From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“G-d blesses Israel, making their leadership devoted to their people. He imbues that leadership with the same love that they feel for their own families. Yet their love for their people becomes even stronger, just as the entire nation’s welfare transcends the welfare of the individual family”
(Olat Re’iyah II:287)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
Gratitude – Then and Now
“When you come to the land that the L-rd your G-d is giving you as a heritage…. you shall go to the site that God will choose as the place associated with His name. There you shall go to the priest officiating at the time, and say to him, ‘Today I am affirming to the L-rd your G-d that I have come to the land that G-d swore to our fathers to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-3). Rashi comments: “You shall say to him that you are not ungrateful.” Ingratitude is when you deny the good that has been done for you. Gratitude is part of the essence of man, in general, and of the Jewish People in particular. The Jewish People are therefore called “Yehudim”, after Leah’s fourth son, Yehuda, who received that name because when he was born Leah said, “This time let me thank [odeh] G-d” (Genesis 29:35).
The first thing a Jew says when he gets up in the morning is, “I render thanks to You, everlasting King, who has mercifully restored my soul within me. Your faithfulness is great.” A Jew must thank G-d sincerely for the good things G-d does for him. In the same way, one who brings the first fruits when he comes to the Temple announces that he is not ungrateful. Quite the contrary, he recognizes the kindness and bounty that G-d showers upon him, and he expresses his thanks for them.
Today, not just the person who brings first fruits to the Temple must announce that he is not ungrateful, but each and every one of us must recognize the kindness and goodness that others do for us, and we must thank G-d for all of that goodness. This applies not just to what individuals do for us, but to the kindness we enjoy from our family, our society and our country. Especially during these times, the period of forgiveness and mercy, we must search our souls as individuals and as a nation and we must repent, asking ourselves if we are not ungrateful.
The greatest ingratitude of recent years is the relationship of the government and its leadership to the settlers of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, in general, and to those of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria in particular. The settlers’ entire intent in settling Eretz Yisrael was to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land, and thereby to strengthen the nation, and to defend the country against its Arab enemies, and all this through genuine self-sacrifice. Instead of being raised up in the air and thanked for the good they do for the nation and state of Israel, they met with terrible ingratitude in the form of their being expelled by force from their homes, when they had done nothing wrong.
The entire public must repent and ask forgiveness. How did they allow such injustice and ingratitude? Quite the contrary, we must raise up the settlers on our shoulders, especially those of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria, and we must ask their forgiveness. We must propitiate them and appease them. By such means we will truly unite as one man with one heart, and we will be privileged that next year will be a year of forgiveness. That will be the day we have been waiting for — we will sing and rejoice on it! With blessings for a good, sweet year,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
To be a Serious Army in Our Land
1. To remain in the exile and to imagine that we will not be hurt by assimilation and pogroms constitutes silliness and irresponsibility. I am not saying this to make an accusation, but only to express sorrow.
Yet to return to our land and to rebuild it, to establish our state, economy and army — that constitutes taking a serious, responsible approach.
2. To sit complacently in our land and to imagine that we no longer have enemies, that we are living in a New Middle East in which there is no more war, only a few guerrila forces, and that in exchange for conceding a third or two thirds of our land, our neighbors will make peace with us, that we have almost no need of reserve duty, that we have almost no need of emergency warehouses — that constitutes irresponsibility and worse. I am not trying to cast blame, only to arouse the public.
Yet to dispel illusions, to understand with a realistic, courageous perspective that we still have stubborn enemies, that the appeasing outlook of Chamberlain who said, “Peace, and no more war,” is a mistake that led to the Second World War, to realize that Churchill answered him, “Your kind of peace is followed by war, and my war will be followed by peace” — that is the serious spirit of the human race.
3. To conceive a new doctrine, that against terrorists you needn’t use all your weaponry, bombs and tanks, but should be gentle; to think that certainly you shouldn’t harm those arbitrarily defined as “innocent,” for you have to be concerned about their welfare, and even targeted killings of terrorists aren’t nice because it isn’t good and proper to punish a person without first trying him in court – to think all this and thereby to lead our loyal soldiers, fighting like lions, to their deaths, and to evacuate from their homes a million and a half faithful citizens — that constitutes silliness, an academic ivory tower on some other planet. My purpose is not to attack, but only to illuminate.
Yet a strong army that is always ready to smite the Arab wolves who come to annihilate us, an army that advocates “total war” in order to save us and our wives and children — that is seriousness. That is responsibility. That is sanity.
4. To foster a national fantasy of transforming our army into an effeminate army, a maternal army, an army in which no one is endangered, an army in which one neither kills nor is killed, a luft-army, a show-case army, an army of peace, a shlemiel army — is self-delusion. It is silly. I am not trying to accuse, only to improve.
