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PARASHAT VAYERA

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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
Eretz Yisrael is suited to the entire Jewish People, down through the generations and forever. At the same time, it is also suited to the life of every Jewish individual, in accordance with spiritual level, character and essence
(
“Eretz HaChaim,” Olat Re’iyah I:203)

Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today: 

Abraham’s Generous, Loving Nature


When G-d decides to punish and destroy Sodom, He says: “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham is indeed to become a great and mighty nation, and through him shall be blessed all the nations of the world” (Genesis 18:17). Rashi comments: “It would not be right for Me to do this thing without letting him know…I renamed him Abraham, which denotes a father of a multitude of nations. Can I, then, destroy the children without informing the father who loves Me?”

           

It is true that the people of Sodom sinned heavily, and ostensibly Abraham could have ignored them and cut himself off from them. Yet Abraham had a generous nature. He had love for the Creator and His creations – even those who had distanced themselves far from Him. Therefore, as is our way with those we love, Abraham strove to speak up in their defense, as when he asked G-d, “Will you actually wipe out the innocent with the guilty?” (18:23). Suppose there are fifty innocent people in the city…. Shall the whole world’s judge not act justly?” (18:23-24). Only when he had finished defending them does it say, “When He finished speaking with Abraham, God left [him]. Abraham then returned home” (18:35). Rashi comments, “When the defender leaves, the prosecutor accuses.”

 

Today, we, the Jewish People, are Abraham’s descendants. The traits that characterize Abraham are imprinted within the soul of the nation, and the soul of each individual Jew. Foremost amongst those traits is the “good eye” (Avot 5:17), i.e., the generous nature that looks for the good and the positive in everything; the approach that views G-d’s creatures sympathetically, after the manner of Aaron the Kohen, who “loved his fellow man” (Avot 1:12).

 

Yet it is not enough to be born with good, noble traits. Rather, one has to bring out his full potential through proper education, the way Abraham did with his own children, as it says: “I have given him special attention so that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep God’s way, doing charity and justice”(Genesis 18:19). The identity and purpose of the Jewish People down through the ages start with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with G-d’s having chosen Abraham, as it says, “You are the L-rd, our G-d, who chose Abraham and brought him forth out of Ur Kasdim and gave him the name of Abraham; and found his heart faithful before You” (Nechemiah 9:8).

           

And just as G-d chose Abraham, He also chooses the Jewish People, as in the blessing that we recite to “G-d who chose us from all the peoples” (Birkat HaTorah), and as in the blessings recited before the Shema, praising G-d who “lovingly selects His people Israel.” Our duty and task is to learn to educate and to explain what are the identity and purpose of the Jewish People, from the perspective of the Nation’s roots. We must look back at the rock from which we were hewn. By such means we will continue with confidence and joy, marching along the upward path towards complete redemption…while looking forward to salvation,

 

Shabbat Shalom!




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Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Bet El 

Talmud Torah or State Day School?

Question: It’s well-known that you advise learning only Torah subjects at an early age. Yet isn’t basic, general knowledge relevant for young children lest they be cut off from reality – such as learning a bit about the human body, about natural science and history?

Answer: First of all, it wasn’t my humble self who invented this approach. It was codified in Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah Chapter 3) and the Shulchan Aruch (Hilchot Melamdim (Yoreh Deah 245). The reason for this approach is explained by Rav Kook in his Igeret HaChinuch (Igarot HaRe’iyah, letter 170) that one must distinguish between the means and the goal, and one must not turn the means into the goal. The goal is for a person to be upright and good, good to G-d, good to man, good to his people, good to his land. The means constitute a war to survive on this earth. Torah learning is what prepares a Jew to be upright and good, and secular studies prepare him for his war to survive. Moreover, when a person becomes upright and good, then all his talents and life skills are blessed.

Obviously there is a genuine need not to be cut off from reality. True, it’s not really written explicitly, but it’s obvious. The Torah was not given to the ministering angels but to man. Good behavior, our conducting ourselves as upright people on this earth, precedes Torah learning. Yet whoever is not, himself, cut off from reality, whoever examines the results of education, will see with his own eyes that there is no difference in the realm of being connected to reality between children who study in State Day Schools and those who learn in a Talmud Torah. The latter, as well, know Israel, the world, nature and the human body. The reason is the information explosion flowing in from every direction, such that the child is filled with general knowledge by osmosis.

Yet imagine that a child lived in a remote village, as in ancient times, cut off from the outside world. Even then we would say that he should concentrate on Torah. Once there was a prominent person who argued as follows: “Secular studies make us human and Torah studies make us Jewish.” Based on this he built up an integrated program. The Vilna Gaon responded with total rejection and severely castigated the man.

Indeed Rav Kook explains in Orot HaTorah (6:11; 12:14) that the finest human qualities may be absorbed from the Torah itself. After all, the Torah, while being from Heaven, also directs us in earthly matters, as with the monetary laws, which bring us into contact with our world. An ancient illustration is a person’s buying an object and receiving the wrapper for free, while if he wanted the wrapper separately he would have to pay for it.

