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PARASHAT BEHAR – BECHUKOTAI

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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“The longing for the building of the Temple and for the sacrificial service is the most noble, lofty ambition any sensitive spirit or lyrical soul could imagine. It leads to the practical elevation of life, the spiritual ascent of the universe, and to all of life achieving contact with the light of Eternal G-d.” (Erpalei Tohar, 10)


Rabbi Dov BegonFounder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Raise the Flag of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day”


Ninety-two years ago, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook called for the establishment of a political movement by the name of “Degel Yerushalayim”, whose purpose would be to infuse holiness into the course of the national rebirth which was then in its beginnings. Rabbi Kook had seen how the Zionist Movement was being run in accordance with an ideology founded on secularism, and “having nothing to do with religion.” Rav Kook saw in this an enormous deficit in the process of rebirth of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.

Three main goals stood before him in the establishment of Degel Yerushalayim:

1. A quantitative goal: To unite the religious and Chareidi publics – which had not joined the Zionist Movement due to its distance from religion and Jewishness — into an influential political body that would be a partner in the process of rebirth. Had this process succeeded, it would have brought about a great wave of Aliya amongst the Chareidi public in advance of the terrible Holocaust, and would have influenced the Jewish image of the State-in-the-making, and of the State of Israel today.

2. A qualitative goal: To breathe a holy fire into the onset of the process of rebirth. Already back then, Zionism was lacking the dimension of holiness, and it viewed religion as a private matter and not a national matter at all. (Had Rav Kook succeeded, the worldview that separates “church” and state would never have gained political and public relevance).

3. To bring the Jewish People and the world to recognize that the rebirth of the Jewish People in their land is a matter of importance for the whole world, just as all the prophets of Israel prophesied. Israel is the light of the world. Israel’s recognizing their identity, uniqueness and destiny would breath a great spirit into them, and would give them the strength and ability to withstand the pressures of the nations, knowing why they had arisen to rebirth and established a state.

King David wrote, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning” (Psalm 137:5). On this Jerusalem Day, let us remember that Jerusalem is the holy city, the city in which holiness is revealed on earth. And in order that holiness should be so revealed, we must return to Rav Kook’s plan to “raise up the flag of Jerusalem,” i.e, to establish a socio-political-religious movement that will infuse holy content into the entire process of national rebirth. And may we thereby merit to see with our own eyes how the words of the prophet will be revealed: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:4). With blessings for a joyous Jerusalem Day, and looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit El
“Regarding Army Service for Women”


Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook said that theoretically speaking, even women are obligated to fight in a milchemet mitzvah [compulsory war]. As the Mishnah states, “Even a groom from his chamber and a bride from her wedding canopy [must go to war]” (Sotah 44b). Likewise, Rambam rules, “In a milchemet mitzvah all must go to war, even a groom from his chamber and a bride from her wedding canopy” (Melachim 7:4). Our situation today would be classified as a milchemet mitvah by Ramban, since we are still at war in our conquest of the Land (Note 4 from Ramban’s Additions to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot), and by Rambam, since our wars involve “assisting the Jewish People against their enemies” (Melachim 5:1). The latter is itself an extension of the Torah’s command, “Do not stand by when your neighbor’s life is in danger” (Leviticus 19:16).

Yet our sages said, “It is the nature of man to conquer, but not the nature of woman” (Yevamot 65b). Therefore, Radbaz, Rabbi David ben Zimra, wished to soften Rambam’s statement and to say that he didn’t have in mind actual military tasks but offering soldiers assistance, in line with Rambam’s comment that women should “provide food and water to their husbands” (Melachim 7:4). This novel thought is not mentioned in the Mishnah, the Talmud or in Rambam, who quoted the Mishnah word for word. It is clear that Rambam’s intent was to all war tasks (and the same can be found in Sefer HaMitzvot, at the end of Shoresh 4).

Rambam would explain that “It is not the nature of women to conquer” was not said regarding milchemet mitzvah and women bearing weapons in them. While women bearing weapons is normally forbidden due to “No male article shall be on a woman” (Deuteronomy 22:5; Nazir 49a), in a compulsory war, a life and death situation overrides all else.

In this way Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda clarified the fundamentals of the law (Sichot Rabbenu: “Ish VeIsha, se’if 42-43, LeNitivot Yisrael I, page 124). Yet he immediately added that in making a halachic ruling, it is essential to take into account the trials and obstacles to modesty faced by girls serving in the army. “In girls’ military service, there is a danger of moral decline, and it is hard for a girl to maintain her pristine modesty… It is a fact that in the army there is a problem with modesty.” Therefore, Rav Tzvi Yehuda directs us to turn to the “judge who will be in those times” (Deuteronomy 17:9), in other words, the Chief Rabbis of Israel. As is known, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate forbade girls to participate in military service, in any form of a draft, from then until now.

Therefore, later on Rav Tzvi Yehuda publicized his view negating military service for girls, in accordance with Radbaz, not because that is the essence of the law, but as a fence around modesty. He also said that we should view National Service as a way of preparing girls to serve their people and land: “Our holy Mishnah states for all time that in a milchemet mitzvah even the bride goes forth from her wedding canopy. According to the decision and clarification of the greatest later sage following Rambam – Radbaz – the Mishnah means that girls should assist the army. Today this can be accomplished through the ‘National Service’ arrangement, bearing in mind our sages’ enormous caution regarding situations where modesty is at stake, as described at the end of Kiddushin” (Sichot Rabbenu, ibid., 44).