Yet to recognize that we emerged from our exile and our lowliness of spirit, that we were saved from some sort of bizarre masochism — that is morality, that is naturalness, that is healthiness! To absorb from the spirit of the university, science and technology, economics and organization, yet to draw our spiritual values and worldview from the depths of the life of our people rising to rebirth — that is a proper, serious perspective on reality. To realize, with pain and fortitude, that armies and wars involve killing and being killed, that when we are not ready to be killed, quite the contrary, even more are killed, and when we ready to be killed, quite the contrary, much blood is spared; to know that it is impossible to easily heal what was broken and to say, “All is well” — that is seriousness. That constitutes genuine leadership which contains a vision for which we are ready to pay a price.
Rabbi Yaakov Filber
Free Will and Repentance
Rambam devotes two chapters of his laws to the topic of free will: “Every man is given free will. If he wishes to bend himself to the good path and be righteous, he has that option, and if he wishes to bend himself to the evil path and be wicked he has that option.” Seemingly Rambam should have placed the topic of free will in his “Hilchot De’ot”, where he deals with man’s traits and conduct. Rambam did not do that however. Rather, he placed his two chapters on free will precisely in Hilchot Teshuvah, the Laws of Repentance. Why did Rambam do so?
We have to conclude that Rambam viewed repentance and free will as one entity, as he states in his summation regarding free will (Teshuvah 7:1): “Since every man has free will, as we explained (Chapters 5-7), a person should strive to repent and to shake off his sins so that he dies as a penitent, thereby meriting life in the World-to-Come.” The entire reason man is given free will to choose good or evil is so that he will merit life in the World-to-Come. Having free will also ensures that this reward will not be “the bread of kindness”, i.e., charity, but something he earns by his own efforts.
All the same, we have a rule that “there is no one on earth so righteous that he does only good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). If man is bound to sin, might not his free will result in greater loss than gain?
Because of this, man, in addition to his free will, was also given the possibility of repenting. Repentance itself is one of the forms
of free will. Free will and repentance are two things that are essential to a person’s moral and spiritual development. Regarding repentance, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote in “Orot HaTeshuvah” (5:7), “If not for penitent thoughts, spiritual life could not develop.” Rambam in his “Guide to the Perplexed” (3:36) elaborates: “Repentance is one of our tenets without which Torah-observant people could not be upright.” The reason for this is that “man cannot escape sin. He is led to it either by the folly of his beliefs, or through a character flaw that brings him to wrong decisions, or by mounting passions, or by anger. If a person believed that he had no hope of curing this malady forever, he would continue with his dark deeds always. Knowing that he has no hope and no counsel, he might even sin worse. Yet if he believes that he has the option of repentance, he will rectify his deeds and return to the good path. He might even achieve greater perfection than he had before his sin.”
Thus far Rambam has addressed the importance of repentance, yet he also viewed free will as essential to man’s independence of thought and action. He viewed it as being absolute and total, as he wrote (Hilchot Teshuva), man “does whatever he wants. There is no one who will stop him from doing good or evil.” Yet man’s individual autonomy is more on a theoretical level. On the practical level, matters are more complex, and not simple at all. This is because in real life, there are numerous constraints that drive man to do deeds that are not positive, or that prevent him from doing what he wants.
Rambam (Hilchot De’ot) takes into account the limitations on free will, and the influence of man’s surroundings on his behavior and decisions: “It is man’s nature to be influenced by the thoughts and deeds of his friends and acquaintances, and to conduct himself like his compatriots.” Yet a person must recognize this weakness and he must take advantage of it for his own good, as Rambam recommends there: “Therefore a person must attach himself to the righteous, and he must always go live amongst the wise men, so that he can learn from their deeds. He must distance himself from the wicked, who walk in darkness, lest he learn from their deeds.”
As with free will, so with repentance, both are intended to set man on the right path in his life, free will a priori and repentance ex post facto. Regarding free will it says (Deuteronomy 30:19), “Life and death have I given you, a blessing and a curse. Choose life in order that you may live.” Man has to discern good from evil, and the conditions and circumstances of the life he leads, his own strengths and weaknesses, and with all this he must choose good. Many times, a person’s first choice is what determines his situation. Then, if he makes a good decision, even the good deeds that he subsequently does without free will, but due to the constraints of his situation, are credited to that first choice he made.
And even if, G-d forbid, a person stumbles for some reason, the path before him is not blocked. Here is where repentance comes in, allowing one to change course and to set himself anew on the good and desirable pathway. Thus, repentance and free will are two fine gifts given to man through G-d’s kindness, and allowing him to confront life and to succeed in meeting his obligation on this earth.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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