Friday, April 29, 2022

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: The State of Education in Eretz Yisrael, part II

#98 – part II

Date and Place: 13 Marcheshvan 5768 (1907), Yafo

Recipient: The rabbis of the Secretariat of “Mizrachi” of the Western Countries. They had many questions for Rav Kook about the state of education in Eretz Yisrael. The ones he answered, we present in numbered form, as he did.

Body:  In all of the old [yeshiva] schools of the Ashkenazic community in the Holy Land, the accepted system of translation is into the jargon (Yiddish).

I must point out that a light is starting to shine in the positive direction here in this matter. There is one cheder (religious school) that was founded by laymen who possess Torah and fear of G-d, and they want their sons to have an education that fits the needs of the time. Most of them live in the part of the city [of Yafo] that is called “Achva.” There the cheder’s main language is Hebrew pronounced with an Ashkenazi accent. (Those who follow the new approach to education choose specifically the Sephardi pronunciation even though they are Ashkenazim. This sometimes causes tensions in families and in synagogues.) At this time, things are progressing at a proper pace. An educational supervisor has been selected who has a PhD and is formidable in Torah, fear of Hashem, and secular knowledge. His name is Mr. Zeliger, and he comes from Austria. This cheder is merging with the local Sha’arei Torah institution, which has been operating totally with the old curriculum. As time goes on, this unification can grow and provide “proper fruit.” Of course, there will be a need for much to be fixed and renovated. However, we see the rays of hope, that the dedicated Judaism will be established with a foundation of the needs of life as they continue to develop in the Holy Land, may it be strongly established.

Section II [Modern Schools] – 1. There are many schools throughout the Holy Land for secular studies and for learning trades. I cannot list them, for almost every new school opened is a secular school. Here in Yafo, we have begun to establish a department for training in various trades, and it is connected to Sha’arei Torah. The matter is in the early stages of development, and we can use strengthening and a lot of both moral and material support. Then it can be of great help for the situation in the Holy Land and the raising of the value of reliable Judaism.

2. The spoken language is Hebrew (with a Sephardic pronunciation) in several new schools, and teaching Hebrew takes up a significant portion of the school day. Most of the new schools have curricula, written and even published, so that one can see the details of what is being studied. (I do not know if the schools are fully following the curricula.)

4. Among the families who belong to all of the different [religious] political parties, there are those who send their children to the new schools, and only those who are distinguished in their observance of Torah and fear of G-d stay away from them. The latter avoid them because of the new schools’ weakness in matters of religion. There are also those who do not send their children to the new schools because they are afraid that the administrators of the kollelim (the organizations that many European Jewish communities had to financially support those who lived in Eretz Yisrael) will withhold their funds. As lowly a concern as this is, this consideration brings benefit in the problematic situation that exists now. This group of students comes from both the cities and the agricultural settlements.

5. The teachers and principals are the members of the boards of education in these schools, and they are the educational supervisors.

6. Some of the teachers have academic degrees, and some are just clever people who have picked up what it is that they need to know to do their work.

We continue with other elements of Rav Kook’s report next time.

Flux, Confusion, War – where are we headed?

Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5782
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

A: In a state of flux

In no way, shape or form can mortal man be compared to the Creator; we can only enumerate the infinite contrasts that exist between Creator and His creations.

Every material entity is in a perpetual state of flux. From the gigantic heavenly bodies to the smallest subatomic particles nothing is at total rest, for all are concurrently in total movement in all directions. The planets in our solar system rotate around the sun, while the sun itself is turning and twisting in our Milky Way galaxy as our galaxy itself turns and twists in the never-ending void of the universe, which itself is expanding in all directions. Whereas HaShem is at total rest; immutable, inflexible, unalterable.

B: The Exodus

The Haggadah states that, “HaShem alone brought us forth out of Egypt, not by an angel, not by a seraph, nor by a messenger, but the Holy One, Blessed is He, in His own glory and He alone”.

Two questions:

1- Contrary to our definition that HaShem is immutable, it appears from the Haggadah that HaShem was very active in the exodus of Am Yisrael from Egypt!

2- How could the masters of the Haggadah disregard the major role that Moshe Rabbeinu filled in all aspects of the exodus experience?

I submit:

Moshe was indeed HaShem’s messenger, but only on the level of human activities and preparations necessary before, during and after the exodus.

Whereas the Haggadah is referring to a dimension far beyond that which exists on the human level. A dimension which predated even the moment of Creation when the notion of physical entity ex nihilo came about within the will of HaShem. It was the moment 974 “generations” prior to the moment of Creation which according to the Gemara (Shabbat 92b) HaShem brought the Torah into existence. In addition, HaShem waited another 26 generations from Adam to present the Torah to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.

After scrutinizing all the essential characteristics of races which comprised humanity, Hashem chose the descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, Ya’akov and Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah to be the only nation in the world which would be willing and capable of being the torch bearers of HaShem’s will in the material world. HaShem could have given the Torah to our forefathers but waited four hundred years for the formation of the “Nation of Israel,” because the Torah cannot be the possession of individuals but must be observed within the framework of a national entity, residing in its independent territorial area, within the framework of its unique and insular religious-national culture.

When the Haggadah states that HaShem alone was the driving force behind Am Yisrael’s exploding from subjugation into freedom and blossoming into nationhood, the intent was the appointment by HaShem of Am Yisrael as his infinite chosen nation which only HaShem could have done.

A: What’s going to be?

Human society becomes ever more complex as we advance in uncovering the secrets of the physical world. Confusion reigns in most aspects of our lives, and the question “what’s going to be?” is dominant in the discourse of intelligent people.

History is undergoing shifting relationships between nations and races, and the so-called absolute laws of human behavior are being re-written by the day.

As the west declines, the east is evolving into world dominance. America is losing its status of primary nation as the world’s leader in social justice and scientific advances. The hopes and aspirations of the European nations that there will be no more wars on that continent are being shattered on the killing fields of Ukraine.

So, the big question is where is HaShem taking the world?

B: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

The second chapter of the Book of Daniel relates that Daniel reminded Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, what he had dreamt and its interpretation.

The king saw a gigantic statue made of four metals: a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron with feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.

Then suddenly a stone “not cut by human hands” smashed into the statue. The gold, silver and bronze, the iron and clay, were shattered into pieces like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer.

The wind swept them away without leaving a trace, but the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain, filling the earth.

And Daniel explained: Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands He has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

After you, another kingdom will arise (Persia and Medes), inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, (Greece) of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, led by two superpowers of unequal strength (Rome: today’s US and Europe and Moslem states).

The smashing stone “cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands” denotes that the God of heaven will establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed and will endure forever – the Jewish nation.

C: The Era of Mashiach
Many sources quote the Amora Shmuel’s position regarding the world we live in today vis-à-vis the era of the Mashiach:

“אין בין העוה”ז לימות המשיח אלא שיעבוד מלכיות בלבד”

There will be no radical change in the natural world, but the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael will be free of foreign domination and intervention and regain independent control over our lives.

Rambam in his commentary to chapter 10 in tractate Sanhedrin agrees with Shmuel and says:

אבל ימות המשיח הוא זמן שבו תחזור המלכות לישראל, ויחזרו לארץ ישראל, ויהיה אותו המלך העומד מקום מלכותו ציון, ויתגדל שמו ויגיע לקצוי תבל יותר וגדול על ממלכת שלמה, ויכרתו עמו העמים ברית שלום, ויעבדוהו כל הארצות לגודל צדקו, ונפלאות יתגלו על ידו, וכל מי שיעמוד עליו יכריתהו ה’ וימסרהו בידו. וכל פסוקי המקרא מעידים על אשרו ואשרינו בו, ולא ישתנה במציאות שום דבר מכפי שהוא עתה, זולתי שתהא המלכות לישראל, וכך לשון חכמים אין בין העולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שעבוד מלכיות בל

At the era of the Mashiach, Bnei Yisrael will return to Eretz Yisrael and re-establish the monarchy in Zion. The king will be a world leader, more illustrious than King Solomon. Many nations will sign peace treaties with the Jewish king and accept his leadership.

Hashem will deliver all our enemies into his hands. And there will be no radical change in the natural world except that the Jewish nation will be free of foreign intervention, and we shall regain control over our lives.

This is the process we are witnessing now. Medinat Yisrael is independent in name only. The majority of our important policies are dictated in Washington. The UN holds over us the threat of military, economic and social sanctions, if we take “one false step” in protecting ourselves. The European Union utilizes its historic anti-Semitism to limit our settlement of our historic-Biblical areas of Yehuda, Shomron and even Yerushalayim.

So HaShem ushers in the Russian invasion of Ukraine to bring down the international status of the United States and to exhibit the moral bankruptcy of the Europeans.

This process will continue until all of the nations who today influence Medinat Yisrael negatively will, like in dream of Nebuchadnezzar, be shattered. And then Am Yisrael like the mighty mountain that emerged from the stone will be the last major power in human history.

