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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“Israel’s undertaking mitzvah observance before they had heard the details has always been their strength. It derives from our inner feeling that all of Judaism’s holiness is hidden deep within us… First and foremost, we must awaken and be true to ourselves. We must shake off all self-denial and we must know how to defend proudly our pristine nature.” (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah 171)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Founder and Head of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Festival of the Giving of the Torah”
The Torah was given to the Jewish People, not to any individual or particular party or stream within the Jewish People. Only when Israel were united as one person with one heart did they receive the Torah at Sinai. The knowledge that the Torah was imparted to the entire Jewish People is bequeathed to every Jewish child when he is learning to talk. His father then teaches him, “Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage to the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4; Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:6). Our holy Torah is a heritage for the entire Jewish People.
Likewise each day, before we learn Torah, we bless G-d, “who chose us from amongst all nations and gave us His Torah.” The blessing refers to us in the plural. Every approach to Torah learning must start with an awareness that G-d chose us from amongst all the nations, that the Jewish People are a chosen people, a “kingdom of priests and a holy people” (see Exodus 19:5-6). Torah learning that does not begin with recitation of the Torah blessing to G-d “who chose us from amongst all nations,” brought the exile upon us. As our sages say, “Why was the Land lost? Because they did not recite the blessings before Torah learning” (see Bava Metzia 85, Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Talmud Torah 2).
Today, how fortunate we are and how pleasant our lot that after two thousand years of exile we have finally merited to return to our land. And we are not only returning to our land, but to ourselves and to our Torah – our heritage. Here in Eretz Yisrael, the special soul of the Jewish People as a chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, is increasingly being revealed for all to see. True, we are still only at the start of the process of rebirth, and there is still enormous confusion and lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the essence, identity and purpose of our people, chosen by G-d to bring light to the world. Yet we can already see the light at the end of the time tunnel, in the form of tens of thousands of our Jewish brethren who are returning to our holy Torah, filling the synagogues and study halls, and reciting the Torah blessing, praising G-d “who chose us from amongst all nations and gave us His Torah.” On Shavuot, we recite with enormous joy, “You chose us from amongst all peoples. You loved us and wanted us… and You lovingly gave us holidays for joy, festivals and good times for rejoicing, including this Shavuot holiday, the festival of the giving of the Torah.”
With blessings for a joyous Shavuot and looking forward to complete redemption,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“All can Force a Spouse to Move to Jerusalem”
“All can force a spouse to move to Jerusalem” – such is the ruling when one spouse wants to live in Jerusalem. He or she has the upper hand (Ketuvot 110b). Jerusalem is superior to all else, not in the sense of aloofness and arrogance, but in the sense of being the spiritual pinnacle of Eretz Yisrael.
After all, we have to ask: We’ve heard over and over again about the mitzvah of settling the Land, but where in the Torah is there a mitzvah of settling Jerusalem? We have to answer: True, there is no mitzvah of settling Jerusalem per se, but since it is the spiritual pinnacle of the entire land, the mitzvah of settling the Land is fulfilled there all the more. Scripture states, “The L-rd loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Psalm 87:2). Obviously, this is referring to all of Jerusalem, including the new neighborhoods of West Jerusalem. Yet it is clear that the main thing is the Old City, Jerusalem between the walls.
And if we are relating to Jerusalem in terms of the mitzvah applying to the entire land, then we have to apply to Jerusalem all three aspects of that mitzvah. It is well known that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael can be divided into three parts: 1) moving to the Land; 2) settling the Land “so as not to abandon it to desolation”; and 3) sovereignty over the Land – conquering and liberating the Land (“we mustn’t abandon it to any other nation” – Ramban’s remarks on Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot, Addendum 4).
Here is the place to talk about settlement and conquest. Through G-d’s kindness, we have merited conquest. Yet as we all know, it is not enough to conquer. You have to hold on to what you conquered. And how does one do that? Through settlement. Our sages say regarding the verse, “Clear out the land and live in it” (Numbers 33:53) that it is by virtue of our clearing it out, that we will merit to live in it (see Rashi). Yet by the same token, it is by virtue of our living in it that we can succeed in clearing it out. The two are interdependent.
My words apply not only to Jerusalem between the walls but to the entire length and breadth of the Land, in which we are commanded to settle and to take hold everywhere, even if that is hard in our day. Yet in our ancient holy city, it is all that much harder. It used to be said that to settle one Jewish home there is as hard as establishing an entire settlement. Indeed, the heart is the heart, both in its size and in its complications.
Obviously, even to establish Jewish factories there is a precious deed, but the main thing is to establish, facing the site of our Temple, factories of Torah and the fear of G-d, of good character and the love of Israel. And in response to the misdeeds of the past, we must strengthen our hold on Jerusalem to make it “a city of unity” (Psalm 122:3) – a city that unites Celestial Jerusalem with Terrestrial Jerusalem. Let us be strong and of good courage in rebuilding our holy city, and the entire length and breadth of our land.
