From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“With great wisdom, with enormous valor, with deep, penetrating insight, with a longing for truth and with clear thought, we must accept the exalted content of the divine light being revealed in a sublime process through the chronicles of our wars.” (Orot 13)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Know why you are crossing the Jordan.”
Joshua, the Israelites’ leader and commander-in-chief addresses the nation before their entry into the Land, and he says: “Know why you are crossing the Jordan!” It is for you to drive out the inhabitants of the Land, as it says, “Drive out the Land’s inhabitants before you” (Numbers 33:52). If you do so, well and good. Otherwise, the waters of the Jordan will come and wash you away [“you” represented by the word “otichem”]. What is meant by the rare form “otichem”? Both Me [oti] and you [et’chem]. (Sotah 34)
Indeed, the people undertook to conquer the entire land, and a miracle was performed for them at the Jordan. As Rashi comments regarding the words, “You are crossing the Jordan to come and conquer the land which the L-rd your G-d is giving you. Occupy and settle it” (Deuteronomy 11:31): “Miracles at the Jordan will be your sign that you shall arrive and conquer the Land. Moreover, Joshua commanded them to bequeath to future generations the command to conquer the entire land, by having them erect a monument made from twelve stones of the Jordan, in accordance with the number of tribes of Israel. It was to signify for them that when their children later asked them what these stones were, they were to explain that their ancestors had crossed the Jordan with the goal of conquering the entire land.” (see Sotah 35)
Joshua was not privileged to conquer all the Land’s inhabitants. Hundreds of years passed until David conquered the Land, and only his son Solomon was privileged to enjoy peace, with each man sitting under his own grape vine and fig tree. Yet all those years from Joshua until David, we never forgot and never lost our faith that we would conquer the entire land as we were commanded to do by our holy Torah: “Clear out the land and live in it, since it is to you that I am giving the land to occupy” (Numbers 33:53). Indeed, during the days of the Judges, the words of verse 33:55 were fulfilled: “If you do not drive out the land's inhabitants before you, those who remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, causing you troubles in the land that you settle.” Despite everything, we continued to cling to the goal until we were privileged to fulfill it during the days of King David.
In our own times as well, when the State of Israel is fighting a cruel enemy who comes in the name of Islam to annihilate the State of Israel, we must learn from Joshua, who said, “Know why you are crossing the Jordan! You are crossing it in order to conquer the Land, and the purpose of our conquering the Land is to fulfill the vision of all the prophets and sages down through the generations. Israel are a light unto the nations, as G-d promised Abraham: “I will make you a great nation… You shall be for a blessing… All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you” (Genesis 12).
Our enemies wish to extinguish the light of Israel – it will never be! The light of Israel is the light of G-d, coming to illuminate and benefit the entire world. Our soldiers, wherever they may be, and the residents of the north and south, who are being relentlessly attacked, must be aware that this war is between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. Let us unite and be strong, and through us will be fulfilled the words, “The L-rd will give strength to His people. The L-rd will bless His people with peace” (Psalm 9:11). Looking forward to complete salvation,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
“The Present War”
“The present war is THE war with a capital W.” So said Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Despite the enormous calamity of the Holocaust, the present war, which began with the War of Independence, is THE war with a capital W, because it is the war over the nation’s rebirth, over Israel’s redemption, and through that, over the redemption of the world and of the Divine Presence. The present war changes form, for facing us is a cruel and determined enemy who never rests, but unceasingly renews his onslaught. Actually, what I said about its having started with the War of Independence is imprecise. The present war, the present effort to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, has been going on for a long time, throughout Jewish history. It goes back to Pharaoh, Amalek and Sisera, Babylonia, Greece and Rome, and in our day, that cursed worm Hitler, may his name be blotted out. Rambam explains in his “Igeret Teiman” that this is truly a war against the Master-of-the-Universe, yet as that is impossible, because G-d would just laugh at them, they instead fight the people that teach G-d’s word on earth, that teach ethics, integrity, truth and justice, holiness and purity.