Practically speaking, there is room for certain mundane additions in accordance with a child’s age and in accordance with the general situation. Likewise, in the Talmudei Torah, there actually is some study of secular subjects in accordance with need. Yet as stated above, the main thing is to produce a good, upright, child. Indeed, when we observe the Talmud Torah pupils, we are filled with contentment seeing how well behaved they are and what fine traits they possess, so far from the smoking and addiction to the Internet. They dress modestly and speak politely, have great knowledge of the Talmud and a thirst for learning, morality and ideals.

We can therefore understand why there is a growing movement of parents who want Talmud Torah for their children, and these are not necessarily parents who are themselves Torah-true, but even parents who belong to all the other strata of religious society. They simply see a blessing resulting from such education. Likewise, as far as the need to be connected to reality, we see with our own eyes the fruits of the many Talmud Torahs established in the wake of “Moriah”’s establishment dozens of years ago. We see that the graduates of such schools are involved in real life, while having achieved the main goal of being good and upright. 

Rabbi Yaakov Filber

 

Abraham combined his struggles towards self-improvement with an effort to bring mankind to faith in the Creator of the universe, as Rashi comments:

“‘The souls that they had made in Charan’ (12:5): The souls which they had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. They are thus credited as though they made those souls.”

Abraham reaped success in this project, as Rambam describes in Hilchot Avodah Zarah 1:3:

“Abraham began to proclaim loudly to the whole world that there is one G-d in charge of the whole world, and that only He is worthy of our worship… Ultimately tens of thousands gathered to him, and they are ‘the people of Abraham’s house’ (17:23).”

Until Abraham arrived in Eretz Yisrael, he looked the same as all other people. This made it easier for him to befriend people and influence them. When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, things changed. The mitzvah of circumcision required him to be set apart and different from all others. He was still supposed to continue his outreach activities, yet while working to create a bond with others, he was simultaneously supposed to preserve his own uniqueness. He was supposed to build his private edifice, the house of Abraham, while continuing to influence the world at large.

Here we may ask: Is it always possible to do both? Doesn’t “togetherness” detract from that uniqueness? Conversely, does not that uniqueness lessen the influence of the togetherness? Moreover, when the one comes at the expense of the other, which takes precedence? Should the uniqueness have priority, in the sense of “Your own needs supersede those of your fellow man”? Or, does the public good precede that of the individual such that “togetherness” must be preferred?

The Torah says, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go to that place. We will worship and then return to you’” (Genesis 22:5). Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Z”l, comments on this verse in his book “Five Addresses” (page 30).

First he asks: If Abraham did not wish his young men to be present at the binding of Isaac, why did he take them along in the first place? He answers the following: In the example of Abraham and his young men we find a complete world-view relating to the relationship between the Jewishly observant and the Jewishly non-observant. Abraham does not advocate total separation. On the one hand he takes the young men along. After all, the way to Mount Moriah is long and winding, stretching between mountains and valleys. It is full of snakes and scorpions and wild Canaanites lying in wait to attack Abraham and Isaac. In order that Abraham should be able to reach Mount Moriah in safety, in order that he should be able to sanctify the desolate mountain and to call it, “‘The L-rd will see,’ such that today it is called ‘On the L-rd’s mountain, He will be seen’” (Genesis 21:14), he needs the help even of Yishmael and Eliezer. Although they have not reached the spiritual level of Abraham and Isaac, they still, willingly or not, knowingly or not, collaborate with Abraham and accompany him to Mount Moriah.

Here Rabbi Soloveitchik adds that had Abraham separated himself entirely from the two young men and chosen to go alone, who knows if he would have reached “the place that G-d had designated” (Genesis 22:3). It is true that Abraham did not advocate separation, but neither did he advocate total unity. Abraham and the young men walked together a long distance until they arrived at a particular spot on the way to Mount Moriah, and there the group split up. He left the young men with the words, “Stay here with the donkey.” Yet he did not mean that they should separate forever. Rather, he added, “The boy and I will go to that place. We will worship and then return to you.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik is comparing the two young men to our nonobservant brethren, who were partners with the observant in the rebuilding of the State of Israel (“for the State of Israel is the path leading to Mount Moriah” (Ibid.)). Clearly, alone we could not have succeeded in establishing a state.

Yet not in everything can we be partners. When it comes to marriage law, education, Sabbath observance, non-kosher food, the Rabbinate, halachic rulings and the question of “Who is a Jew?” here we tell the young men, “Stay here with the donkey.” We collaborate with you in all the enterprises, yet there can be no compromise regarding “the place that G-d designated.”

Even so, the separation is not for the sake of creating a division, but only so that we can ascend “to that place.” Ultimately, however, we will return and raise up the spiritual level of the nonobservant as well.

I heard a similar idea from my master and teacher, Rabbi David Cohen (the Nazir). When we asked him whether or not to join our (non-observant) comrades in their army settlement group and thereby influence them, or to continue learning in the yeshiva in order to grow more in Torah, his answer was this: It says, “Full of splendor, they radiate brightness” (Kel Adon). First one has to fill himself with the splendor of Torah. Only then can he go out and radiate brightness to the community at large. 


Translation: R. Blumberg

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