Shabbat Shalom.
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5782/2022 Nachman Kahana

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Acharai Mot: Healing the Holy

Desires and Needs

by Rav Binny Freedman

Some time ago, after a lecture on the ethical challenges of the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”), I was approached by a fellow from Vienna who was a Holocaust survivor. 

“Why do you assume stealing is always wrong?” asked the fellow,
“Sometimes, it is even an obligation.”
“I always had a strong desire to take things, and I never understood why,” he continued,

“And it wasn’t that I necessarily needed the things I took, I just loved the prospect of being able to steal things out from under people’s noses. I became quite good at it, though my conscience always bothered me. Often, I was able to resist the temptation to take things that weren’t mine, but it was always a struggle. I often wondered why G-d had burdened me with this particular challenge. I knew it was wrong to steal, and never rationalized theft; I just loved the ‘thrill of the take’. Why did G-d create me with this challenge? It wasn’t my fault I loved to steal; G-d made me that way… it just didn’t seem fair.

“And then the Holocaust came, and with it the beatings and humiliations, the forced labor battalions, and the Gestapo, who would show up at your door in the middle of the night and cart you off to the police station, from whence most people never came out…. My skills at pilfering items kept our family alive, and somehow I was always able, despite the difficult conditions in the ghetto, to find enough for everyone to eat.

“One day, I received orders to report to the police station to have my papers reviewed. I had to make a terrifying decision. Did the Gestapo want me? Had they somehow discovered something I had done? Would I be allowed to leave the premises once I came in? My first thought was to run, and go into hiding. But of course, they knew where the rest of my family was, and the consequences of my not reporting to the police were unthinkable, so I had no choice but to go to the headquarters of the Gestapo.

“I was standing in a waiting hall with many other people, and every few minutes, a person’s name would be called, and a policeman would take him or her off to one of the offices down the hall. You could hear the yelling, and the cries of the person being ‘interviewed’ and sometimes, you would see the person, bloodied and beaten, limping back down the hallway and out of the building. Sometimes, though, you didn’t seem to see the person come out of that hallway….

“After what seemed like hours, my name was called, and a policeman came to escort me to the rear. I found myself in an office with four or five ‘policemen’, all behind small desks ‘interviewing’ different people who were brought in. The fellow ‘interviewing’ (really, it was more like screaming at) me, barked out the questions, and it seemed, even before I could give the answer, he would reach out with his arm and bat me on the head. He asked my name, and when I started to reply, he would hit me before I could finish answering. I wasn’t sure what to do, and then recalled hearing how all the Jews were being made to change their first names to Abraham or Sarah, so I answered ‘Abraham’, and sure enough the beating stopped…Eventually, with a little more beating, and some more questions, I was made to sign something and then told I would be ordered in the future to report for a labor battalion. Meanwhile, I could go home.

“At this point, a strange thing happened: It seemed all of the interviews were ending at around the same time, and as the Jews were each told the same thing and allowed to leave, the officers ‘interviewing’ them also walked out, perhaps for a break, or some coffee. By a strange congruence of circumstances, I found myself alone in the room. And I suddenly had a tremendous urge to steal something.

“I saw, on one of the desks, a large pile of papers, and next to it, an equally large pile of passports and identity papers. Clearly, these were Jews being made to report somewhere, and if this list was on a Gestapo Officer’s desk, it could not bode well for those people. Without thinking, I took the entire pile, and with a skill born of years of practice, walked right out of Gestapo headquarters with all of those papers under my shirt. Not only did I most certainly save seventy lives that day, but also, later in the war, we were able to doctor all those passports to save an additional hundred people….

“From that day, and since the war, I never had the desire to steal again, and I now realize that G-d gave me that desire, not as a curse, but as a blessing.”

So often in life, we struggle with desires and needs that seem to weigh us down. If only we didn’t so crave that chocolate fudge cake, wouldn’t it be easier to diet? How often do you know you have better things to do with your time, only it looks like such a great TV-movie, and suddenly, two hours later, you wonder why you wasted a perfectly good evening on something so unproductive? Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow remove those desires we know to be so wasteful? And, if we know we would be so much better off without these passions, why were we given these challenges in life to begin with? After all, if G-d hadn’t created people with an inclination for violence, there would be no violent crime….

This week’s portion, Acharei Mot, actually begins with a treatment of this topic that most people miss. G-d tells Moshe to instruct Aharon, “after the death of his sons”, regarding the service in the tabernacle, the Mishkan. (Vayikra 16:1) One would have expected, therefore, a topic, which directly relates to the trauma Aaron experienced in the loss of his sons.

Strangely, however, the Torah here begins a discussion of the two goat offerings, which form the central part of the service on Yom Kippur. Why is the Torah introducing the Yom Kippur service, something which will occur in the month of Tishrei (the seventh month), immediately after the death of Aaron’s sons (which occurred three portions earlier, in the portion of Shemini), which the Torah tells me occurred on the first day of Nissan (the first month)?

Perhaps there is something hidden in the part of the Yom Kippur service described here, which may serve as a reaction or response to the death of Aaron’s sons, or even to death and tragedy in general.

In fact, the sacrifices described here (Vayikra 16: 5-11) are perhaps the strangest and most challenging areas of service in all of Judaism, and arguably include the most bizarre sacrifice mentioned in the Bible.

Aharon, as the the Kohen Gadol, is told to take two he-goats as a sin, or Chatat offering. In truth, the concept of Chet, for which a Chatat offering is brought, is not really about sin; at least in the way most people understand it. Chet does not mean sin; it means a mistake. As such, when we make mistakes, these offerings are the opportunity to deal with those mistakes.

The Kohen Gadol stands before the tent of meeting on Yom Kippur, and picks lots for these two goats. According to Jewish tradition a bag with two notes in it is brought to him, and he reaches with both hands into the bag, choosing one note in each hand, subsequently holding one hand over the head of each goat.

On one of the notes was written the word “La’Hashem”, “For G-d”, and this goat was indeed offered as the central sacrifice of Yom Kippur in the Temple.

On the second note, was written the word “La’Azazel” and thus the second goat was an offering to Azazel. The question of course, is: what or who is Azazel? The verse (16:10) suggests, as Rashi explains, that this goat was taken into the wilderness, and ultimately cast off the desert cliffs, symbolizing the destruction of our transgressions before G-d. However, this understanding still leaves us with many questions:

Why, in order to attain forgiveness for the Jewish people (v.10) must this second goat be taken off into the desert? Why not offer it up in the temple, like all other sacrifices?

Further, what is the significance of the lots drawn on these goats? What difference which goat is sent to the desert and which to the Temple? Why not just let the Kohen Gadol choose the goats? And what, in the end, does all this have to do with this episode being introduced immediately after the death of Aaron’s sons?

The Ramban suggests an idea which is so bizarre, and seems to be so at odds with all that Judaism seems to be, that it has been labeled by many as one of the most difficult and puzzling comments by any great commentator on the entire Torah.

The Ramban suggests that Azazel is really Samael, the “Sar Ha’Moshel Be’mekomot HaChurban”, “The Prince who rules in the places of darkness and destruction”. Indeed, continues the Ramban, on Yom Kippur, when we as a people find favor in G-d’s eyes, we need to appease this dark Prince; hence we offer him a special sacrifice, in the darkness of the wilderness, in the places of destruction!

What is going on? Can the Ramban, one of the greatest rabbis and commentators in Jewish history, be suggesting that we are offering sacrifices to the dark side? Is this Judaism? It actually smacks more of ancient Canaanite paganism! And what does all this have to do with Yom Kippur, much less with the death of the sons of Aaron?

Years ago, in a sermon preceding Yom Kippur, my teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, shared a beautiful way of looking at this Ramban, based on the teachings of Rav Soleveitchik, zatz”al.

There is a discussion in the Talmud (Yoma 86b) regarding the power of Teshuvah (repentance):

“Gedolah Teshuvah”, suggests Rav Shimon Ben Lakish, “She’ Zedonot Ne’he’fachot Le’Zechuyot”.“Great is the power of Repentance, which causes pre-meditated transgressions to become merits.”

A rather challenging statement, which implies that if I purposefully transgress, and subsequently repent and regret my actions, not only is my slate wiped clean, and my past mistakes forgiven, but in fact these transgressions now serve as a merit to me in all of my future activities! How can this be? Indeed, the conclusion from this Talmudic text would make it worthwhile for all of us to go on a rampage, committing as many transgressions as possible, in order to subsequently repent and gain more merit! Obviously such a suggestion would lead only to chaos. So what is the meaning of this suggestion?

Perhaps what the Talmud in Yoma is saying is, if I have desires that serve to pull me down, I can turn those desires into a merit, if I learn to channel them into better things.

The Talmud elsewhere makes a challenging statement: If you have the desire to spill blood, say the Rabbis, become a butcher, and if you have the desire to steal (in other words to take hold of and possess) other people’s money, become a collector of charity.

