From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“When the righteous believe in themselves, in their enormous resources and in the lofty holiness of their souls, they increase divine devotion… They bring holy vibrancy to the world, pleasure and contentment, good health and long days, the blessings of wealth and children. Then the light of repentance and the joy of mitzvah observance proliferate in the world”
(Orot HaKodesh 4:464)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
The Three Weeks – A Time for National Soul-Searching
During the Three Weeks, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the Jewish People mourn the bad things that occurred to Israel during this period. On the 17th of Tamuz, five troubles befell Israel: the tablets were broken in the Golden Calf Incident; the Daily “Tamid” offering of the First Temple was cancelled; Jerusalem’s wall was breeched during the Second Temple period; the Torah was burnt by wicked Apostomos, and an idol was installed in the Temple Sanctuary. On the 9th of Av, the First and Second Temples were destroyed; it was decreed that our ancestors in the desert would not enter the Land; Beitar was captured and tens of thousands were murdered by the Romans. On this day, the Temple Sanctuary and its environs were ploughed, thereby fulfilling the verse, “Zion shall be ploughed as a field” (Jeremiah 26:18).
At this time of year, we have to arouse our hearts and look for ways to repent; to think about our own deeds and those of our ancestors. Their deeds were like ours, and those deeds brought both them and us suffering. Recalling these things will make us repent and become better…. Therefore, every Jew must repent during this period, examining his own deeds and making amends” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 121:1). Today, we must search our souls not just as individuals but as a nation as regards our relationship to the People, Torah and Land of Israel.
Regarding our relationship to Eretz Yisrael, we must return to ourselves. We must learn and recognize, study and make ourselves aware, become acquainted and inform others of what we are, what our destiny is and what our specialness consists of. We are not like all the nations, we are set apart from them. We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Our historic task on earth is to shower light upon the world and to bring goodness to mankind, in accordance with G-d’s command to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation…. and you shall be for a blessing…. All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3). As Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook taught in Orot 55: “We are greater than any other people; if we recognize this greatness, we will recognize ourselves, and if we forget it, then we will forget ourselves. A people that forgets itself is small and lowly… Forgetting ourselves constitutes forgetting our greatness.”
As far as our relationship to the Torah of Israel, our sages long ago said, “Each day, a heavenly voice resounds from Mount Sinai proclaiming, ‘Woe to the people for their disregard of the Torah!’ (Avot 6:2). Rav Kook adds, “We must study Torah and give it the appropriate respect, and we must relate to it reverently. Surely when one ponders the Torah, one finds that everything is contained within it, every delight and every splendor” (Orot HaTeshuva 4:9). Our holy Torah is a living Torah for us and for the entire world, as we say in our prayers, “Everlasting life did He plant in our midst”. We, as a nation, must repent, and bring ourselves and our children once more to study Torah lovingly. By such means, we will merit that our people, rising to rebirth in Zion, will have a new heart and a new spirit.
As far as our relationship to Eretz Yisrael, we must rid ourselves of the fundamentally erroneous assumption that Eretz Yisrael is just a means towards achieving existential goals such as security, prosperity or even spiritual and religious goals. (Eretz Yisrael is not an external acquisition of our nation. It is “an independent entity tied to the nation by a living bond, enveloped in inner virtues inherent to it” – Orot 9). Eretz Yisrael is not a topic for negotiations. It cannot be handed over to any individual or people on earth. Just as one does not concede his own life, so are we forbidden to concede our land, not one single millimeter.
By repenting nationally and as individuals vis-à-vis the people, Torah and Land, we will merit that these days will be transformed from a time of mourning and pain to a time of joy and gladness. As Zechariah said, “The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons. Therefore love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). Looking forward to complete salvation.
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner- Chief Rabbi of Bet El
It’s a Mitzvah to be Healthy
It’s a mitzvah to be healthy. Don’t say it’s not up to us. We’ve got to do all we can. Take for example, vaccinations. Fatalities from measles have gone down 74% over a seven-year period. Compared to 750,000 cases in 2000, there were 200,000 cases in 2007. That’s a miracle! A medical miracle! True, we’re not supposed to rely on miracles, but miracles rely on us.
