchuma, Vayigash 8), “When an evildoer does a charitable deed, G-d rewards him right here on earth so as to make him forfeit the World-to-Come.”
Man arrives at conclusions from his partial vision of reality, and the Torah says of this, “The deeds of the Mighty One are perfect, for all His ways are just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Onkelos comments, “Mighty, when His deeds are complete.” Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian explains Onkelos’s intent by a parable:
A man enters a tailor shop and sees the tailor take a large strip of expensive cloth and cut it up. He cries out, “Stop! You’re destroying it!” but the tailor answers, “Wait until I finish my work.” The man waits, and the tailor attaches one part to another until a beautiful garment emerges. That is what the Torah is saying here. When G-d’s deeds are complete, it will become clear that “all His ways are just. He is a faithful G-d, never unfair. Righteous and moral is He.”
My explanations so far have been based on the assumption that the evildoer is really an evildoer and the righteous man is really righteous. Yet some of our sages place this assumption in doubt. For example, Ibn Shu’ib in his Derashot (Devarim, “Mizmor Le’asaf”) quotes a midrash that explains the reasoning behind Moses’s question and G-d’s answer:
“Mizmor Le’Asaf” – a psalm to Assaf. This psalm was authored by Assaf regarding mankind’s perplexity over the righteous suffering and the wicked enjoying reward. Assaf, the poet, wrote it in his own words, or used the language of the perplexed.
The prophets likewise spoke of this. Jeremiah said (12:1): “Right would You be, O L-rd, were I to contend with You, yet I will still reason with You: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are all they secure that deal treacherously?” King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:15) said, There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing.” He further said (ibid., 8:14), “There are righteous men, unto whom it happens according to the work of the wicked. Then again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous.” Chavakuk said (1:4), “The wicked man does beset the righteous; therefore right goes forth perverted.”
Our sages said that Moses was struggling with this question when he asked G-d, “Make known to me Your ways.” He asked G-d, Why do the righteous suffer?…” The Midrash comments, “When Moses was up on the mountain, he saw a man come to drink from a river, and when he was done drinking he accidentally left his wallet behind. Someone else came along to drink, found the wallet and took it and left. The wallet’s owner then returned to the river and found yet a third man drinking. He said, “You took the wallet that I forgot here!” The man replied, “I saw now wallet here!” and he took out his sword and killed the wallet’s owner.
When Moses saw all of this he was puzzled. He asked G-d, “Make known to me Your ways! Why was this man killed when he had done nothing wrong, and why was the thief spared?” G-d replied, “The wallet’s ‘owner’ had originally stolen the money from the one who now found it, without the present finder’s knowledge. The one who was now killed had killed the father of the one who now killed him, and the present killer hadn’t known who killed his father. And I, G-d, orchestrated all of this. So are all My ways. My ways are not like yours.”
Likewise, Targum Yonatan renders Ezekiel 18:25 as, “The ways of G-d remain unexplained.” Indeed the entire book of Job is built upon this idea.
According to these explanations, we have to place four question marks on the phenomenon of the “righteous man who suffers, and the wicked man who thrives.” Who knows if the righteous man is really righteous? Who knows if his suffering is really bad for him? Who knows if the wicked man is really wicked? Who knows if what occurs to him is really good for him? After all, Solomon said, “There is wealth preserved for man’s downfall” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). Obviously, what I have written here is merely a drop in the bucket compared to the treatment that the topic deserves.
Translation: R. Blumberg
Tax deductible contributions may be made out to
American Friends of Machon Meir
and sent in North America to:
American Friends of Machon Meir
c/o Ms. Chava Shulman
1327 45th st.
And in Israel:
2 Hameiri Ave. Jerusalem, Israel 91340