From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“When the time comes for the ancient light to appear…spirits will be very low. Life will be stagnant. From outside will come the sound of a reveling throng, coarse and wild…the suffering from such misfortune constitutes the pain of childbirth looming on the horizon. Vibrant lives are sparkling forth to return to their holy source, to renew the world with their glorious splendor.”
(Orot HaKodesh I:153-4)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
“Turn Away From Evil, do Good, Love Life”
G-d commanded Moses to speak to the Israelites, admonishing and directing them before their entrance into the Land: “Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow [any] of their customs” (Leviticus 18:3). Rashi explains that the deeds of the Egyptians and the Canaanites were more corrupt than those of all other nations. He comments on the expression, “Do not follow any of their customs”: “What did Scripture leave [unsaid] which was not previously stated? Rather, this verse refers to their customs, matters which are [social] obligations for them, such as [attending] theaters and stadiums.”
These activities are in the class of “the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), activities that lead one to neglect Torah learning. Well-known is the Rabbinic rule that whoever scoffs will be visited by suffering (Avodah Zarah 18b). What precedes in the category of “avoiding evil” (Psalm 34:15). As far as the obligation to “do good” (ibid.), it says, “Follow My laws and be careful to keep My decrees, [for] I am the L-rd your G-d. Keep My decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that a person can [truly] live. I am the L-rd” (Leviticus 18:4-5).
Rashi explains “Be careful to keep My decrees” as follows: “Don’t dispense with your obligation. Don’t say, ‘I’ve finished learning Jewish wisdom. Now I shall go and learn the wisdom of the nation.’” Quite the contrary, we have to learn Torah in such a way that we learn it our whole life. That is how we fulfill, “Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the L-rd; and in His law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1; Avodah Zarah 18b).
What was true in Biblical times is true still. When Israel first set out on the stage of history, we were admonished, “Avoid evil and do good.” We were to “avoid evil” – not to do the deeds of the Egyptians and Canaanites, who were steeped in sexual sin, idolatry and theft; neither to develop a culture of theatres and stadiums, involving scoffing and frivolity, or competitions involving violence and cruelty. Today, as well, we mustn’t pursue that same culture of scoffing, violence and cruelty. Yet today these sins are occurring not just in the new theaters and stadiums, but unfortunately almost everywhere there is television and Internet. There, we find the wholesale display of sex, violence and evil, all of which can influence the psyche and behavior of the spectators. In fact, such content leads to unprecedented neglect of Torah learning and deterioration in morality, behavior and values.
We are also commanded to “do good.” The terrible crisis plaguing education and culture in our country requires that these frameworks engage in deep and candid soul-searching, and that the public do so as well. All must ask whether the time has not arrived to return to our Jewish roots, to learn and to teach our holy Torah with love, not just on an individual basis, but on a governmental level. Surely, that crisis of spirit, morality and values which plagues Israeli society plagues almost every Jewish home, the education system and the entire governmental framework, and it requires us to make a fundamental change in order to imbue spiritual content and values into our country.
As one of our heads of state said in our country’s infancy: “The Jewish Nation is not just a national or political unit. It incorporates also a spiritual, ethical will and has borne a historic vision ever since it appeared on the stage of history… We cannot understand Jewish history or our people’s fight for survival if we do not envision the spiritual and philosophical uniqueness of the Jewish People.” May there soon be fulfilled through us the words, “Who is the man who desires life and loves days, that he may see good therein? Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Looking forward to complete salvation,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
We’ve Made Progress
Question: Today, how can it be that we are on a higher level than the Desert Generation, which merited numerous miracles and was led by Moses? It’s true that now, as well, in our land, we are facing crises regarding the Torah and Eretz Yisrael, but they are nothing compared to the sins of the Golden Calf, the spies and other severe sins.