And don’t ask, where is it written that this is a mitzvah? It’s very simple. Rambam writes that we are commanded to follow G-d’s pathways. As it says, “Follow His ways” ( Deuteronomy 28:9). This is referring to good character (Hilchot De’ot 1:6). He likewise writes in his “Guide to the Perplexed” that one of the Torah’s goals is to make us healthy (III:27). And Tur states, “It is a mitzvah for a person to conduct himself with good character and comportment, to preserve his health in order to be healthy and strong to serve his Creator” (Orach Chaim 155).
A major principle of preventative medicine is: “if you’re hungry, eat. If you’re thirsty, drink. If your pot is boiling over, empty it out” (Berachot 62b). Rashi comments, “The last is a parable. When you need to use the facilities, do so. Don’t hold it in.” Likewise, Rambam states, “a person should never eat unless he is hungry, nor should he drink unless he is thirsty, and when he has to go to the bathroom, he shouldn’t hold it in for even a moment” (Hilchot De’ot 4:1, and see the article by our master Rabbenu Avraham, Rambam’s son, on our sages’ expositions, printed at the beginning of Ein Yaakov).
It is true that in our day, physicians say that there is no problem with drinking a lot of water. Yet, as is known, rabbis are not physicians, but they quote physicians, and you need a doctor’s confirmation for every treatment (Otzar HaGeonim, Gittin, Responsa 376).
Also, there is an ancient ban on subscribing to Talmudic medicine (Yam Shel Shlomo, Chulin, Chapter 8), but we do have to follow contemporary physicians (Chattam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 101).
It is agreed however, that we have to attend to proper bowel functioning, hence we should eat fruits and vegetables and other foods with fiber like whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc., and we should drink a lot of water.
Certainly we must avoid overeating, which is very deleterious. Quite the contrary, we have to get rid of excess weight. Excess fat causes heart disease and heart attacks, but one-time starvation dieting is not beneficial, because after some time the situation goes back to the way it was before. Rather, you should follow a dietary regimen of gradual change over time.
Likewise, towards that end, you’ve got to engage in daily physical activity. Rambam teaches, “as long as a person exerts himself a lot, is never sated, and has no constipation, he will never be sick and he will grow stronger” (Hilchot De’ot 4:14). In his medical writings, Rambam recommends playing ballgames, since they exercise the whole body and involve no risk (Pirkei Moshe, Chapter 18). Yet contemporary physicians recommend 40 minutes of fast walking daily. Running is good too, as well as exercising at home. The main thing is to be persistent. There are no shortcuts.
Getting back to food, our sages recommend that one eat “pat shacharit” [literally, “morning bread” – Bava Metzia 107b), in other words, a good breakfast. One needs energy for his daily activities. There is a well-known saying: “eat like a king in the morning, like a man at noon, and like a pauper in the evening.” Near bedtime, don’t eat anything. New studies claim that when we sleep the digestion process is entirely shut down. Avoid unhealthy food, especially sugar and fat. If you eat a lot of that, it’s like eating poison. Rambam writes, “The wise person will conquer his passions and not be attracted by his cravings” (Hilchot De’ot 4:10). With that, you profit doubly: avoiding unhealthy food and improving your character.
We have already mentioned that one should not eat a lot. That isn’t healthy either (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 4:2).
Good advice in this regard is to eat slowly and to chew well, for “due to one’s craving to eat it is natural to swallow before one has chewed well” (Siddur Yeshu’ot Yisrael, Kuntres Zer Zahav, see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 32:13). Likewise, people imagine that they are hungry and they eat a lot when it’s really only a craving (Siddur Yeshu’ot Yisrael, ibid.). One should therefore take breaks.
One should eat a lot of vegetables, and a lot of fruit, but not too much, due to the sugar in it. There is a lot of research about the health benefits of fruit: grapes, almonds and avocados. Much praised as well is green tea, linen seed and even black beer. Obviously, all these should be consumed in moderation.