Rabbi Ya’akov Filber – Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Relations Between the Religious and Secular”
The debate on religious/secular relations has recently increased in intensity. I shall here quote some of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s comments on this matter. A father who wanted to send his son to be educated in the Holy Land asked Rav Kook to express his own opinion and to advise him where to educate his son. Rav Kook answered him: “As far as the Gymnasia [a secular Herzliya high school], according to its present condition, we must have nothing to do with it. With its own hands it uproots faith and quenches the fire of religious from its students. Warped Nationalism is carrying out an experiment on Jewish holiness, with the souls of our people as the guinea pigs, to see how heretical Nationalism will fare. Yet we know in advance that the experiment will fail. They are simply choosing a new god.”
Yet with all his reservations about the secular schools, he was unwilling to come out with a public statement against the Gymnasia. In this regard he wrote that he deliberated for a long time on the dilemma of whether or not to issue a public condemnation. In the end he decided that it would be impossible to take this step, because it would be like declaring war on them, and it was impossible to do that for two reasons:
1. For the sake of keeping the peace. He wrote, “Our population in the Holy Land is expanding, thank G-d, and we have to see to it that everyone strengthens his fellow Jew in all spheres of life. We must stand together against the many non-Jewish enemies who threaten us. It is forbidden for us, given our present situation, to fan the flames of fraternal strife, even for the holiest purpose. Of this it says, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols. Leave him alone’ (Hosea 4:17).”
2. Rav Kook also said, “We see that G-d’s hand is raised for the good, to cause salvation to spring forth for Israel in the Holy Land. We know with certainty that G-d does not perform miracles in order to deceive. We must therefore pull them with ropes of love, outreach and great patience. That approach is more likely to succeed than the approach of hatred and wrath.”
He likewise rejected another suggestion put forth to him to strengthen religious life in the Land by way of the Turkish Regime. In this regard he wrote, “I am ready to be the eternal friend of all G-d fearing people who seek to strengthen our holy Torah, especially in Eretz Yisrael. At the same time, I feel obligated to point out that those seeking to advance these goals must exercise a little common sense.” He therefore rejected this proposal as well, on the grounds that there was no chance of improvement coming via the Turkish authorities. He argued that the generation’s spiritual decline came not because the rabbis did not protest over the heretical institutions destroying the Holy Land, but because they only protested and nothing more. Rav Kook also complained that his contemporaries treated only the external sides of Judaism. Everyone, he said, was working to effect “simple devoutness,” as though it were possible to live in this world as a body without a soul, with one’s heart and mind bereft of divine light.
Rav Kook did not only say what not to do. Rather, he also presented alternate ways for dealing with heresy:
1. First and foremost he viewed as important the unity of the religious camp: “We must unite together as one to cause the divine light to shine its knowledge, wisdom and understanding on the world.”
2. He also said we must avoid showing an angry, sad visage, and we must increase heartfelt kindness, as opposed to the situation at that time, in which “the light of kindness has left the heart and all visages are wrathful, angry and mournful. That is why everything is collapsing.”
3. He said we must strengthen the yeshivot, such that divine philosophical topics should be learned there regularly, with an expansive, pure, clear intellect.
4. Furthermore, he said, religious Jewry must undertake the practical aspects of settling the Holy Land. “It must not suffice with philanthropic institutions, but must establish businesses and trades. The greater the involvement of people of faith in the country’s practical, economic life, the weaker the power of wickedness would become. The more activity in which we engage, the might light we will bring. Many will repent, and the dross will be rejected and disappear” (Igeret 132).
5. He said, “We have to increase positive works to improve our camp from within, to bring enhancement and order, to make as many halachically permissible improvements as we can in our educational institutions, cosmetically and on a deeper level. Let us not concentrate chiefly on the negative aspects of the deeds of others (Letter 654).
6. “We are forewarned to behave with courtesy and respect even towards our distant brethren… We must fight evil and sin, not evil people and sinners. Those distant may be sinning inadvertently, mistakenly or against their own will, and through pleasant means and the pathways of respect we will be able to improve and to save much more than through hatred and backbiting (ibid., 7).
7. “Even if we struggle to fight on behalf of those things close to our hearts, we mustn’t let our emotions get the better of us. We must remain ever cognizant that even emotions the opposite of our own have a consensus in the world. Even if this idea does not prevent us from fighting for what is holy, true and precious to us, it should still moderate us against falling into the trap of pettiness (Letter 314).
8. “It is forbidden for us to split apart and splinter the Jewish People. It is forbidden for us to say, ‘This Jew is one of us and we are going to watch out for him, and that one is not.’ We are sometimes dealing with individuals, we will certainly distinguish between people and between groups, in accordance with their worth. Yet when we are dealing with general principles, we are not entitled to distinguish between the good and the bad. Therefore, even if we must pray with sinners, we mustn’t take their views into account. Rather, we must object to their sinful thinking and not invite them into our midst as leaders.”
Relations between religious and secular are complex and complicated. The problem must not be dealt with from a stance of hatred and rejection, but neither with groveling and self-abnegation. Rather, we must stand firm on our Jewish truth, employing harsh criticism against the negative and destructive in the lives of those who estrange themselves from the path of Torah. Even so, this must be done by means of respect and politeness. Every attempt to influence those who have distanced themselves and to change them by force not only will not help but will do still more harm. Hence we must bring them nearer very slowly, employing love. Then they will ultimately repent.
Catch Rabbi David Samson’s weekly Torah insight on “Israeli Salad” at www.israelnntv.com (produced in cooperation with Machon Meir).