In other words, take the desire you have, and use it for a good purpose.

This is a crucial idea: Everything we are given in this world, however challenging this may sometimes be, is ours for a reason. We all go through life with our own little package, our own suitcase, full of our talents and skills, desires and foibles; all the things that bring us up, and all the things that bring us down. There isn’t much we can do about that. Each of us has a suitcase, and whatever we think of it, it is ours to keep. Some are born tall, maybe they will become basketball stars, and some have musical talent, and others, the gift of knowing when and how to smile. Many of these talents we do not really earn, they are ours to develop. The question, however, is what we choose to do with them. And if everything comes to me from G-d, then even my weaknesses can be a gift, if I will only find a way to channel them for the good.

If I have a desire to steal, it must come from somewhere, and therefore there must be a way to make good of it. Our challenge in this world is how to do just that.

This, perhaps, is the offering to Samael, the “The Prince who rules in the places of darkness and destruction”, described by the Ramban. There is a place of darkness inside each one of us, that threatens to destroy us, to bring us down from the places of light we so long to reach. There are those who suggest that the only way to fully combat these desires is to retreat from the physical world so as not to grant them any place. If you have physical desires, live in a monastery, and desist from all contact with that physical world so you can put it out of your head.

Judaism, however, has a different approach entirely: Don’t deny these desires, embrace them! But do so in a healthy manner, channeling their energy to a good purpose, in a healthy fashion. This may well be the message behind all the gold used in the tabernacle and the temple, despite the debacle of the Golden calf. ‘If you are going to seek to make me tangible in this world, says G-d, you have to do it my way, in the Temple, and channel that energy towards light, instead of darkness.

This is the secret of Yom Kippur, that day when for twenty-four hours we attempt to channel all the love and joy as well as the pain and anguish deep in our hearts, to a higher purpose.

Perhaps this is why this message is given here, to Aaron, so soon after the death of his sons. There is no force in this world with more potential to swallow us whole into the darkest depths of depression, than death. Confronted by the incontrovertible wall of our own mortality, we easily succumb to the idea that there is no purpose, no meaning, only an all too often untimely ending.

But if Hashem, G-d, truly loves us, and only gives us opportunities to grow, then perhaps, however painful, death too, is such an opportunity.

We are living in challenging times. The people of Israel, and with them the entire Jewish world, is fighting a war for survival. Make no mistake about it. With terrorists opening fire on innocent worshippers in Synagogues, and not-so – veiled anti-Semitic statements finding their way into the media from unexpected sources, the crisis today is for the entire Jewish people.

Hidden within the collective pool that is the passions and desires of the entire Jewish people, perhaps Hashem will bless us to at long last, to harness all of that energy for light, instead of darkness. And what an incredible light that would be.

May Hashem bless us, each and every one of us, to get started, one person at a time.

Shabbat Shalom, from Jerusalem.

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast - Trust the Process: From Holocaust Remembrance Day to Redemption The Land of Israel

Season 2022 Episode 17: Yishai and Malkah Fleisher discuss the growth of global antisemitism and the gift of burying Holocaust survivors in the Land of Israel. Then, Rabbi Shlomo Katz on loving the world enough to say no to it - in the Torah portion of Kedoshim.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"You shall be holy!”

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

The phrase “You shall be holy” (Vayikra 19:2) has two meanings. The first is a commandment to be holy, that is, we are commanded to separate ourselves from sexual immodesty and from other sins (Rashi, Ibid.). In the second meaning, the Torah is stating a necessary reality (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zatzal, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim). G-d is promising us that we are a holy nation whose purpose it is to be a light unto the nations, as was said to Abraham, “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Bereisheet 12:3).

Indeed, we must learn and remember and recognize the fact that we are a holy people, a special people, a unique creation in the universe. “I have created these people for Myself that they might tell My praise” (Yishayahu 43:21); “Blessed be the L-rd... who has chosen us from among the nations and given us His Torah” (morning Torah blessings).

Today, in this generation, the most important issue that we have to learn and recognize is our uniqueness as a nation whose whole purpose is to bring light to humanity.

“When we reject our superiority and cease to recognize our chosenness, our greatness, and excellence which surpass that of all other nations, this constitutes a fundamental error. If we forget our greatness, we are forgetting our essence... Only when we forget our essence do we remain insignificant and inferior. By forgetting that essence, we forget our greatness” (Rav Kook, Orot HaTechiyah, 5, page 55).

Our national and political weaknesses are the result of this forgetfulness, lack of knowledge, and lack of recognition of what we are and what our lives signify. We must educate ourselves and others to recognize the identity and unique essence of the Jewish People, chosen from among all nations to bring goodness to the world. We must realize that it is for this that we have been fighting throughout all of history, especially during the last hundred years, including the present war, which is a war between the people of light and the people of darkness.

The knowledge and belief that we are holy and that we possess a special soul that is revealed precisely in Eretz Yisrael -- and it is for this revelation that we are fighting -- will give us the strength and valor to emerge victorious in all the battles confronting us

Looking forward to salvation.
With Love of Israel,
Shabbat Shalom.

2022 Jewish demographic momentum in Israel

by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

In 2021, the number of Israel's Jewish births was 141,250 - 76% higher than 1995 (80,400), compared to 43,806 Arab births - 20% higher than 1995 (36,500).

In 2021, Jewish births were 76% of total births, compared to 69% in 1995. The surge of Jewish births has taken place due to the unprecedented rise of births (since 1995) in the secular sector, simultaneously with a rising level of education, income and wedding age and expanded urbanization. Since 1995, Israel's ultra-orthodox sector has experienced a mild decrease of fertility.

In 1969: Israel's Arab fertility rate (number of births per woman) was six births higher than the Jewish fertility rate. In 2020: Jewish fertility rate – 3; Israeli Arabs – 2.82; Judea and Samaria (West Bank) Arabs – 2.96.

Muslim fertility rate has been Westernized: Jordan – 3 births per woman, Iran – 1.93, Saudi Arabia – 1.95, Morocco – 2.29, Iraq – 3.32, Egypt – 3.23, Yemen – 3.1, United Arab Emirates – 1.65, etc.

Israel’s growing Jewish fertility rate reflects optimism, patriotism, attachment to roots, communal solidarity, frontier-mentality and less abortions. Arab demographic Westernization is attributed to sweeping urbanization, enhanced stature of women (education, employment, rising wedding age, shorter reproductive period) and the expanded use of contraceptives.

The Rush to return to Normalcy or that's the way the Matzah crumbles

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

​In loving memory of Ethel bas Yitzchak Ya’akov and Faige, z”l. May her Neshamah have an aliyah.

Friday Night
This year Jews kept eight days of Pesach whether they lived in the Diaspora or Eretz Yisroel. Since Shevi’i shel Pesach was on a Friday last week, there was no time to change back to chometz for Shabbos, so for all intents and purposes, Shabbos was the eighth day of Pesach for all of us. That’s the way the matzah crumbles.

Personally, I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t want to celebrate an eighth day of Yom Tov each year because that would take away an important difference between Eretz Yisroel and Chutz L’Aretz. But since it was Shabbos anyhow, why not? We spend so much time and expense preparing for the chag, so why not get even more mileage out of it? It was a good excuse to eat more charoses on matzah.

What’s the big rush anyhow? Do we rush our birthdays? Do we hurry our anniversaries? What’s the rush back to chometz?

I know what it is, because I feel it too. It’s a . I usually can’t wait to rip off the plastic lining on our kitchen counters to get rid of the water trapped under it which has collected the entire holiday. I can’t wait to be able to be less careful about what I touch and where I go. And, of course, there is the fresh pizza and all the other forms of chometz we had to go a week without. I love matzah, but fresh and doughy challah…THAT’S oneg Shabbos.

It reminds me of an episode in the Torah that God wasn’t too happy about.

As known, Parashas Beha’alosecha is divided into three sections, separated by two upside down Nuns. The Gemora says this to indicate that the middle section, Vayehi binosa, doesn’t belong there, but was placed where it is to separate between two sins.

Which two sins? The second one we know because it is recorded right there in the third section of the parsha. They complained about the mann…mentioning how they missed “normal” food from Egypt. They clearly did not appreciate what the mann was, and more importantly, what it meant. It was not just bread of convenience. It was bread of connection, which is why it is associated with Shabbos so deeply. Our lechem mishneh doesn’t just recall the double portion of mann collected on Erev Shabbos in the desert. It replaces it.

Which brings us to the first sin. The Torah may not mention it, but we know what it was anyhow. It was the speed at which the Jewish people wanted to leave Har Sinai. They hadn’t asked to go, but once they got their marching orders from God, they were only too eager to follow them, too eager to leave the place they had encountered God face-to-face, so-to-speak, too eager to leave the place they had received the life-altering Torah…too eager to leave God.

