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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“When we seek something in our prayers, we have to make certain our ultimate intent is for G-d to remove evil and darkness from the world and increase the goodness and light associated with lives of perfection and holiness. When people lead such lives, not just one lack is filled, but all needs are met and everything flawed is rendered whole. Deep within our souls we long precisely for this perfection.” (Olat Re’iyah 1:16)

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Rabbi Dov BegonFounder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “The Land is Full of Violence [in Hebrew-Hamas]

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would tell his students about a group of academicians who suggested he meet with Moslem clergy to discuss issues of the times. Rav Kook didn’t refuse, but he made the meeting conditional on their recognizing the right of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael. At this point he would say humorously, “Until today I am awaiting their reply, which has never arrived.” Indeed, Rav Tzvi Yehuda strongly insisted that there is no room for negotiations with the Arabs and there is nothing to talk about with them as long as they do not recognize our right to our land in its Biblical borders.

Since the Six Day War, in which we were privileged to liberate Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Israeli prime ministers from Left and Right have been willing to talk and negotiate with the Arabs without preconditions. In other words, they accepted the Arabs’ false claim that they have a share in our land. Our leaders dispensed with the belief, held by the Jewish People through the generations, and during their 2,000 year exile, that Eretz Yisrael belongs exclusively to the Jewish People, as it says in our holy Torah and was promised to Abraham: “On that day, the L-rd forged a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To your seed have I given this land’” (Genesis 15:18).

The Arabs with their false propaganda that we conquered a land not ours, succeeded in influencing some of our prime ministers and some of our people. This weakened us and ultimately led us to the wretched, dangerous “Oslo” accords, to Barak’s separation plan and to Sharon’s Plan for disengagement and the forced expulsion of Jews from Eretz Yisrael. For their part, the Arabs and the entire world view that expulsion as a victory for the Arabs, and as proof that terror pays.

Today, the Hamas election victory requires our nation and leadership from the entire political spectrum to reassess their relationship to Eretz Yisrael and the Arabs. Our nation must recognize the fundamental error of being willing to negotiate with the Arabs without demanding that they sincerely recognize our right to all of Eretz Yisrael. We must find ways of working to strengthen and exalt the nation’s spirit, and to provide them with a new political and social agenda. Out of faith and fortitude and trust in the justness of the Jewish People rising to rebirth after 2,000 years of exile to bring light to the world, we must learn and recognize what is the Jewish People and what is its destiny: The People of Israel in the Land of Israel is the light of the universe, as all the prophets said. Whoever rises up against them is seeking to snuff out this light. We must return to ourselves and acknowledge our identity, worth and purpose. If we do so, we will be able to stand up to our enemies with fortitude and valor, and we will merit true peace, as it says, “The L-rd will grant strength to His people. He will bless His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!

Write a letter of support to Jonathan Pollard, in jail for 20 years because of his love for the Jewish People and our Land! Address letters to:
Jonathan Pollard # 09185-016
FCI Butner Medium
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Butner, NC 27509 (USA)

Rabbi Shlomo AvinerRabbi of Beit El
“Rabbis aren’t Magicians”

Rabbis are not magicians who can turn the world upside down and solve all the world’s problems by way of Rabbinic benedictions. True, it says, “Whoever has a sick person in his house should ask a sage to beg mercy on his behalf” (Bava Batra 116a), and Nemukei Yosef comments, “It is customary that whoever has someone ill asks of the yeshiva head to bless him (ibid.). Rabbi Moshe Isserlis likewise writes, “Whoever has a sick person in his home should ask a local sage to beg mercy for him” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 335:10). All this is true. Yet one should not think this is the whole truth, for it is only part of it. The whole truth is, “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree” (Yom Kippur Prayers).

Even the power of the rabbi himself comes from the fact that he is praying. Our sages said that he feels so much pain for the sick person that he himself becomes ill (Berachot 12b). Everyone makes requests of rabbis: “Please, give me a blessing for a complete recovery”; “I have bad back pains”; “I want a good match, a G-d-fearing boy of good character from a righteous, upright family”; “we need financial support”; “My daughter doesn’t listen to me”; “Save us from evil thoughts”; “Pray for speedy redemption”; “for Divine assistance in all spheres”; “for ascent in my faith and trust in G-d”… Rabbis have been turned into blessing dispensers. Yet this approach, of doing nothing and thinking the rabbi is a magician, isn’t right!