Answer: Indeed, our sages said that our own redemption will be greater, so much so that Ben Zoma declared that in the Messianic era, the Exodus will no longer be mentioned (Berachot 12b). As it says:
“Behold, the days come – says the L-rd – when they shall no more say, ‘As the L-rd lives, that brought up the People of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the L-rd lives, that brought up and that led the seed of the House of Israel out of the north country and all the countries where I had driven them.’ They shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:7-8)
In fact, the present ingathering of the exiles is more remarkable than the Egyptian Exodus. Then, the entire people left Egypt together for Jerusalem. Now, the entire Jewish People have left all the countries of the world and returned to Eretz Yisrael, as though acting in synch. Moreover, in Egypt we had Moses. Now, there is no Moses. Now we are sheep without a shepherd.
This has a disadvantage, but also an advantage. The advantage is that we are sheep who have done amazing things without a shepherd. The entire rebuilding of the Land, the entire return to Zion, the entire establishment of the Jewish State, all of Israel’s wars, the entire return to the Torah to Israel, we accomplished as sheep without a shepherd.
The shepherd will certainly come along, but not to solve problems that the sheep can solve alone. See Rashi at the start of Psalms, Chapter 70, which employs the parable of a king who gets angry, destroys his sheep-pen, exiles the shepherd and banishes the flocks. Afterwards the king calms down, rebuilds the sheep-pen and brings back the flocks. The shepherd asks, “And what about me?” The king answers that he remembers him. Thus, the shepherd is brought back last.
When we left Egypt, we were like sheep entirely dependent on a shepherd. Hence, when the shepherd was absent, we committed the sin of the Golden Calf. On many other occasions, we were entirely dependent on the shepherd, like a boy who is dependent on his father and mother. Therefore, we sinned many times.
Now we know how to function without a shepherd, and we accomplish much. Even when we sin, it’s far from the level of sin that there was then.
All the same, our sages say, “It is not that the Egyptian Exodus will be uprooted [from our awareness], but that our ultimate removal from the exile will be central and the Exodus from Egypt will be secondary” (Berachot ibid.). Here, however, Maharal carries out a Copernican revolution or paradigm shift in the introduction to his book “Netzach Yisrael”. There he explains that the relationship between the Egyptian Exodus and our ultimate liberation from the nations’ yoke is like the relationship between cause and effect. The cause is minor compared to the effect, and yet at the same time, the kernel of the effect is hidden within the cause.
It’s like an apple seed buried in the earth. It’s insignificant compared to a large apple tree, but the potential of a tree is hidden within. Everything we are doing now with such great talent was hidden within us when we left Egypt, just as all of the adult’s talents are stored away in him when he is a child.
Similarly, our master Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook asked his father, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, what stage we are at in the redemption – the start, the middle or the end?
His father responded that it depends on whether he was talking about the practical reality or the spiritual potential. In terms of the practical reality, the situation was very weak still. It was only the start of redemption. Yet the spiritual awakening that was occurring possessed the power to usher the supreme redemption to completion.
We should not boast about all the wonderful things we are doing now in our country, and look at eye level, or down our noses, at the Desert Generation. The Desert Generation was us, and everything we are doing now was already stored away in them. It just needed thousands of years of processing.
How fortunate we are to have been so privileged!
Rabbi Yaakov Filber
When the Torah says of G-d that He “remains with the Israelites even when they are impure” (Leviticus 16:16), it is telling us two things. Not only does this express the eternal relationship of G-d to Israel, expressed by, “The L-rd will never abandon His people” (Psalm 94:14), but also tells us that when we are sinful, G-d doesn’t “stop being friends” with us. Rather, He continues to love us even if we are unworthy.
This statement is exceedingly important in our age. It is especially so considering that because a large pioneering community were thrown out of their homes and transformed into refugees without a place to call their own, many, especially young members of the Religious Zionist population, have decided to take a reserved attitude to the State institutions that committed an injustice against innocent citizens, to “stop being friends” with the Jewish State and even to stop praying for its welfare. One of the mitzvoth of the Torah commands us to “walk in G-d’s path” (Deuteronomy 28:9). Rambam comments, “We must emulate G-d’s good and upright ways.”
