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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“The longing to plant, to settle the world, is an expression of man’s inner longing to be good to all.”
(Megged Yerachim, Shevat)

Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir

Message for Today:

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

On Tu Bishvat, many Jews have a custom of planting trees throughout our beloved land. We find an allusion to this custom in our sages’ words: “From the beginning of the world’s creation, G-d dealt first with planting, as it says, ‘G-d planted a garden in Eden’ (Genesis 2:8). You, as well, when you enter the Land, must first engage in planting, as it says, ‘When you come to the Land, plant trees bearing fruit’ (Leviticus 19:23).” (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3)

From here our sages learn that we have to follow in G-d’s pathways. Just as G-d planted a garden in Eden, so must we plant trees in Eretz Yisrael, which corresponds to the garden planted in Eden.

Even so, it is not enough to plant. We must also tend what we planted. Just as G-d left man in Eden to work and preserve what he planted, so are we commanded to work and preserve our public and private lives here. Otherwise, we are liable to ruin the Garden of Eden in which we live. As our sages said: “When G-d created Adam, He took him around and showed him all the trees in Eden, and He said to him, “Observe how fine is My handiwork. Everything I created, I created for you. Be careful not to ruin and destroy My world!” (Kohelet Rabbah 7)

Also regarding eating the fruits of the Garden of Eden, Adam was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating from that Tree of Knowledge brought shame and sadness to Adam and to all mankind. Whoever would eat from that tree would imagine to himself that only he knows what is good and what is evil, and he would ignore Divine Instruction that teaches us what is really good and what is really evil. As our holy Torah tells us, the Torah is a “tree of life for those who take hold of it.”

Today, how fortunate we are that we are returning to Eretz Yisrael, planting trees there and eating their fruits. With our own eyes we are seeing the clear end of days. As Ezekiel said, “But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come” (36:8) (see Sanhedrin 98a).

Yet together with this we must work and preserve the planting in our holy, beloved land. We must work it – we must develop our land and settle it throughout its length and breadth. And we must preserve it – from the Arabs, robbers of our land, whose entire goal is to destroy the State of Israel. Above all else, we must be careful not to “eat the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. In other words, we mustn’t think that good and evil in our private and public lives depend only on our own judgment. And those who hold the reins of government must be especially careful to avoid this mistake. They must come to realize that good and evil, as far as our hold on Eretz Yisrael, are learned from our holy Torah. That is the moral basis for us and for the nations of the world as far as whether or not we are justified in holding on to the Land of our Life’s blood. As Rashi explains at the start of the Torah, should the nations come and call us thieves for having conquered Eretz Yisrael, we must answer them, “G-d told His people of His might, giving them the inheritance of nations” (Psalm 101:6). Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
Serving in the Army is a Privilege