One needs repentance, prayer and charity! One needs Torah learning and mitzvah fulfillment! One needs the fear of G-d and good character! That’s what we learn throughout the Written and Oral Torah. To this one can certainly add blessings and prayers from the rabbi, yet one shouldn’t think this a sort of magic button. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi said, you can’t fly to heaven with a single word, neither can a single word solve a problem. One needs toil. And anyway, it is inappropriate to burden rabbis in spheres they do not understand. For example, they are not physicians. They may have amassed experience in medical matters and so can give advice, like any person who has amassed experience, but they cannot advise you as physicians.

Likewise, they are not economists. Here, as well, however, they probably have amassed some wisdom such that they can give good advice, but not as rabbis. Rabbi Shneor Zalmen of Liadi, the author of the “Tanya”, complained that people would bother him with matters of the material world and matters of earning a living. Surely our sages said, “There are seven things that are concealed from man, and amongst them how a person earns a living, as well as when the Messianic Kingdom will return.” And just as a rabbi does not know when the Messiah will come, he also does not know how a person will earn a living. When it says that we benefit from rabbis’ advice, that is referring to Torah-related matters (Igarot HaKodesh 22).

In fact, one really should ask rabbis about matters involving serving G-d. For example, which is better? Living in a town permeated with Torah or one devoid of Torah (see Avot at the end of Chapter 6)? Sending one’s children to a Torah-enhanced school or a non-Torah-enhanced school? Learning Torah or reading the newspaper? Lying, gossiping, insulting and cursing or avoiding such speech? In all these realms rabbis have real expertise. Rabbis do not necessarily understand real estate purchases or stock investments, but they can tell you: “Don’t spend more than you earn. Don’t live in overdraft. It is unethical to live off free-interest loans at the expense of others – so please don’t buy that car or cell phone.” They don’t understand cars but they will gladly tell you to be careful and to drive slowly. One doesn’t even need advice regarding how to name one’s child. The main thing is that it shouldn’t be the name of an evildoer, a boy’s name for a girl or any strange name that causes embarrassment. What they can advise you about, in order that there should be a good influence on the spiritual character of your children, is that you shouldn’t have a television, video or Internet in your home. Rather, you should set fixed times for Torah learning.

Even regarding Eretz Yisrael, they don’t have wonder cures. Neither did the prophets have wonder cures, and they did not succeed in preventing the destruction of the First Temple. Eretz Yisrael is one of those things that require self-sacrifice. We have to recall that self-sacrifice does not guarantee a miracle occurring. Regarding Leviticus 22:32, “I must be sanctified amongst the Israelites” (Leviticus 22:32), Rashi comments, “When one risks one’s life [for a Torah cause], one must be resigned to the possibility of death. If someone risks his life expecting a miracle, no miracle will be performed for him. We thus find that Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah did not risk their lives with any expectation of a miracle.” Judah Macabee likewise told his soldiers: We shall do our duty, and “the L-rd G-d will do whatever He sees fit.” (Hasmoneans 3:60).

Rabbis are definitely not magicians. They don’t understand everything, neither is it their job to know everything. Even so, they are happy to help you. It is therefore up to you to exercise responsibility. It’s very good that one fulfills the mitzvah to “Provide oneself with a master” (Avot 1:6) and that one has a personal connection with Torah scholars. Yet the main thing is not to kiss his hand while being semi-religious and making no effort. By observing his personality, one can learn more than from a thousand Torah lectures. One must learn good character, the fear of G-d, diligence in Torah learning, kindness and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Rabbi Elisha AvinerEducation Corner
“The Educational Directives of the “Tiferet Yisrael”
(Part 1)

The well-known Mishnah commentator, Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, Rabbinic Chief Justice of Danzig and author of the commentary “Tiferet Yisrael” integrated educational directives into his commentary on Avot. I shall bring a number of examples:

The accepted interpretation of the Mishnaic utterance, “I have found nothing better for a body [in Hebrew: “goof”] than silence,” is that silence is seemly, as the Mishnah in Avot states, “Silence is a fence around wisdom.” Most commentaries interpreted the utterance this way. For example, Rambam said, “Amongst the identifying characteristics of the sage is his minimizing speech… Much talk is amongst the identifying characteristics of the fool.” Bartenura noted that the Mishnah praises “those who hear themselves insulted yet remain silent.”