It is true that Rambam was opposed to eating fruit (De’ot 4:11), yet I have already related to that. The main thing is not to eat all kinds of snacks and cakes between meals, treats and juices, sugars and chocolates, ice cream and salty nuts. One should only eat at meals. And one shouldn’t eat few meals, for then one is hungry and overeats. Rather, one should eat a reasonable number of meals, every number of hours: a main meal at 7:00 AM, a small meal at 10:00 AM, a main meal at 1:00 PM, a small meal at 4:00 PM, a small meal at 7:00 PM and a small meal at 9:00 PM.
And after every meal one should brush one’s teeth. That is very important, and it prevents halitosis, which disturbs others.
And don’t wear tight clothing. That isn’t healthy or modest. And don’t think that if you’re fat, that will make you look thin. Quite the contrary, tight clothing accentuates flab. And sit up strait. Stand up straight. Proper posture prevents back problems.
Everything I have been saying applies to healthy people. The unwell should consult their physicians (Rambam, De’ot 4:21).
Indeed, health issues are part of the Torah (see Shabbat 82a; Chayei Debarita and Ein Yaakov’s commentaries there).
And may G-d bring you full health.
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel
Settlements on Both Sides of the Jordan
The battle against Sichon and Og was not intended to be war of conquest. These territories were not up for annexation at the time. It is true that the two banks of the Jordan together constitute Eretz Yisrael, yet there are ten different levels of holiness in Eretz Yisrael, and the eastern side of the Jordan is different from the western side. The western side is holier. There the Divine Presence rests, and that is where the Temple must be built. The eastern side is intended for Jewish Settlement only in the end of days. If not for the stubborn, illogical resistance of Sichon and Og, Israel would have traversed them into Eretz Yisrael without harming a hair on their heads. This was thus an imperative war of defense.
The motive of Gad and Reuven to settle these areas was economic and survival oriented rather than based on values. It was not the obligation to conquer that soil which brought them to settle there, but the need to preserve their property. It is true that they were right in their claim that flocks require a special place. Yet the very fact that due to their property they were ready to part with the Jewish People and to settle in a less holy place was the root of the problem. It was in response to this that Moses got angry and compared them to the spies. The spies had likewise related to the Land like tourists and land dealers, and when they compared the benefits to be gained from settling the Land with the difficulties, they preferred to remain in the desert.
It is true that the children of Reuven and Gad were bold pioneers. They were ready to volunteer for the elite units of the army of Israel, and they were prepared to settle the frontier country by means of their wives and children. Yet their relationship to security, settlement, the land and the People was just Nationalist-Survivalist. It did not involve the profound idea of G-d’s people ascending in holiness in the Holy Land, or of bringing redemption to the whole world, before their eyes. Rather, it involved only livestock, sheep and cattle, the needs of the animals.
Moses, the faithful shepherd, knew how to listen for what was deepest in a person’s heart. He was responsible for future generations as well. When the time came for the redemption of Transjordan, it would be appropriate that not the motives of Gad and Reuven should be the main factor, but rather the ideological, values-oriented motive. He therefore attached to them half the tribe of Menashe, son of Joseph. Joseph had never let the greatness he achieved in a foreign land make him forget Eretz Yisrael. He had been kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and it was to there that he commanded that his bones be brought. His connection to the land was a deep, psychological connection. Moses wished to avoid a Jewish exile mentality from developing within Eretz Yisrael. He therefore joined together the two sides of the Jordan by means of Menashe ben Yosef.
There are far reaching educational repercussions to the utilitarian-survivalist approach. The sons of Gad and Reuven said, “We will build enclosures for our sheep here and cities for our children” (Numbers 32:16), putting their sheep before their children. Moses, however, reversed the order: “Build yourselves cities for your children and folds for your sheep” (verse 24), such that the children preceded the sheep. This reversal is no coincidence. If someone’s whole approach to Eretz Yisrael is based on interim-survival needs then his educational perspective will be warped as well. He is liable to sacrifice his children’s education to Molech, placing them on the altar of economic convenience. Then, even if he builds them marvelous educational institutions, utilitarian, achievement-oriented considerations will overcome educational, values-oriented considerations. Number of hours, achievement tests, prizes for excellence will all favor those subjects oriented towards worldly achievement and benefit and will push aside the spiritual, values-oriented subjects. In a society built around sheep and shopping, sheepherders are sought after while spiritual shepherds are not.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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