The problem was not their excitement to get on with life. It was not their yearning to get to Eretz Yisroel, if they had that. All of that would have been praiseworthy. What God took issue with was how their excitement came from leaving Sinai, and that indicated that not all was right in the heart of the nation.

How should the people have responded instead? The way all of us do when we’re enjoying the place we are at, like a good hotel or a wonderful simchah, even if we know we must leave it.

“Ahhhh, do we have to go just now?”

“Can’t we just stay 10 minutes longer?”

“Can we leave tomorrow instead?”

The answer might have been yes, or perhaps it would have remained no. But either way, it would have shown God that, despite what we missed from the world beyond Sinai, or in our case, Pesach, we would miss the opportunity of being so connected to God more. It would have shown God that, as much as we love chometz, we understand and appreciate the holiness imbued in matzah, and cherish it more. Then we would have had our cake and eaten it too, but with God’s blessing.

Shabbos Day
THINK ABOUT IT for a second. According to Kabbalah, the entire tikun to make Creation came down to the simple act of transforming the Ches of chometz into the Heh of matzah. As ludicrous as that sounds, it is extremely deep with profound implications. Turns out that it is more about eating matzah on Pesach than not eating chometz. Matzah is not simply a replacement for chometz, it supersedes it.

This is why Avraham Avinu ate matzah long before the Jewish people were even in Egyptian exile. This is why you can have chometz in your home on Pesach Sheini if you couldn’t offer your Korban Pesach during the first Pesach. This is why, as I have mentioned so many times before ( that we had plenty of time to bake bread when leaving Egypt had God not insisted that we make matzos instead. Matzah is called the “Food of Faith.” Chometz is not. Chometz is associated with the yetzer hara, matzah is not.

The Maharal explains why. In his amazing commentary on the Haggadah, he says that matzah, being only flour and water is pashtus—simplicity. Like the letter Yud, the only in the Aleph-Bais that is not a composite of other letters, matzah represents the sublime simplicity Olam HaBa—the World-to-Come (Menachos 29b). Therefore matzah is not about what we had to leave behind for a week. It is about what we always trying to go to forever.

It’s a much longer kabbalistic explanation, but the Heh of matzah only represents what the world can be once divine seder—order, is brought to the reality of primordial chaos, as God did over the six days of Creation. Our celebration of the Seder and our eating of matzah actualizes our role in the continuation of that divine process which should be all year round.

So where are we really rushing to? We may have only been given seven days of Pesach, but we should leave it wanting more. If we understood what it truly means to us, we would.

There is another element that is also part of this discussion. Obviously the four sons are a central part of the Seder, but it helps to better understand who they really are, and why.

In truth, there are really only two sons, the Chacham and the Rasha. As Chazal point out, there is a similarity between the Wise Son and the Simple Son, and the Evil Son and the one who can’t ask a question yet. There is always only two types of sons, Kayin and Hevel, and Eisav and Ya’akov. Everyone else is just a variation of one or the other.

What makes the Evil Son evil is that he doesn’t know how to ask a question. His question is not a question. It is a statement phrased as a question, which means he has already made up his mind. You can’t work with someone like that, because their mind is set on being part of the rest of the world, not the Torah one. The fourth son is just what the Evil Son looks like when he is still young and naive. If we don’t take note of that early and teach him how to ask a good question, he’ll eventually develop into an Evil Son who won’t want to.

Likewise, the Wise Son is just what the Simple Son looks like once he has grown up and learned Torah. Ya’akov Avinu was also called Tam, even after already becoming a great talmid chacham. In Parashas Lech Lecha, Avraham is told by God to be tamim, and he was already a genius. Before learning, Ya’akov was only a tam. But once he became a chacham, he was still tam, but that was secondary to his Torah greatness, so he is called a chacham instead.

Shalosh Seudot
SO WHAT THEN does it mean to be a tam? It means to be emotionally oblivious to the secular world around you, even though you are intellectually aware of it. It may start off as a result of not having gone out into the world to see what it is like. But even after Ya’akov Avinu was shlepped from the tents of Torah to face that cold, harsh, and very secular world, he remained tam. When God told Avraham to be tamim before Him, He was telling him not to become attached to the world in which he had to do outreach.

When Ya’akov and Eisav confronted each other one last time in Parashas Vayishlach, it was the Chacham versus the Rasha, matzah versus chometz. This is why their entire confrontation came down to their approaches towards the material world. Eisav bragged that he had “much” (rav), and Ya’akov said that he had “all” (kol) meaning all that he needs. Eisav was obsessed with the material world and could never have enough of it. It only interested Ya’akov if it could somehow be used to fulfill God’s purpose for Creation.

That was the driving force behind Nadav and Avihu who, despite their tragic deaths, were great people. They had tried to use the moment of spiritual ecstasy to rise above everything with a complete desire to attach themselves to God in the highest way possible. It would have been quite heroic had it been in Ya’akov Avinu’s time, or even just pre-golden calf.

What was the difference? Before the golden calf, the Jewish people had already risen above the everyday mundane reality of the rest of the world. There were far less restrictions on abandoning yourself to the will of God because there was no yetzer hara in the picture to confuse matters. But, once the golden calf occurred, then everything changed, and that’s where Nadav and Avihu made their fatal mistake.

The golden calf incident put the yetzer hara back into the Jewish people, and made them mortal once again. We lost our temimus, and once again became part of the chometz reality. We need specific guidelines to channel our service of God or else, as has become apparent over history, a person can mistakenly end up on the opposite path. To stop that possibility dead in its tracks, God stopped Nadav and Avihu dead in their tracks. As great as they were they still had to work within the post-golden calf guidelines

Most others suffer from the reverse problem. We’re too emotionally connected to the world outside of Torah. Some of it is the “natural” result of being in it for so long, some of it is because it excites our yetzer haras. It is easier today to become a chacham than a tam, and both are somewhat rare in this generation.

On a personal note, I discovered how much the media played a role in reducing temimus when I stopped paying attention to it years ago. I just couldn’t handle the false news any longer, and the way the media manipulated facts to mislead the public. I was never addicted to the news, but I certainly used to check it everyday. I stopped doing that, believing that anything important I should know about, others around would tell me.

Within a short while, I noticed how much less irritated I was by the world, especially when around people who stayed on top of the news and remained aggravated by it. In short, a certain temimus returned to my life because I felt less emotionally vulnerable to unscrupulous news sources. If only becoming a chacham was so easy.

Melave Malkah
UNTIL NOW YOU may have thought that the focus was only on extending Pesach, and not on Yom Kippur at all, with which this week’s parsha begins and details. Quite the contrary. The first three divrei Torah were just the lead-in to the main topic of conversation.

Chazal teach that the holiday of Yom Kippur is rooted in a light that belongs to the eight millennium, the second 1,000 years of Olam HaBa, the World-to-Come. Like the letter Yud and matzah, it is the sublime reality of divine pashtus—simplicity. It is, for all intents-and-purposes, the endgame for which Pesach was the pre-game. It is the reality of the Chacham who has maintained his temimus.

This is why we abstain from the pleasures we do on that day, first and foremost physical food. As Chazal explain, unlike on other fast days, we don’t eat on Yom Kippur to cause suffering. We fast because we are like angels on that day, and angels do not eat food. Like Moshe Rabbeinu on Mt. Sinai,, they get their food directly from God without any physical encasing to deliver it. And whether we believe it or not, we can as well on Yom Kippur if we truly play the part of an angel.

The last time angels became attached to the material world, they fell from Heaven and lost their angel status. They are called the “Fallen Ones,” and never amounted to anything positive down in this world. If anything, they became more abusive than the humans they had originally envied.

How do we become like angels on Yom Kippur? Does God simply do a miracle to transform those willing to be transformed? Do we simply fool ourselves into believing that we have been elevated to angel status when in truth nothing has really changed?

As the Leshem explains, we have special days of the year with different spiritual themes and opportunities. This is because the light to which they provide access belongs to a future time period. We can’t access this light the rest of the year for now, but we can on their designated days because a portal opens to that future time. If we’re open to receive the light, then we can become temporarily elevated by it to the level of reality from which it originates.

The light of Yom Kippur is not a taste of the World-to-Come, it is the World-to-Come. If a person makes a point of using it on Yom Kippur, they will be spiritually transported to that level of existence for the day. For one day, they can rise above the everyday reality like no other day, and be free of chometz in their heart. They can ascend to the ultimate level of matzah.

This is the teshuvah a person does on Yom Kippur. Saying viduy (the confessional prayer) on Yom Kippur helps if you are sincere. But the real teshuvah is rising to the level of recognition that the material world, as pleasant and enjoyable as it is, is not worth being addicted to. It is realizing, as Ya’akov Avinu did, that freedom lies in spiritual temimus, because you are free of any emotional vulnerability.

That’s what we’re atoning for on Yom Kippur, after all. Any sin we committed in the past came from being overly involved and attached to the world of the yetzer hara. We got pulled into a bad situation and fell prey to it.