We’ve got enemies. That’s a fact. Laban sought to wipe out Jacob, even though Jacob had done him no harm. Quite the contrary, Jacob had done only good things for Laban. He wed his daughters, worked for him devotedly, and made him wealthy. Yet, as the Maharal explains in his work “Gevurot Hashem”, and as the Vilna Gaon explains in his Hagaddah commentary, the non-Jews’ hatred is not due to any reason, such that if we accede to their demands, peace will come. Rather, they oppose in principle. After all, we did nothing bad to the Egyptians or the Babylonians, the Persians or the Greeks, the Romans or the Spaniards, the Russians or the Germans. Rambam explains in his letter to the Jews of Yemen that their war against us is actually against G-d (Mossad HaRav Kook Edition, pages 116-117). Likewise, Rav Kook explains anti-Semitism the same way in his book “Orot” (page 49).
Indeed, not just one nation rose up against us to destroy us, but in every generation they do so. There were the pogroms of 1096 carried out by the Crusaders (12,000 dead), the pogroms of Spain and France in 1320, in which 120 communities were wiped out, the pogroms of 1391 in Spain, the Polish pogroms of 1648-49 (100,000 Jews wiped out and a third of the Jewish communities destroyed); the “Hep, Hep” riots of 1819 against German Jewry; the pogroms against Russian Jewry in 1891; the Kishinev Pogrom of 2004, the Russian “Black Hundreds” riots of 1905, the Odessa pogroms in the Ukraine in 1906; the pogroms of Ukrainian President Symon Vasylyovych Petliura in 1919 (in which tens of thousands of Jews were killed), the Holocaust; etc., etc.
Yes, we’ve got enemies. Don’t rely on the nations. Even when Esau kissed Jacob, the Torah places dots over the words describing that, alluding that his “kiss” had an agenda to it. In the Holocaust, we didn’t see the nations giving us shelter or bombing the train tracks leading to the death camps.
So, who does that leave for us to rely upon? Ourselves, with G-d’s kind assistance. The exile, in which we were at the mercy of others, has ended. Now we are an independent people, and through G-d’s mercy, we’ve got an army, and we should only rely on ourselves.
Hence, we’ve got to be united. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of fighting with one another. Imagine a ship whose crew are quarreling with one another, and the passengers demand that they stop, lest the ship sink due to their quarreling.
By the way, the nations know this as well, and they try to sow strife amongst us, and they particularly seek to destroy us when they see that we are not united. Therefore, even if you think the Jewish People are in error, and it happens sometimes, don’t set yourself apart from them. Always go together with them.
This applies all the more regarding the army. When we’re in the army, we’ve got to be very strict in fulfilling the mitzvot of loving our fellow Jew and maintaining Jewish unity. The army is built upon camaraderie between fighters, on mutual trust, on our being able to rely on one another, and on obedience and discipline.
In the army, it’s “one for all and all for one.” That is also the unofficial slogan of Switzerland, first used 150 years ago the Swiss went to collect funds for victims of flooding and they wished to build up solidarity. Before that, the phrase was used by Alexander Dumas regarding the Three Musketeers, who were faithful to one another through fire and water.
Whoever creates strife within the army, all sorts of quarrels and confusion and refusals an demonstrations and threats, has no business being there. He doesn’t understand what the army is to begin with, so he’s not really there anyway. This applies both in the regular army and in the reserves.
We can get along better without him than with him. Whoever does not understand what the army is should not go there. Whoever is not proud to be in the army should not go. Whoever does not understand that the army is not just a duty but a privilege should not go. We can arrange a place for him in compulsory national service. We can get along without him in the army. As it is, using various pretexts, 23% of the population does not enlist anyway. So let the population that enlists be a little bit smaller. Let it be 76% instead of 77%, but then we’ll know that whoever is there can be relied upon. Whoever enlists should receive benefits all his life.
The same applies with reserve duty. If someone uses the reserves as a political weapon, he shouldn’t go. We don’t need him. As it is, only 4.5 percent of the population does reserve duty. You don’t believe me? Let’s do a little bit of figuring. Only 30% are fit for the Reserves (the rest include draft dodgers, people with medical, family or work exemptions, Chareidim, criminals and Israelis abroad). Of those 30 percent, only 60% actually show up for reserve duty. Of these, only 25% serve more than four days a year. Multiplying 100 percent times .25 times .30 times .60 yields 4.5%
Then, if someone is going to be in the army with us, we’ll know that he is really with us, that we can rely on him. We won’t have to teach him what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your nation as yourself, to love your country as yourself. It will be in his blood. We won’t have to teach him what a fighting spirit is, the meaning of the Jewish People down through the generations, the meaning of Eretz Yisrael, the meaning of having an awareness of history. Whether he’s religious or irreligious, it will be in his blood.
Altogether, you can’t teach someone on the battlefield what he doesn’t have in him already. You can only help him to discover what he does have. Therefore, don’t teach a soldier all sorts of individualistic theories that contradict what he does on a day-to-day basis. Teach him what he already believes with all his heart and soul: “One for all and all for one.” Teach him, “The army is not just a duty. It’s a privilege”

* This article was written on November 29, 2009 and is not relating to any particular phenomenon, but is meant generally.