Obviously, even regarding National Service, not all locations are the same. Some are reputable, and it is a mitzvah to serve there, but unfortunately there are also places where things are different. We can employ the following yardstick: Just as we won’t eat food unless it carries the approbation of an authorized rabbi, so too, a girl should not do National Service without the program in question receiving the approbation of an authorized rabbi or rebbetzin.

Yet regarding military service for girls, that program has always been rejected entirely by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and Rav Tzvi Yehuda issued the same ruling. If, however, a girl enlists all the same, we have to engage in damage control. We must therefore praise the “Aluma” Organization which directs girls to army programs in which less immodesty prevails, providing them with guidance and assistance all through their service. After all, if someone is falling, we don’t push him down further. We further must praise the pre-military program for girls, “Tzahali VaRoni Yoshevet Tziyon,” slated for opening. If a girl is going to enlist either way, we have to strengthen her in Torah and the fear of G-d in preparation for her enlistment, and Torah study is always good.

Obviously these words of praise are not meant provide any legitimacy to girls’ military service. They are only an expression of our bearing responsibility for the entire Jewish People, even if they do not follow the straight and narrow. After all, there are co-educational pre-army programs, including one of the Reform Movement, and they, too, provide great assistance to draftees, hence they belong to the umbrella organization of the pre-military programs. All the more that there is a place for pre-military programs for religious girls. May we be so fortunate that from “Tzahali VaRoni Yoshevet Tziyon” we should advance to “The princess’s glory is all on the inside” (Psalm 45:14).


Rabbi Ya’akov FilberGuest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“When Your Brother Becomes Impoverished…You Must Come to his Aid”

The mitzvah of “coming to the aid” of our impoverished brother (Leviticus 25:35) is usually explained economically as referring to supporting and helping our fellow man who has suffered financial collapse. Nonetheless, without a doubt it applies as well to man’s spiritual side. Here too we mustn’t stand off on the side and remain aloof to our fellow man’s failings. Rather, we must take care to put him back on his feet spiritually and ethically.

In an open letter to our young brethren living in the Holy Land, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote: “With all my love for learning and teaching our Jewish foundations, I am far from seeking control over the views of any other human being. Nowadays that is out of the question.” In response to these words, his student Dr. Moshe Zeidl asked him, “Are you acting so because you have no choice or is such Torah law?” In other words, is your restraint regarding forcing Judaism on others a matter of principle or tactical?”

In response (Igeret 20), Rav Kook writes that from having said, “Nowadays”, it sounds as though if such coercion were not out of the question, it would be called for. He therefore sets forth the limits of coercion: Coercion has to take into account “freedom of opinion”, itself a value that has to be protected. Rav Kook delineates the limits on freedom and the extent to which freedom must be restricted. In his view, since the essence of our existence as a people and our survival depends on our knowing G-d and on our keeping Torah and mitzvoth, there is no room for tolerance in this regard, and whoever shows tolerance deserves the scorn of the whole nation. Therefore, anyone who through his views, let alone his deeds, causes a weakening of the mindset that sustains our nation is a sinner against our people and to forgive him is foolishness.

Rav Kook applies this principle to the Jewish People and his conclusion is that since Judaism is the foundation of the life of the Jewish nation, coercion is therefore legitimate. This is so in principle, yet as far as exercising coercion in practice, it is impossible in every situation, but only when the nation is at the height of its spiritual might. Therefore, Divine Providence influences matters such that the more the spiritual might of the Jewish People diminishes, the more their power to coerce religion is likewise diminished, and such, wrote Rav Kook, is our situation today. Here, Rav Kook adds a major principle. He states that our decreased power (of the religious community to coerce religion) attests to G-d’s will (that He does not want us to be coercive).

Elsewhere (letter 89), regarding our right or our obligation to coerce religion, Rav Kook writes: “…As far as the secular, my point is that we have the right to explain even to them that our nation’s survival until now by means of mitzvah fulfillment can be seen empirically in a way that cannot be denied. And if it is possible for the nation and its spirit to survive without fulfillment of the Torah – and we hold that to be impossible – but even if we allow for the possibility that they are right, they cannot say that they have acquired long experience in this regard, the equal of the certain experience that we have amassed. It follows that to endanger our nation, which they claim is dear to them as well, is wicked and foolish, and whoever jeopardizes our nation’s survival, whether for personal gain, or just based on a misconception, is partner to the worst evil destroyers.”

In principle, how we must relate to the conduct of our secular brethren is clear. Every Jew has to fulfill Torah and mitzvoth. At the same time, in practical terms, the matter is not so simple. Well-known are Rav Kook’s words stating that “the pristine righteous do not complain about wickedness but increase justice; do not complain about heresy but increase faith; do not complain about ignorance but increase wisdom.” For many, this statement has become not just a slogan and a sticker, but an instruction in how relations between the religious and the irreligious are supposed to be. For some, it is the only approach they have to relating to the non-observant.

Yet an examination of Rav Kook’s writings will show us that this instruction is not unequivocal but complex, and dependent on numerous factors. In a letter (Volume 4, letter 1182), Rav Kook writes to his friend Rabbi Ben Zion Berman: “Believe you me, my friend, if I could find among those spiritually influencing public life in Eretz Yisrael some who were engaged in ‘drawing near with the right hand’, I myself might actually prefer to engage in ‘rejecting with the left.’ After all, that, too, is part of the essential holy work of guiding the public. Yet since I find the aspect of rejection so much more widespread, I am forced to season it by acting as the ‘right hand drawing near’.” (to be continued…)


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