Even accidental sins happen for a reason. God rarely allows a person to sin if they had no way of knowing how to avoid it. If He allowed us to sin accidentally, somehow and at some time we did something we shouldn’t have, or didn’t do something we should have, making us somewhat vulnerable to sin. That’s why in Temple times we had to bring a sin offering for accidental transgressions. They weren’t so accidental.

We’re not done yet, but this has already been a mouthful, and something that was worth contemplating for those who ate matzah last Shabbos instead of challah. This is true even if you are living in the Diaspora and, rabbinically, have to celebrate an eighth day of Pesach.

Biden Administration Ignores What the Palestinians Are Really Saying

by Khaled Abu Toameh 
  • Hamas "will remain committed to its charter until the goals of our people are achieved, including the liberation [of all Palestine]." — Hazem Qassem, Hamas spokesperson,, April 22, 2022.
  • The Biden administration's representatives who are talking about "the need for all parties to work for calm, especially in Jerusalem," appear to be overlooking that the latest tensions are, at best, only partially related to the city or the al-Aqsa Mosque.
  • For Hamas, the riots at the al-Aqsa Mosque are simply part of a long-term strategy to destroy all of Israel.
  • "The battle [with Israel] is open. What is happening at the mosque will shorten the life of the occupation until it is expelled from Palestine. We are still at the beginning of the battle." — Ismail Haniyeh, senior political leader of Hamas,, April 21, 2022.
  • So, while the Biden administration is reaffirming its commitment to a "two-state solution," which means establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Hamas and its supporters are openly expressing their intention to continue their jihad until they exterminate Israel.
  • Haniyeh remains more popular than Abbas and in a presidential election, would easily defeat him. The poll also showed that if parliamentary elections were held today, Hamas would defeat Abbas's faction, the Fatah.
  • The results of the polls clearly telegraph that any future Palestinian state will unquestionably be controlled by Hamas and used as a launching pad to continue the fight until Israel is obliterated.
  • The Palestinians, for their part, have been, as always, refreshingly clear about what they want -- and a mosque is not it.

Recent riots at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem provide further proof of the widespread support among Palestinians for Hamas, the Islamist group controlling the Gaza Strip that is designated as a terrorist organization not only by Israel, but also by the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia and Britain. Pictured: Palestinian rioters attack Israeli police officers with rocks outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, on April 22, 2022. (Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

The recent riots at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem provide further proof of the widespread support among Palestinians for Hamas, the Islamist group controlling the Gaza Strip that is designated as a terrorist organization not only by Israel, but also by the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia and Britain.

Yet, none of these countries has so far condemned Hamas for orchestrating and inciting the violence, during which thousands of Palestinians desecrated the al-Aqsa Mosque compound by hurling stones and launching fireworks at Israeli security forces. Nor have they expressed concern over the calls made by Hamas supporters at the holy site to murder Jews and wage jihad (holy war) against Israel.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Rav Kook on Parashat Acharei Mot: Triple Measure of Ketoret

A Cloud in the Holy of Holies
The Kohen Gadol was only permitted to enter the inner sanctuary of the Temple on one day of the year — on Yom Kippur.

“Tell your brother Aharon that he may not enter the sanctuary behind the partition at any time... so that he may not die, for I appear over the Ark cover in a cloud.” Vayikra 16:2)

What exactly was this cloud inside the Holy of Holies? In Yoma 53a, the Talmud explains that this was a cloud of incense smoke. The ketoret (incense) played a central role in the special service of Yom Kippur. Only after burning the ketoret inside the Holy of Holies was the Kohen Gadol allowed to enter, as it says:

“Then he shall take a fire pan full of burning coals... together with two handfuls of finely ground incense... so that the cloud from the incense will envelop the Ark cover.” (Vayikra 16:12-13)

What is this special connection between the ketoret and the Yom Kippur service? And why did it need to be finely pulverized to a greater degree than the incense that was offered on other days?

Beyond Time

Once a year, the kohanim would produce enough ketoret for the entire year. They would prepare 368 portions of ketoret — one portion for each day of the year, plus an extra three portions for Yom Kippur. Why did the service on Yom Kippur require an extra three measures of incense?

The central theme of Yom Kippur is teshuvah (repentance) and kapparah (atonement). What is remarkable about these concepts is that they allow us, in a sense, to rewrite the past. Teshuvah is not just about attaining forgiveness for past misdeeds. The Sages taught (Yoma 86b) that there is a level of elevated teshuvah through which “sins are transformed into merits.” They further explained that עיצומו של יום מכפר — the very day of Yom Kippur, even without the Temple service, provides atonement (Yoma 85b). What gives Yom Kippur this unique ability to transcend time and change history?

The inner essence of the entire year is contained within Yom Kippur. The Torah employs an unusual phrase to describe Yom Kippur: אחת בשנה — “once in the year” (Vayikra 16:34). Yom Kippur has a singular quality that illuminates during the entire year. Thus the paradox: the special nature of Yom Kippur appears achat — once a year, within the framework of time - but at the same time, it is ba-shanah — it influences and elevates the entire year, transcending the normal boundaries of time.

We may distinguish between three aspects of Yom Kippur and its special relationship to time:

The special nature of the day itself — עיצומו של יום — with its own unique holiness.

Its ability to repair and redeem the previous year.

Its potential to influence and uplift the coming year.

Since Yom Kippur affects time in three directions — present, past, and future — the Yom Kippur service requires three extra measures of ketoret, in addition to the regular daily quota.

Extra Fine
Why did the ketoret of Yom Kippur need to be finely pulverized when it was prepared on the day before Yom Kippur?

Despite the fact that the scent of incense engages our most refined sense,1the daily ketoret is offered within the framework of time and thus relates to our physical reality. But on Yom Kippur, the incense needs to be dakah minhadakah. It is returned to the mortar and pounded until it becomes a fine powder. The ketoret of Yom Kippur must match the singular holiness of the day. It must be extraordinarily refined, unfettered by the limitations of physicality and material needs. Only then will the ketoret correspond to Yom Kippur’s lofty goals of pure thought and holy aspirations.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 139-141 by Rav Chanan Morrison)
1 “What is it that the soul enjoys and not the body? It is fragrant smells” (Berachot 43b).

The Atonement of Yom Kippur and Eretz Yisrael

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

The parsha opens with the holiness of Yom Kippur and the atonement of the two goats, and finishes with the passage of the forbidden relationships, which is also connected to the subject of Eretz Yisrael, as it says: "The practice of the land of Egypt ... and the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you do not perform.'" (Vayikra 18:3) It also ends: "Do not become contaminated through any of these; for through all of these the nations that I expel before you became contaminated. The land became contaminated and I recalled its iniquity upon it; and the land disgorged its inhabitants." (18:24-25) And, later on: "Let not the land disgorge you for having contaminated it as it disgorged the nation that was before you." (18:28)

The Yom Kippur atonement is rooted in the distinction between Am Yisrael and the rest of the nations of the world. "The foundation of Jewish thought is the awareness of the Divine value of the nation's soul." (Nechamat Yisrael, by Rav Kook zt"l) Due to this, the perspective on sin is different.

If the inner content is G-dly, then the evil deeds are external and do not cling to the soul. "But you who cling to Hashem your G-d." (Devarim 4:4) Chazal ask: "But it says, 'who were attached to Baal Peor?'" They answer: "'Who were attached to Baal Peor' – as a bracelet is attached to a woman's hand; 'But you who cling' – really cling." (Sanhedrin 64a) Even the sin of idol worship is viewed as something external that does not reflect the inner reality. Therefore, wiping clean and atonement are possible.

This is not the case with the rest of the nations of the world, whose external actions are compatible with their inner content and are derived from it. Therefore, when Hashem wished to give them the Torah, they asked to know what was written in it and then refused to accept it. The descendants of Esav refused the Torah because it says: "You shall not murder." Yishmael's descendants refused because it says: "You shall not steal." Amon and Moav refused because it says: "You shall not commit adultery." Only Am Yisrael said: "We will do and we will obey," since the Torah's dictates are compatible with their inner selves.

Chazal provide a beautiful parable on the pasuk: "Do not view me with contempt, despite my swarthiness (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:6):

Once there was a noblewoman who had a Negro maid that went to draw water from the well, she and her friend. [The maid] told her friend: "Tomorrow, my master will divorce his wife and marry me." [Her friend] said: "Why?" [The maid answered:] "Because her hands were black with dirt." [Her friend] said to her: '"Oh, great fool, let your ears hear what your mouth is saying! If his wife, whom he loves very much – you said that because her hands were black with dirt for the moment he wanted to divorce her; you, who are dirty and black from your mother's womb your entire life – how much more so!"

Thus, since the nations of the world taunt Israel and say: This nation exchanged its Glory, as it says "They exchanged their glory" – Am Yisrael say to them: "If for [worshipping the golden calf for] the moment, we were liable thus, you [are liable] all the more so!"