Rabbi Eran Tamir 

It is not hard to imagine the pressure, fear and confusion that gripped Israel when they arrived at the Red Sea, with the sea before them and Egypt behind. They must have felt totally impotent, caught “between a rock and a hard place.” The truth is that our sages describe Israel’s plight then in various ways. One of them is what they say in a number of places (e.g., the Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 2:5; Mechilta, Beshalach 2): “There were four groups by the sea: One said, ‘Let’s fall in the sea.’ One said, ‘Let’s return to Egypt.’ One said, ‘Let’s make war against them.’ One said, ‘Let’s cry out against them.’”

Making a free translation to our situation today, we could say that in the difficult situation of the Jewish People today there are four movements, four political parties.

1. There is the party of those in despair: They say, “Let’s fall in the sea. We have no chance. All is lost. Therefore, it is better for us to die of our own free will (gambling the whole kitty?), and not to be prey in the cruel jaws of the enemy.” Such despair can be found in our own day in various forms.

2. The Realist Party: In the name of practical reality, they say, “Let us return to Egypt. There is no chance at the moment to fight the Egyptians. Therefore, let us go back there. The main this is that we should live, even as slaves. Maybe a day will come when they will grant us equal rights and we will be able to live like other people in tranquility and dignity, to ‘be a man at home and an Egyptian when you go out’. We will lead ethical lives, like all the nations. We will develop our human intellect in the field of advanced technology in the Egyptian empire and we will blend in to the universal world culture.”

3. The National Honor Party – “Let’s wage war against them.” Who says we should go back to the Egypt of slavery? No way! We are not even willing to accept the rights of foreign residents in Egypt and to live in equality. Where is our national honor? We want to be a free nation that leads its own life, with its own politics, army and economy. We also want to have a fully developed culture with our own literature, theatre, music and Sports. Our slogan is “To be a free people in our land.” We have dreams of our own. We shall not submit to the enemy under any circumstances. Forward attack!

4. The Spiritual Party. “Let’s cry out against them!” The sefer “Torah Temimah” (Shemot 14) explains this to mean “Let’s cry out to G-d to answer us.” Through the merit of the power of prayer we will be saved. We will not win by war. Certainly we mustn’t assimilate among the Egyptians. The main thing is the spirit – we will win through the spirit — we will pray, and G-d will help us by a miracle.

Thus were these four groups arguing and fighting, which each one entrenching itself behind its own stand. None of them was willing to hear the views of the other at all. And who was right? Our sages continue (ibid.): “Moses to the group that said, ‘Let us fall in the sea,’ ‘Stand and see G-d’s salvation.’ To the one that said to go back to Egypt, G-d said, ‘You saw Egypt today but you shall not continue to see it.’ To the one that said, ‘Let’s wage war against them,’ Moses said, ‘The L-rd will fight for you,’ and to the one that said, ‘Let us pray,’ he said, ‘You remain silent.’”

It follows that according to our sages’ response, each group separately, was wrong. All the same, could it be that no particular side was right in the argument, an argument that has never ended from those days until now, an argument that echoes down through the entire complex and winding course of Jewish history?

The answer to this question is given by Rav Kook (Orot HaTechiyah 18): “Three forces are presently struggling for ascendancy within our camp. The fight between them is most recognizable right now in Eretz Yisrael, but the struggle has gone on throughout the life of our people. The roots of these three forces are fixed within the consciousness penetrating the expanses of the human spirit… holiness, nationalism and humanism. These are the three forces that make demands on us as Jews, and on every human being, in some form or another…”

If so, we are certainly not from among those in despair. We are people of faith, who understand that we have to join together the different forces. The source of them all is faith – holiness – the party of the spirit. It is that which infuses in us the divine values and goals which are meant to be revealed in every step of our lives as a nation. It is this which shall imbue the proper values into the “National Honor Party.”

Yet this does not suffice. We must, indeed, leave Egypt, and get away from “practical realism,” yet we must also extract from there all the tools we need, like the human intellect, advanced technology, etc. And we must discover, through them as well, the great spirit within us. Therefore, if it sometimes seems as though we are still incapable of harnessing all the forces, we still must not give up on any of them. We must work, openly and in the background, in the short term and the long term, to reveal all three forces together. With G-d’s help we will merit to continue the song of Moses, with the words, “Sing to Hashem a new song” – by way of the complete redemption of Israel with all its forces, and the whole world together with it.

Translation: R. Blumberg

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