From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“When the time comes for the ancient light to appear…spirits will be very low. Life will be stagnant. From the outside will come the sound of a reveling throng, coarse and wild…the suffering from such misfortune constitutes the pain of childbirth looming on the horizon. Vibrant lives are sparkling forth to return to their holy source, to renew the world with their glorious splendor”
(Orot HaKodesh I:153-4)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
Specialness and Choice
The Jewish People possess two traits which together define their holiness and G-d’s connection to them –their being special and their having chosen G-d.
In terms of our specialness, we inherited our holy nature from the patriarchs. Specialness is a holy inner force implanted in our psyche through the divine will, like the nature of every object in reality, and it cannot be altered (Rav Kook, zt”l, Igeret 555). As it says, “You are a nation consecrated to Hashem your G-d. G-d has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation” (Deuteronomy 14:2). Rashi explains, Your intrinsic holiness is from your forefathers, and G-d chose you.” We do not choose G-d. Rather, He chooses us, as we say in our daily blessing to G-d, who “chose us from amongst all nations”.
On the other hand, we did make a choice. Our making that choice helps us to uncover our natural specialness, hence all depends not only on our specialness but on the good deeds we do and the Torah we choose to learn and to fulfill. Specialness and choice, and the connection between them, are alluded to through the juxtaposition of verses, “G-d has chosen you to be His own special nation,” and “Do not eat any abomination” (14:2,3). Someone who chooses not to eat abominations reveals actively his having chosen to do His Creator’s will.
Today, in order to bring our Jewish brothers closer to our Father in Heaven, we must relate chiefly to the specialness in every single Jew, i.e., the precious, pure soul that G-d implanted in him, just as He implanted it in me. All of this originates with our being connected to the Jewish People, the holy nation that G-d chose from among all nations to be a special people. It matters not whether someone is religious or not, whether he belongs to this or that stream. The Jewish People of our generation are all holy.
By contrast, the choices that a Jew makes, in his behavior, his views and his belonging to a particular part of our people, are a changing, transient element, and they don’t have to be the main gauge in our relating to our fellow Jew. It is true that a duty rests on us to improve ourselves and others, but we must do so out of a certain faith that the divine promise will be fulfilled, “A redeemer shall come to Zion and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression – the word of G-d…. My spirit it is which shall be upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children, says the L-rd, henceforth and forever” (Isaiah 59:20-21).
Looking forward to complete salvation,
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner- Chief Rabbi of Bet El
The Time has come for Brotherhood
The time has come for brotherhood,
Between myself and…
My father and mother.
My brothers and sisters.
And between me and myself.
Between religious and irreligious
Ashkenazi and Sephardi
Right wing and Left
Yeshiva-oriented and academic
Employer and employee
Commander and solder
High-brow and laborer,
Chassid and Non-Chassid,
Chareidi and Zionist.
Brotherhood between me and those I love
Me and those I do not
Me and those who love me
Me and those who do not.
Between those far removed
Those intimately close
And those in between.
Brotherhood between Nationalism and Universalism
Peace and war
Mathematics and poetry
Law and legend
Intellectual study and phys-ed
Body and soul
Intellect and nation
Spirituality and the mundane
Between different peoples
Between different nations
Between all mankind
Between man and other creatures
It is long since time.
It was time already when Cain killed Abel.
When the First and Second Temples were destroyed
When rightist called leftist “traitor”.
When leftist called rightist “traitor”.
When one group rejected another.
The time arrived.
All the same I say:
Now is the time!
Don’t tell an Ethiopian Jew:
“You’re not Jewish!”
Just because he’s “too dark”.
And don’t tell a Russian Jew:
“You are not Jewish!”
Just because he’s “too white”.
Now is the time!
We returned to our land for this.
Because the time for brotherhood has come.
It’s so sweet!