The Maharal explains that the hands are busy with external things, so that even if they become dirty it is possible to wipe them off. The same is true for is idol worship among Israel. They are "attached" like a bracelet to a woman's arm, that can be worn and removed. This is not the case with the nations of the world, who are black from the womb and from birth and there is no possibility of removing the blackness.

Yom Kippur is the day where Am Yisrael's Godly virtue is revealed. They are above the natural order, and therefore abstain from the five corporeal activities:

Man is on the level of angel. His sin must be removed until he is like an angel ... Therefore, He commanded [man] to afflict himself. All this to remove and minimize the body until it becomes as holy as an angel." (Drashot Maharal for Shabbat Shuva)

Therefore, all the deeds of Yom Kippur come to teach the value of Am Yisrael and their devotion to Hashem. This is why the Kohen Gadol enters the innermost sanctum, and sprinkles eight times, one upwards and seven downwards to show Am Yisrael's connection to the supernatural world that is signified by the number eight. Seven represents the natural world, and eight is above nature, and from this comes the atonement.

This is the sacrificial goat that is sent to the wilderness, because the goat symbolizes Esav and the evil inclination, as the word "sa'ir" (goat) has the same numerical value as the word "hayetzer hara" (evil inclination).

We have already said that Yaakov is pure and holy by his own merit, just that the sins come from outside to Yaakov, from the evil inclination, and therefore he gives the sins to Esav his brother...

The sins of Israel are not inherent, only from the outside do they come, i.e., from the evil inclination, and something that comes from the outside – it is possible to send away from him. (ibid.)

Now we come to the end of the parsha: "Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled." The Egyptian self is attached to prostitution and everything that is despised, and therefore they are naturally drawn to prostitution and despicable actions. Israel, however, their self is faithful, holy and separate from all illicit relationships, as it says: "The tribes of Y-H, a testimony for Israel." G-d testified with His name that they are the sons of their fathers ... Thus, Israel is the opposite of Egypt; the Egyptians are attached to prostitution, whereas Israel is separated from nakedness and adultery. (Maharal Gevurot Hashem Chapter 4)

Eretz Yisrael is the "Sanctuary of Hashem," the land that is "before Hashem." The Ramban writes at the end of the parsha: "The land that is Hashem's respected estate will disgorge anyone who contaminates it, and will not suffer idol worshipers and illicit relations." (He writes many beautiful things there about the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael).

The Maharal writes (Gevurot Hashem chapter 8):

The land that Hashem gave to Avraham is a holy land that is different from the rest of the earth. Therefore, when Hashem promised about giving [it], [Avraham] wanted to know through what merit would they inherit the holy land. (This is what Avraham asked "By what shall I know that I am to inherit it" – inheritance, implying through a natural relationship). [G-d] answered him that on this account they will inherit the land, in the merit of atonement. As you understand the deeper meaning of the atonement that Hashem gave to Israel, which indicates that Israel are holy in their essence, separate from any lowliness. If it were not for this, then when they would add to the lowliness, atonement would be impossible for them. Now that they inherently are separate from any lowliness, they are worthy of atonement, since sin is not associated with them, and their inherent self is without sin, and therefore they are worthy of atonement ... just as the holy land does not tolerate any sin due to its holiness, as it says: "Let not the land disgorge you, etc.'' Therefore, the land relates to Israel in this matter, because the land is holy in its virtue that is separated from lowliness and repugnance, and so are Israel...

It is similar to someone who is inherently pure and handsome, so if he were to become dirty by mud – he immediately reverts to his purity because he himself is pure. However, someone who is polluted and loathed, the dirt never leaves him, for dirt is just added on to dirt. Therefore, in this merit they will inherit the holy land, because according to the appropriateness – man has a place. Thus, when Hashem gave the holy land to Israel, certainly it was because they were worthy of it. So, too, to each and every nation He gave a land according to whom they are, and everything has a place according to its nature and worthiness. Thus, according to the worthiness of Israel who have a separate holy virtue – they also have a holy land. This is the outcome of the virtue that is evident on Yom Kippur: the connection to Eretz Yisrael on the one hand, and, on the other hand the disgorgement from it for sins like illicit relationships, even though they are not dependant on the ground.

Striking a Balance

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

The Zeal of Youth
"And God spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aharon in front of God..." Nadav and Avihu the sons of Aharon died specifically because of their desire to be too "close" to God; they symbolize the energies of youth, a younger generation motivated by raw, idealistic emotions. Occasionally, this energy manifests itself in the form of excessive haste not in keeping with the path of Torah.

Our sages teach us that Pinchas - who zealously killed Cozbi and Zimri for their illicit and threatening intimacy - was in fact a reincarnation of Nadav and Avihu. Similarly, Eliyahu the Prophet - we are taught - was also a reincarnation of Pinchas. In both the lives of Pinchas and Eliyahu, we find traces of pure energy, an emotion that prompts the people in question to accomplish "holy" tasks; such emotion, however, is not always balanced by a necessary dose of caution and cool-headedness.

In contrast, Moshe Rabeinu represents Torah, the orientation of "the elders" who, though they lack the enthusiasm of youth, behave calmly and cautiously, adhering to the Torah's guidance. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook [of blessed memory] cites sources indicating that both Moshe and Eliyahu are two key figures who in the future will announce the redemption of the Jewish people. According to Rav Kook, redemption will stem from a combination of wisdom deriving from age and learning - tempered by the enthusiasm of youth. Only a holistic approach that encompasses the two orientations - also taking into account the proper actions as indicated by Torah - will bring the redemption.

Channeling, not Suppressing
Rashi teaches that the meaning of the mitzvah, "You shall be holy" is: "Separate yourselves from sexual immorality". The commentary "Ohr Hachayim" explains that the inclination of sexual immorality (Yetzer d'Arayot) is entrenched in human nature, and is thus nearly impossible to overcome. If so, from where are we to garner the power to fulfill the mitzvah of "You shall be holy?" The response to this question, says the Ohr HaChayim, lies in the second half of the verse, "Because I, your God, am holy..." Since the Children of Israel are truly children of God, they possess a natural cleaving to Divine holiness.

There is no need to suppress the Yetzer d'Arayot. The Jewish person is expected to achieve spiritual perfection, and such perfection accomodates the Yetzer d'Arayot. Looked at this way, the prescription, "You shall be holy" is really a commandment to steer the inclination towards holiness and purity in a healthy direction. When we successfully do this, Rav Kook notes, we transform the Yetzer d'Arayot from a private, egoistic inclination to a universal inclination directed at the perpetuation of mankind and the furthering of God's plan for the world.

This observation - that we need not and should not suppress this inclination - has a calming effect; man realizes that he need not give up completely on his yearnings and drives. To be sure, it seems at times that it is easier to suppress the yetzer rather than to redirect it, since channeling this yetzer carries with it the possibility of failure and sin. However, suppressing the Yetzer d'Arayot is liable to produce a "boomerang effect" in which we confront the unruly, unhealthy bursting forth of the yetzer, unbridled by the guidance of Torah.

Our sages teach that after the first exile, Ezrah the prophet nullified the human inclination towards idolatry. At the time, he also tried to negate the Yetzer d'Arayot, but stopped short of doing so once he realized that it would lead to a situation in which there would be no chicken eggs in the entirety of the Land of Israel, as a result of the newly-celibate lifestyle of roosters and chickens!
From this observation, we can learn that the key to the redemption lies in the intensification of the Yetzer d'Arayot. It is possible that the way of overcoming this inclination is a long road, fraught with all sorts of personal challenges and mistakes. Yet, at the forefront of a person's thoughts at all times must be the realization that he is continuing down the path until complete victory over this yetzer.

We must overcome this yetzer in the same manner as we would overcome the tendency towards greed. Only when a person cultivates a sense of revulsion for money that is not his own, and a sense that money that is not rightfully his is a burden on him that will just not let him rest - is he considered to have overcome his greed. [Merchants in the marketplace know that there are people out there whom they can sell to on credit, since they know that the respective consciences of these people will not allow them to sleep at nights until they pay their debts.

A person must realize that each time he succeeds in a given struggle with the Yetzer d'Arayot, like the pushing off of a lewd thought or the like, not only has he refrained from committing a transgression, he has even performed a great mitzvah! Our sages teach that someone who remains idle and does not commit a sin, is considered by the Torah as if he in fact performed a positive commandment. This worldview generates a new sense of purpose to those who truly wish to vanquish this yetzer. The reason it is considered a mitzvah is that it requires an active struggle and an ability to draw upon one's spiritual powers.

Our sages teach that "according to the pain is the reward." Thus, one who exerts energies in these spiritual battles, and one who feels pain as a result of this exertion, receives great reward. We certainly do not serve God on condition of receiving reward, but the "reward" in this instance is the obtaining of new powers to aid in our service of God...