By contrast, Tiferet Yisrael interpreted this mishnah in the opposite manner. He explains that the mishnah is saying that no benefit will derive to the body from silence. Why? And how does he interpret the word “goof”, which literally means “body”? He explains:

“Goof” is an expression for a student at the start of his studies, when he sits before his master and learns from him. The Mishnah calls him a “goof” because “he is still like a body, which seeks to house a living spirit of wisdom within.” Of that new student the Mishnah was saying: No benefit can derive to him from remaining silent before his master. “As long as he sits like a desolate statue, he will never be exalted!” His silence “harms his grasp, his intellectual sharpness and his memory. Only through give and take, only through his asking questions and hearing his master’s answers will he arrive at full understanding.” Moreover, “through speech, what he is learning will be etched in his heart, forever hewn like stone. Whoever studies in a whisper will quickly forget.” “Study out loud leaves a greater imprint on the mind, and remains longer in the memory.” Our sages thus tell of the student who learned in a whisper, and after three years forgot all his learning.

Besides this, because of his silence, others are liable to think that he lacks intelligence. The story is thus told that when Rav Kahana came to Eretz Yisrael from Babylonia, people said of him, “A lion has come from Babylonia.” Rabbi Yochanan therefore placed him in the first row of students. Yet, after he studied in silence, Rabbi Yochanan pushed him back to the last row, saying, “The lion of the group has been turned into a fox.” Alternately, silence can be interpreted as disparagement of what the master is teaching. People say, “In his arrogance he is uninterested in give and take regarding his master’s words.”

In light of the preceding, how does Tiferet Yisrael interpret the end of the Mishnah, which states, “Whoever speaks much brings sin”? He explains that this instruction is addressed to the teacher: He should not talk too much, neither should he say anything superfluous in his class. “Talking too much causes him to err in what he is saying. Both he and his listeners then get confused and his students do not understand well. It also causes his words to be forgotten… For that reason our sages admonished, ‘One should always teach his students with terse language.’” An educator must adopt a terse style that hits the mark, expressing precisely his intent. Talking too much just confuses.

Regarding the Mishnah, “Make your Torah study a regular habit [keva] (Avot 1:6),” Tiferet Yisrael lists five principles for success in studying and remembering, all of which derive from different interpretations of the word “keva”.

1. One should give his all, and not just part of himself. One should concentrate on his study. This includes posture. Some body positions, such as lying down or leaning on one’s arm “put one to sleep, preventing full understanding.” All the more so that one should not eat or do work while studying Torah. As far as the study itself, one shouldn’t let the mind wander, “thinking about other things while studying.” The suggested solution is to learn out loud. This “disperses other thoughts.” Worrying is especially harmful to memory. In this regard our sages said, “Study requires clear thinking.” Not only worry disturbs concentration but also excessively joy and revelry. Yet the happiness involved in the study itself not only does not hurt learning, but helps. As King David said, “I delight in Your statutes, then I don’t forget Your words” (Psalm 119:16).

2. “Keva” also refers to serenity. Therefore, during study distance yourself from noise and commotion and seek out a quiet place. Look for a nice, spacious room with lots of windows, and aesthetic books with large print. All such elements “provide serenity and broaden the mind,” contributing to internalizing what is learned.

3. “Keva” also refers to constancy. “One should not learn in starts and stops. Interruptions cause one to forget one’s learning. Hence one should concentrate on a maximum of three learning topics at a time. “One shouldn’t learn many topics each day.” Of this it says (Eruvin 54b), “If someone puts his Torah learning in many small packages, it will decrease.” Jumping from one topic to another does not allow “what he learned to become rooted within him, for every new thought pushes out the old.” Tiferet Yisrael asks the student to focus not only on fixed topics, but to make himself a set framework even regarding the externals: “Even within one topic, the student should not change the book he uses, the room he studies in, or even the place he studies in that room. He shouldn’t even change the time he studies at. Rather, he should have a special, fixed time for the one topic, and a different time for other study. Sticking to such a fixed schedule will strengthen his memory, and every change will weaken it.”

4. “Keva” also refers to increased effort. “One should strengthen one’s learning, never moving on to a new topic until one feels that he has the old one down pat. It should be clear to him without any obscurity or hesitation.” This refers as well to oral review. One should review until it flows freely, for “it is a proven fact that improved memory is influenced by repetition.” Tiferet Yisrael emphasizes that oral repetition is recommended during childhood.

5. “Keva” can refer as well to “taking hold of oneself.” Numerous burdens can disturb a person from learning. He must forcibly free himself from those burdens during his study time. Otherwise, he will accomplish nothing.   (to be continued…)

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