Rabbi Yaakov Filber
Free Choice and Its Limits
Only in a world in which there is freedom and choice can a person be told:“Observe that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will come if you obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d, which I am prescribing to you today. The curse will come if you do not obey the commandments of Hashem your G-d” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). This utterance teaches us that not only does a person have the free-will ability to choose between good and evil, but that he bears responsibility for his deeds and shall ultimately give an accounting for them. The Midrash teaches (Devarim Rabbah, Re’eh, 83):“Rabbi Elazar said: Once G-d offered Israel this choice at Sinai, from that moment evil and good do not emerge from G-d’s lips, but rather evil automatically befalls those who do evil and good automatically descends upon those who do good.”
The Midrash continues:“Rav Chagai said: Not only did I offer you two choices but I went beyond the call of duty and I said, ‘Choose life’”.
Free choice is the basis of the entire Torah. As Rambam wrote (Hilchot Teshuva 5:1):“Every man is endowed with free will. If he desires to bend himself toward the good path and to be righteous, or if he desires to bend himself to the evil path, it is up to him… He can do anything he wants, and no one will stop him from doing good or evil.”
Yet, this free will is not absolute. It has limits, as Rav Kook wrote (Olat Re’iyah I, page 85):“There is a limit to man’s free will. Even if our lives seem free in terms of our ability to do as we please, intrinsic to their being are totally hidden, coercive elements.”
We likewise learn that there are limits to free will from the blessing of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zackai to his students before his passing (Berachot 28b), in which he wished them, “May it be G-d’s will that your fear of G-d should be like your fear of heaven.” They asked, “But is that all?” and he responded, “You should be so fortunate to achieve this. Consider that when a person sins, he says, ‘I hope no person sees me.’”
From his remarks we derive that man’s free will is often influenced by what people will say or by the fear that he will be caught and punished, such that there his will is not “free”. Yet we also derive the opposite from his words: Man’s free will is so broad that it exists even against G-d’s will.
Regarding the boldness of man’s free will, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap wrote (“Mei Marom” on Rambam’s Shemoneh Perakim, Peticha 2) that he asked Rav Kook regarding our sages’ words, “Nimrod knew his Creator and intentionally rebelled against Him” (Rashi on Genesis 10:9): How is possible to describe someone in such contradictory terms? How can one both know G-d and rebel against Him!? Rav Kook responded, “Because that’s how it is. Such a bold force was likewise created in man, to be able to know G-d and, even so, to rebel against him.”
Some of the limitations that confront a man as he exercises his free will are objective, and not dependent on man, like inability or the lack of means. Yet many limitations on free will stem from man’s weaknesses. The wise man will be able to overcome them if he knows how to take advantage of the factors working to his detriment and to enlist them in his favor. For example, man’s social milieu is one of the greatest influences on man’s free will, for good or for evil. As Rambam wrote (De’ot Chapter 6):“It is man’s nature to be attracted towards his friends and companions in his views and his deeds, and to behave according to local custom.”
All that anyone who knows this fact of life must do is to choose the right surroundings, thereby improving his free will. How so? Rambam writes:“A person should therefore attach himself to the righteous and to constantly frequent sages – in order to learn from their deeds. He should distance himself from the wicked, who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds. Thus said King Solomon: ‘He that walks with the wise shall be wise; but he who befriends the fool shall be broken’ (Proverbs 13:20).”
By changing one’s environment, one will ostensibly force himself, based on pressure or social convention, to do the good deeds or to think the right thoughts. Yet even if it seems as though his behavior is not in the realm of free will, it really is. Quite the contrary, his situation will be the product of a decision he made of his own free will. Through that free will he brought himself to his present state, in which he is operating under social pressure. Yet since his decision was what brought that pressure to bear, all the results will be accrued to his credit.
We find the same thing with Pharaoh, albeit in the converse direction. Pharaoh, through his free will forced himself into a situation which led to the hardening of his heart. Then he was no longer in control over his deeds. Even so, in the end, he was punished for those deeds, which stemmed from the hardening of his heart, because by his own free will he brought himself to that state.
Translation: R. Blumberg
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