Thursday, November 20, 2014

One Nation will be Stronger than the Other

By Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
Our sages have taught us: "If somebody tells you that both Caesarea and Jerusalem exist, do not believe it. If they say that Caesarea was destroyed and Jerusalem is settled or that Jerusalem was destroyed and Caesarea is settled you can believe it, as is written, 'One nation will be stronger than the other' [Bereishit 25:23]." [Megillah 6a].
When did the fortune begin to change for the first time? We are taught, "On the day that Shlomo married Pharaoh's daughter, Gavriel descended and stuck a reed ("kanneh") into the sea, and the reef of Rome was built there" [Sanhedrin 22]. The fact that Yisrael began to show an interest in Gentile culture eventually led to the rise of Rome. And Rome was the source of the spread of Christianity, which claims that it replaces Yisrael. According to the Rambam in various places, Eisav is Edom, and the people from Edom were the first ones "who followed 'that man' who claimed that he was Mashiach, and this error spread to Rome, which was holy for them." From there Christianity was disseminated to the entire world, a fulfillment of the above prophecy, "When one rises up the other falls."
Rav Avraham Yistzchak Kook wrote some remarkable things about the kanneh associated with Rome. "The ga'ar chayat kanneh, which in its literary form represents an obstacle, will have its lowly part removed – this is the part that descends to the depths of darkness – and what remains will become holy, using its strength to show what is suitable to be shown in the world... And the kanneh which became a reef on which the great city of Rome was built... will call out to the kanneh and declare: Behold, they are the first of Zion, and they will spread the news of Jerusalem. [Yeshayahu 41:27]." [Orot Hakodesh]. (In terms of Kabbalah, the "chayat kanneh" is a female animal representing the evil of Eisav, and "ge'ar chayat kanneh" is the male of the species.)
At the end of Pesachim, the Talmud teaches us that all the nations of the world will want to present gifts to the Mashiach, who will accept them. But when the Kingdom of Edom will appear, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will say to him, "Rebuke the chayat kanneh" [Tehillim 68:31]. The Talmud comments that this refers to the animal which lives among the reeds, the swine of Rome. In another commentary, the Talmud explains the verse to mean, rebuke the animal of Rome, and take possession (from the word "liknot," related to "kanneh") of the community of Yisrael. From that point on Yisrael will be on the rise and Rome will descend.
Another interpretation is as follows: Rebuke the animal whose actions are written down using a pen made from a reed. This refers to Christianity, which is involved in writing holy books and filing complaints about Yisrael.
Rav Kook expands this theme to the subject of literature in general. Many people oppose the concept of literary writing because the pen made from reeds (from a kanneh) is used to describe dark and negative objects. But Rav Kook feels that there is no need to destroy the kanneh completely and to refrain from using it. Rather, it must merely be fixed, removing the "lowly part" from it. The result will be that literary writing will be transformed into a blessing.
If we look at the graphical forms of the Hebrew letters, we see that "kuf" (the first letter of kanneh) has a long leg that extends below the line. If we shorten this leg somewhat, the "kuf" becomes a "heh," changing the word from kanneh to "hineh" – behold. This is one of the names of the Machiach – "Behold, they are the first of Zion (Rishon Letzion)."
This concept, that we should not try to completely destroy a negative object but rather to remove its negative aspects, is discussed by Rav Kook with respect to many different subjects, such as the rejection of the secular Zionist movement. The same is true for literature in general. Since this has control over the world today, "We must show that we can incorporate this skill so that it becomes our own, and we will no longer maintain an absolute rule that anybody who has literary talent or is a famous poet must be an apostate and a sinner by definition. We must destroy this false tower." [Igrot Rav Kook, Volume 1, page 195].

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