Only, for two thousand years, due to the exile, we couldn’t fight. We could only absorb the blows and try to survive. Now, thanks to G-d’s kindness, the possibility of defending ourselves has been restored, and the mitzvah of making war has come back to life. Thus, our sages define our wars against the nations as “atchalta de’geula”, the start of redemption (Megillah 17b).
Actually, the present war began even before the Jewish People’s appearance. As our sages explain, Abraham’s war against the four kings likewise constituted a war between Nimrod, the seat of wickedness on earth, and Abraham, the seat of goodness. Therefore, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that if we fulfill our enemies’ will, they will stop bothering us. Let us not think that if we betray our land and abandon parts of it to them, they will become lovers and pursuers of peace. The Maharal of Prague, in his commentary on the words “Laban sought to uproot everything” (from the Pesach Seder), wrote that we have opponents, and that is true not because of any particular reason which if removed would result in the removal of that opposition. Rather, the opposition is more deeply rooted. It is due to our very identity as the Jewish People.
Likewise, in our own day, the Amalekite Hitler rose up to destroy us. Following Hitler came the British, who tried to prevent our establishing a state, and the Arabs, following that “Black Sabbath” of the Jewish State’s creation, to quote Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s ironic description (LeNetivot Yisrael I). Some nations may be unaware that their war against us is over our very existence, yet other nations are indeed aware of this, such as Hitler and those Arabs who want the destruction of the State of Israel. In any event, we must dispel the illusion that a conciliatory policy towards our enemies will bring us peace, as happened with Chamberlain’s British, and with us as well – the opposite is the case. We just need the patience to continue devotedly with our stubborn battle against evil, until its absolute surrender. In the meantime, we must rejoice that we are able to fight, and that we need not be like sheep going to slaughter, as was the case during our exiles.
There’s a story about a Jew who was praying in a Chareidi synagogue on Israel Independence Day. When the chazzan began to recite “Tachanun” [a prayer which the Chief Rabbinate ordained should not be recited on Israel Independence Day], that Jew approached the chazzan, banged hard on the chazan’s lectern and cried out, “I was in the Holocaust, so let no one try to tell me stories! Let’s say Hallel with a blessing!” In light of all the preceding, we can also answer the question, “Upon what does success in the present war depend? On the strength of the army? On the political leadership? On our repenting, at least as regards the belief that Eretz Yisrael belongs to us?” The answer is that this is a war in stages, and we have to make use of all means: spiritual, national, military. And they are all related: spiritual valor leads to national and military valor.
We also have to answer the question being asked by many: Shall we continue enlisting in the army following the Prime Minister’s words linking this war to the expulsion and destruction of the Land being called the “Convergence”? Surely, we are not fighting for the Prime Minister but for the Master-of-the-Universe. G-d commanded us regarding the present milchemet mitzvah [compulsory war], which is a tri-fold mitzvah: it defends the people, defends the Land, and sanctifies G-d’s great name (see LeNetivot Yisrael I).
Rabbi Ya’akov Filber – Guest Lecturer at Machon Meir
“Human Endeavor and Divine Providence”
In many places the Torah informs us that man has free will to choice good or evil, as at the start of our parashah, “You can see that I am placing before you today both a blessing and a curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26), or the verse, “Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will survive” (30:19).
Free will imposes responsibility on a person’s actions, and the Torah advises one to “choose life”. Our sages expressed man’s having the option to determine his own life when they said, “G-d treats man in accordance with the path he chooses.” It is true that this wording implies that even if one is master over his own decisions, he is not master over his life. Above him hovers divine providence, which scrutinizes his decisions. All the same, divine providence does not dictate to one what he must do. Here, as well, it makes a difference whether a person’s decisions are negative or positive. As our sages said (Yalkut Shimoni on Mishlei 935), “If a person seeks to be contaminated, heaven facilitates this, and if he seeks to be purified, heaven facilitates this.” If one’s decision is positive, not only does G-d not hinder one, but He helps him. If a person makes negative decisions, i.e., to contaminate himself, the path is opened up before him. He is not hindered, yet neither is he helped. One way or the other, in much of life, the main decisions are left up to man. As our sages said (Berachot 33b), “Everything is in G-d’s hands except for the fear of G-d.” Moreover, in Niddah 16b, they went into more detail: “An angel asks G-d about a person before he is born, ‘Master-of-the-Universe! What will be with this drop? Will he be mighty or weak, wise or foolish, wealthy or poor?’ Yet the angel does not ask, ‘Will he be wicked or righteous?’ As Rav Chanina taught, ‘Everything is in G-d’s hands, except for the fear of G-d.”