Two Creatures

by Rabbi Dov Berel Wein

In this week’s parsha the Torah teaches us that there are two creatures that carry the sins of Israel upon them on Yom Kippur and through them comes expiation and forgiveness of sin to all of Israel. They are first the High Priest of Israel who is charged with the fulfillment of the ritual service in the Temple. The other creature is the scapegoat that will be thrust off of the cliff of Azazel carrying the sins of Israel with it. Much has been written about these two creatures and their roles in the exalted Yom Kippur service. I think that one of the insights that may be gleaned from these differing forms of the ritual of achieving forgiveness for our sins lies in the stark contrast between the creatures instrumental in fulfilling this role of mediating between God and us .The contrast between the High Priest of Israel, the holiest and most exalted of humans, clad in white and devoted solely to holiness and purity and a goat, an animal that was apparently chosen at random through a "lottery" to be the sacrificial animal and which possesses no human intelligence and spirit, is certainly a striking one. What are we to make of this disparity of mediators between man and God? Perhaps we can understand the role of the High Priest in this spiritual drama but the role of the goat is certainly shrouded in mystery and wonder for us. The entire matter certainly demands thought, analysis and explanation.

My insight is that the High Priest brings forgiveness to Israel through living - through a life of holiness and public service. The High Priest blesses the people and he is aware that he bears the responsibility for their behavior and is charged with being the proper role model for his fellow priests and for all of Israel generally. It is not an easy task to live a holy life of spiritual example and leadership. We often think that sanctification of God’s name is a task that is beyond our meager talents and abilities. That is not true. The true sanctification of God’s name, the true struggle for holiness and forgiveness is accomplished in our daily living. It is accomplished in our relationship and treatment of others and in our constant struggle for personal self improvement. The other method of bringing forgiveness - that of thrusting the goat off of the cliff of Azazel.- is one of dying for a cause. Even though martyrdom has been an unfortunate staple of Jewish existence over the ages it is certainly not the preferable method of sanctification of God’s name. And as the Holocaust abundantly proved it is not necessarily a voluntary, thought out, determined personal choice. Like the goat of Azazel it is often a dumb and involuntary choice, a random choice. And even though it also brings absolution for one’s and others’ sins, it is not the true fulfillment of the human part of seeking forgiveness. Apparently the scapegoat in terms of practicality is part of our lives of Jews but we should all at least attempt to emulate the High Priest.

No Great Men of Torah to Lead Us

Never in Jewish history has there been such a void.

by Rabbi Chananya Weissman

I have bad news and good news.

The bad news is that we are living in a dor yasom, an orphan generation that is bereft of gedolim (great men of Torah and piety) to lead us. This is not a criticism of the rabbis who have remained uncorrupted and are fulfilling their individual callings with valor. It is a statement of fact that we lack the towering giants of even a generation ago who carried the nation on their shoulders, like parents carrying their children.

I don't believe there was ever a time in Jewish history with such a void. There is no one we can go to with questions or problems and be confident not only that will he give us the correct answer, but that Hashem is speaking through him. Those of us who seek the truth don't have a clear address anymore. We have to shop around and muddle through. If we have a rabbi in our lives who is generally knowledgeable, caring, and uncorrupted, who can help us most of the time, we are extremely fortunate. But we have no gedolim to carry the mantle of those who came before them.

The good news is that this is one of the signs that our redemption is imminent. Not only that, but when it comes to saving us in times of trouble, gedolim don't matter nearly as much as we tend to think.

You read that right, and no, I didn't become a heretic. Allow me to explain.

We have a long tradition of gedolim rescuing their flock with prayers and guidance. Moshe Rabbeinu is the best, most obvious example, having repeatedly interceded on behalf of the Jews in the desert after their sins brought them to the brink of annihilation. Subsequent gedolim inherited this power and responsibility, albeit on a diminished level from that of Moshe.

In addition to interceding in times of judgment, gedolim bring blessing and protection to their generation. The entire world was sustained in the merit of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, while he subsisted on a small measure of carob from week to week (Brachos 17B). Chapter three of Ta'anis is replete with examples of tzaddikim ending droughts with their prayers or signs of mourning. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai stated that the world could not firmly exist without thirty tzaddikim like Avraham, and that he alone could protect his generation (Succah 45B, Bereishis Rabba 35:3; see commentaries for much discussion).

He further boasted that he could absolve the world of the sins it accumulated during his lifetime. Rashi explains: In my merit I can bear all their sins and absolve them from judgment. Sefer Chasidim further explains that the suffering he experienced when he and his son, Rabbi Elazar, were forced to hide in a cave for twelve years would be sufficient to absolve the wicked of the punishment due them.

Obviously there are many deep layers to this, far deeper than my department, but there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed. The Torah is very clear that every person bears individual responsibility for his own sins. Although we inherit both the merits and spiritual baggage of those who came before us (Devarim 5:9-10, 7:9), Hashem judges us one by one (see Devarim 24:16 and commentaries, first Mishna in Rosh Hashana). Ultimately we will all have to stand before the Heavenly Court and face the music individually.

The plot further thickens with the case of Rebbi. During the thirteen years he suffered from a toothache (for spiritual reasons, of course) no woman in Israel died during childbirth or experienced a miscarriage (Kilayim 42A). When Rebbi was finally cured (for spiritual reasons, and without drug companies, of course) Rabbi Chiya lamented the misfortune that was sure to befall childbearing women as a result.

The notion of a holy person carrying away the world's sins and suffering on their behalf sounds uncomfortably similar to a belief system that is antithetical to Judaism. So what is going on here?

The answer is that both concepts are true. Every individual is judged individually and is responsible for his own actions. No one can wave a magic wand and make his sins disappear; whoever makes the mess has to clean it up himself, either through repentance or punishment. At the same time, righteous people can bear suffering that would befall others – but not the way Christians distorted the concept.

This can best be understood with a simple analogy. Every individual has a personal account with Hashem, which we can liken to a bank account. When we do something good, we deposit a merit into the account. When we do the opposite, God forbid, we withdraw from the account. Good deeds and sins do not cancel each other out, of course; if a person does one of each, he will be rewarded for the good deed and punished for the sin. However, the overall balance of one's spiritual bank account, his spiritual standing, is determined by placing all his deeds on a scale and seeing which side carries more weight.

Every individual has this type of account, and it is his alone to manage.

But there are other accounts that he is responsible for. These are joint accounts, which belong to all the societies of which he is a member: his city, his nation, the entire world. As these accounts have numerous co-signers, his share in the account and his influence over it are very limited. Nevertheless, everything he does has a spiritual effect on the world around him. When he does something good, he deposits a merit into these accounts, and when he does a sin, he negatively affects the spiritual balance of the entire group.

When God judges society, it is these accounts that He examines. What is the overall spiritual standing of the society, based on the collective merits and demerits of all its members? When the overall spiritual health of the society is strong, Hashem will bless the society, and even the less-deserving members will benefit. When the reverse is true, even the more righteous members will suffer because of the rest of the group. When there is a drought, for example, there is a drought for everyone. When it rains, everyone enjoys the blessing.

Individuals with exceptional performance one way or the other may receive special treatment, but overall the society is judged collectively. Classroom discipline operates the same way. Some children whine that it is unfair when the entire class is punished (though they never refuse to participate when the entire class is rewarded) but this is how society has to work. If we are to enjoy the benefits of living in a society with other people, we must bear some responsibility for the society as well.

One of the clearest examples of this from Tanach is when “approximately” thirty-six Jews fell in battle following the sin of Achan (Yehoshua chapter 7). Chazal expound that only a single Jew, Yair ben Menashe, fell in battle (Sanhedrin 44A). Either way, why should other people die because of Achan's sin?

The answer is that all Jews are guarantors for one another (כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה). The parameters and ramifications of this are the subject of much discussion, but on a fundamental level this should no longer be difficult to understand.

Until Achan sinned, the Jewish people were collectively worthy of the highest level of protection from Hashem. It was unfathomable that even a single Jew would fall in battle. Achan's sin negatively impacted the national account enough to remove this highest level of protection. The entire nation was now more vulnerable to ordinary dangers. Yair was not punished for Achan's sin. He fell due to the diminished spiritual protection over the entire nation. (I elaborate more on this in my Dvar Torah on Nitzavim in Keser Chananya.)

So how do gedolim factor into this?

Like everyone else, gedolim have personal accounts which are theirs alone. At the same time, they too are members of the various joint accounts. Unlike most co-signers, however, they are constantly depositing merits into the account, especially powerful merits. The quantity and magnitude of their deposits has a tremendous impact on the overall spiritual health of society, far more than the proportional impact of an average member.

This is why entire cities can be protected in the merit of a gadol, and when that gadol moves away or passes from this world, they lose that protection (see Bereishis 28:10, Rashi). One clear example of this from the Torah is with Aharon HaKohen. When he died, the clouds that protected the entire Jewish people in his merit went away, at least temporarily.

