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 Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
Abraham’s Generous, Loving Nature
When G-d decides to punish and destroy
It is true that the people of
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
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
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
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
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
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
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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