The Torah’s telling us to “choose life,” implies that man has the ability “to flee from himself,” to dissociate himself from the divine image within him, and even to be a lowly scoundrel, so great is the power of free will. This principle that man has free will even to the point of being able to deny his own identity and purpose does not apply in every instance. It is true only in the realm of the individual, but does not apply as far as the Jewish People are concerned. There, our free will decreases more and more, and its place is taken by divine providence, which does not allow us to flee from our Jewish identity and purpose.
Such an attempt to flee from ourselves occurred during the time of the Prophet Ezekiel, when the elders of Israel said, “Let us be like the nations, the families of the lands” (Ezekiel 20:32). In response, Ezekiel said, “That which comes into your minds shall not be at all…. surely with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, will I be King over you” (32-33). A similar idea expressing the inability of the Jewish People to flee from themselves is explained by the Netziv [Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin] in his commentary on the Torah, regarding the verse, “It is a people dwelling alone, not accounted among other nations” (Numbers 23:9): “The Jewish People are unlike any other nation or tongue that go into exile and assimilate, thereby meriting the admiration and love of those who expelled them, more than if they had remained apart. With Israel, precisely when they remain alone and do not mix with the nations, they then live in tranquility and dignity. Only when they wish to mingle with the nations are they of no account, because the nations reject them. The reason for this is that the Jewish People have to survive, and that is possible only when they preserve their uniqueness, which they can do by one of two means: One way is for them to preserve their national framework, “dwelling alone.” If, G-d forbid, they attempt to be “among other nations,” blurring and nullifying their identity, then they are “of no account.” Divine providence will force us by way of the nations’ hatred (anti-Semitism) to return to ourselves.
The Jewish People’s inability to flee from themselves exists regarding Eretz Yisrael as well, as Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa taught in accordance with the words, “Draw us forth! We will run after You” (Song of Songs 1:4). He says that there are two ways to acquire an object by way of “meshichah” [pulling]. The first is to call an animal and have it come. The second is to hit it with a stick, thereby causing it to run (see Kiddushin 22b). He likens this to the way that G-d beckons to us to move to Eretz Yisrael. Here as well, the matter can occur by one of two possibilities. The first is for G-d to call upon us to come, and for us in fact to come. That way we come to the Land the easy way. Yet if we stubbornly insist on remaining in the exile, divine providence is then compelled to bring us to Eretz Yisrael by beating us with a staff, and then we come to the Land the hard way. We ask of G-d, “Draw us forth! Let us come to the Land via Your call.”
This two-fold possibility of human activity coupled with divine intervention has been accompanying us in our own time as well, since our return to Eretz Yisrael. From time to time we try escape our destiny, whether through despair or lack of fortitude, but the reality forces us to return to ourselves. An example of this is the Six Day War. We didn’t want that war, and we asked King Hussein to stay out of it, but it was forced on us. Afterwards, with our return to the broad expanses of our ancestral inheritance, already from the first day until now an unceasing effort has been made, both by the international community and by portions of Israeli society, to remove us from these territories. Each time this plot is almost about to be fulfilled, an unforeseen event suddenly occurs which turns everything upside down, and we remain in that same position from which we wanted to flee. Even regarding those same territories that we abandoned unilaterally, fooling ourselves into believing we could flee from them, we find ourselves returning to them against our will. Only, this process has wrought a change in the way that some of Israeli society understand what is happening. In this sense, divine providence has been “reeducating” us. We are learning the hard way the truth about the reality that has enveloped us.