In Hilchot De’ot 1:6, Rambam adds: “What is our sages’ exposition regarding this mitzvah? Just as G-d is called ‘kind,’ so must you be kind. Just as He is called ‘merciful,’ so must you be merciful. Just as He is called ‘holy’, so must you be holy.” This mitzvah was derived from Pesikta (Devarim, Re’eh): “‘Follow the L-rd your G-d’ (Deuteronomy 13:5): Just as He is kind and gracious, so must you be. Just as He is kind, so must you be.”
It is true that from our sages words we learn that a person must be kind and merciful like G-d, but the source does not make clear whether we must show mercy only to those who do G-d’s will or whether even the wicked are the objects of G-d’s mercy. This question finds an answer in Eliyahu Rabbah (Ish Shalom), Chapter: “Bedarkei Shamayim”: “Just as G-d is kind and merciful to the wicked, accepting their repentance, so must we be merciful to one another.”
All the same, this kind of mercy seems to contradict the Talmud’s words (Bava Kamma 50a: “Whoever says that G-d concedes regarding sin will concede his life, as it says, ‘The deeds of the Mighty One are perfect. All His ways are just’ (Deuteronomy 32:4).” Rashi comments: “The person who speaks this way will lose his life because he leads people to sin.”
The Talmud answers the question when it asks, “What does the Torah mean by using the expression “‘erech apayim’ [‘slow to anger’, with the word ‘apayim’ [anger] expressed in a plural]. Why not use the singular?” The Talmud answers, “There is one anger for the righteous and another for the wicked.” In other words, the account books are not closed. A person is destined to give a full account of his deeds, to be rewarded for his good deeds and to be punished for his evil deeds. At the same time, however, even if a person did evil, he is still allowed to repent, to recognize his sins and to be contrite over them. If his evil deed was towards his fellow man, contrition will not suffice. Rather, he will have to propitiate the victim, to restore to him the object he stole, or to right whatever wrong he committed. In any event, however, a person must be given the opportunity to rectify his misdeeds. We learn this from the verse, “G-d remains with them even when they are unclean.” Even when they are impure, the Divine Presence remains with them.
This contradiction between Strict Divine Justice and Divine Mercy can be resolved in another way as well, by distinguishing between G-d’s conduct towards the individual and towards the entire Jewish People. Sin is found in the individual, who is liable to sin through his free will. He is liable through his sin even to cut off his soul, as it says, “That soul shall be cut off from its people” (Exodus 31:14).
By contrast, regarding Israel in the aggregate it says, “G-d does not look at wrongdoing in Jacob. He sees no vice in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). In terms of the Jewish individual’s connection to the Jewish People our sages said, “A Jew, even if he sins, is still a Jew.” Thus, the basic Jewish essence, which is a divine quality, no Jew can forfeit. Therefore, even if he sins individually through his free will, he still continues to be a Jew.
This distinction between the evil component in man and the divine quality within him we find in the Sefer “Tanya” (Chapter 32), which states that even regarding those who have not repented from their sins, “whom we are commanded to hate, we are commanded also to love. Both commands are true. We must hate them for the evil in them and love for the good hidden within them. That good is the divine spark within them, which sustains their divine spirit.” Even after one achieves hatred for the evil side within the wicked, the Tanya writes, “One must arouse mercy in one’s heart regarding the evil of the wicked, for it is as though the Satanic forces that overcome the wicked have taken them into exile. Our mercy then nullifies our hatred and arouses our love.”
There have always been wicked people and evildoers amongst the Jewish People. It is true that we mustn’t ignore or minimize the severity of their deeds. At the same time, however, we must remember that they are our brothers and we must have mercy on them. We must work not to distance them but to bring them near to the righteous path.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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