But gedolim can protect their societies in another way. When, God forbid, the overall spiritual health of their society sinks to a dangerous point, when the joint bank account is in overdraft despite the contributions of the gadol, the debt must be collected. As Rabbi Chinina bar Papa taught, Hashem doesn't collect from a nation until their debts reach a certain measure (Sotah 9A, based on Yeshaya 27:8).

There are several ways this can happen. One is for the overall spiritual protection of the society to be diminished, as in the case of Achan, after which tragedies will naturally occur. Another is for the entire society to be punished in a specific way, such as with a drought. The ultimate purpose of these punishments is to awaken the people to generally repent and to root out a specific sin that might be the primary cause of the problem (which was the case with Achan and the famine in the times of David). Alternatively – and hopefully concurrently – the people can increase their collective merits to restore a positive balance to the account and redeem them from punishment.

But there is another way the debt can sometimes be collected. A gadol can suffer on behalf of everyone else.

After all, if a joint account is in overdraft, the bank doesn't care who pays the debt, so long as the debt is paid. It doesn't matter if everyone else is responsible for the debt, but one wealthy benefactor bears the burden on their behalf. It isn't the most equitable solution, but once the debt is paid, the account is restored to good standing.

This explains why no women miscarried or died in childbirth while Rebbi was suffering. Even though he was being punished for his own slight imperfection, his suffering carried away much of the collective debt of his generation, bringing special protection to the people. This also explains why gedolim were able to end droughts with relatively minimal displays of mourning. The trivial discomfort of a gadol – who should never be discomfited in any way – cleans away massive spiritual debts from the rest of the nation.

Righteous people cannot carry away sins, but they can bear a greater share of the burden for society's collective debt.

So why do I write in the beginning that gedolim don't matter nearly as much as we tend to think?

First of all, everyone has the ability to make great contributions to the joint account. Gedolim do it more frequently and in greater amounts than most people – that's what makes them gedolim – but this opportunity is available to all of us. In fact, we should consider it our responsibility to one another and to the gedolim who bear a greater share of the burden to pull our own weight.

Among the many stories in chapter three of Ta'anis about the merits of gedolim protecting their cities, we find cities being saved from terrible punishments in the merit of ordinary people performing seemingly trivial acts of kindness (Ta'anis 21B). Every person has the ability to move the collective spiritual needle in extraordinary ways. We should not wait for gedolim to do this on our behalf – nor hang our heads when there aren't any. As Chazal taught us, in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man (Avos 2:5).

The fact that we should not depend on gedolim to bail us out, and to instead take greater responsibility for our society, is illustrated by Rabbi Chanina. The Gemara in Yerushalmi Ta'anis 3:4 relates that there was once a plague in Tzipori, but it did not enter Rabbi Chanina's neighborhood. The people of Tzipori complained that “this old man” was sitting in peace in his neighborhood, while the entire province was suffering, and he wasn't praying for them.

Rabbi Chanina went and expounded before them that in the times of Moshe there was one Zimri (a particularly immoral person) and 24,000 people died in a plague, despite Moshe's merits. In Tzipori there were many people like Zimri, so why were they complaining about him?

Another time there was a drought. The people of Tzipori declared a fast, but rain still did not fall (such a thing is supposed to surprise and disappoint us; spiritual solutions are not supposed to fail). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi declared a fast in the south, and rain fell there. The people of Tzipori then said that Rabbi Yehoshua brought rain for his people in the south, but Rabbi Chanina was holding back rain from his people in Tzipori.

The next time they needed to fast for a drought, Rabbi Chanina sent for Rabbi Yehoshua and asked him to join them in the fast. They went out together, and still the rain did not come. Rabbi Chanina then told the people the following:

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi does not bring rain for the people of the south, and Rabbi Chanina does not stop the rain from the people of Tzipori. Rather, the people of the south have soft hearts; they hear words of Torah and are humbled. The people of Tzipori have hardened hearts; they hear words of Torah and are not humbled.”

In spite of this harsh rebuke, Rabbi Chanina then prayed for the people and brought rain, though he subsequently regretted it and vowed never to do so again if they were not worthy.

Rabbi Ze'ura also said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: “What can gedolim of the generation do, being that the public is judged only according to the majority?” This is derived from the fact that Hashem didn't speak with Moshe all thirty-eight years that He was angry at the Jews in the desert.

Rabbi Yaacov bar Idi then said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi the very same thing, except he derived it from the fact that Eliyahu was only answered on Mount Carmel in the merit of the people.

It is clear from here that gedolim have tremendous power to intercede on behalf of the people, to protect their surroundings in their merits, and to bear a greater share of the collective suffering. At the same time, however, their ability to protect society is limited by the overall spiritual health of the society. There are no freebies or government bailouts, nor can gedolim carry away people's sins. If a society is full of immoral people with hardened hearts, who do not submit to the Torah, there is nothing a gadol can do for them. A gadol can only assist individuals and societies that are worthy vessels to receive blessings.

So yes, it matters a great deal that we do not have gedolim. As the same time, we should not be overly dependent on gedolim to carry our weight. A gadol is a shepherd to guide us, not a substitute for the work we are supposed to do. He puts more merits into the collective pot, but we must contribute our share as well. Ultimately, it is the overall standing of the society that makes the greatest difference.

Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to increase our merits and do more for those around us. Each of us has the ability to make massive contributions to the our joint account, and move the spiritual needle accordingly.

So yes, we should pray for Hashem to restore shepherds to us. In the meantime, however, we should not despair for lack of gedolim.

In a place where there are no great people, strive to be great.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: The Power of the Scholars of Eretz Yisrael, part III

#96 – part III

Date and Place: 5668 (1907-8), Yafo

Recipient: The organization “Beit Va’ad Lachachamim,” dedicated to the advancement of Torah study in Yerushalayim. Rav Kook focused his letter on his envisioned goals and encouragement for such a group.

Body: [We have seen Rav Kook’s encouragement to the group to use the extra power scholarship has in Eretz Yisrael, with the help of the Divine Spirit, and how they should not just copy the style of scholarship from the Diaspora.]

It takes great hardship for Torah scholars and the pious in the Diaspora to try to unite separate areas [of Torah learning]. The difficulty is because the lofty light of united divinity does not shine there. Brothers, we should thank Hashem, the G-d of Israel, who put us in a place of light, where everything is possible and necessary. One who seeks the ultimate good in Eretz Yisrael can find everything. One who suffices with the lower paths, which are intended for those who live in the darkness of the Diaspora will not even find the little he sought.

The period involved also makes a big difference. Ours is a time when Hashem desires to show us his good graces. Do not minimize the importance of the recent growth of the population of Hashem’s Nation on the Holy Soil. This is a clear divine sign of the approach of the angel of the covenant (Eliyahu the Prophet). Therefore, we must embrace higher levels of Torah scholarship, so that our actions will [get closer] to those of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. This will bring Eliyahu and the time of the resurrection of the dead. In every [relevant spiritual] area, there are myriad levels until one reaches such a high level that it flows into the “world of activity.” May those who lie in earth rise up and sing His praises, literally in the near future, Amen.

Dear friends, I urge you to deal with these matters on a daily basis, so that the spiritual greatness that rests in your souls and desires to be touched by the dew of life and of light from the mountains of sanctity will be actualized. Do not allow even one day when your bright spirits might be dimmed, but increase light with strength and calmness. Even if the beginnings will be a little difficult, do not let it upset you. Embrace the challenge, and quickly you will find that your heart contains light and a spirit of Hashem full of happiness, modesty, and strength. “If you want to see the Divine Spirit in this world, be involved in Torah in Eretz Yisrael.”

The holiest land was the most desolate land in the Ramban’s time. Now, thank G-d, a “string of grace” is growing on it. We need to accept it and strengthen it with our efforts. The soul of the Congregation of Israel will soon be awoken in the Desired Land, and we need to take a part in this phenomenon. Most of those devoted to the Torah in Eretz Yisraelare downtrodden and need assistance in their physical life, which is connected to their spiritual life. Their spirits must be lifted, while maintaining a significant focus on the “pain” of Hashem, of the entire world, and of the Jewish People, due to the blocking of the divine lights and their difficulty in influencing the world. Only Eretz Yisrael’s Torah scholars can properly feel the deep bitterness and look to the salvation of the world, as the holy nation emerges from its difficult period. That bitterness turns into the delight of the upstanding, which allows people to draw close to Hashem, to the love of Torah and fear of Hashem, along with love of the Jewish people and every individual human being. This makes one pleasing in the eyes of people and Hashem.

These principles are well known to your pure hearts. Although you do not need people of my low caliber, I could not hold back from sharing these ideas with ears that listen and hearts that feel like yours do. I would be so happy if you look at some of the few things I have published, even though they do not contain many new ideas. However, they can awaken the heart. Specifically, my essay, “Knowledge of G-d,” is worthwhile to review several times.