From the World of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
“The Torah transcends the human intellect. The intellect focuses on doubts, whereas the Torah is absolute. Intellect that derives from Torah and is engendered by Torah is called ‘the luster of Adam.’ This is the bright, lofty intellect that is wholly light, wholly splendor.” (from a handwritten letter of Rav Kook)
Rabi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “From Zion shall go forth the law and the word of G-d from Jerusalem”
Twice a year we rejoice over the Torah, once at Shavuot, the time of G-d’s giving the Torah, and a second time at Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah. There is a difference between the two celebrations. On Shavuot, the myriad of Israel fulfill the custom of “Tikun Leil Shavuot” -- they learn Torah all night, albeit with restrained joy. By contrast, on Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah, the joy bursts forth, and the myriad of Israel dance in circles, rejoicing with enormous happiness in the synagogues, streets and town squares.
The difference between Shavuot, the time of G-d’s giving the Torah, and Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah, the time of our rejoice over the Torah, is that with the giving of the Torah, the Torah was forced upon us. As our sages teach: “‘They stood at the foot of the mountain’ (Exodus 19:17): This teaches that G-d overturned the mountain upon them like a wash basin and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, well and good. Otherwise, your burial place will be there.’” (Shabbat 88). Anything that comes about through coercion and not through good will will involve no joy. By contrast, on Simchat Torah, when all of Israel are celebrating having completed the entire Torah that they read on Shabbat throughout the year, happily and of their own free will, great joy is engendered.
Today, how fortunate we are and how good the portion of our generation that each year the circles of Jews throughout the Land who rejoice over our holy Torah are increasing. The Torah is returning to its natural abode. There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, and our land has become the world Torah center, with thousands of yeshivot and educational Torah institutions which are growing and developing everywhere. The day is not far off when through us will be fulfilled Isaiah’s words, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L-rd, as the waters cover the sea…. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem” (11:9; 2:4). With blessings for a joyous Simchat Torah, and looking forward to complete salvation,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
During the first days of the Yom Kippur War, a student of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva came back from the front, broken and despondent, and went to see Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Dejectedly he told him about the terrible calamities he had witnessed. Rav Tzvi Yehuda listened with great interest, sitting in a chair with body language that broadcast strength and fortitude. When the student was done talking, Rav Tzvi Yehuda said just two words: “We’re progressing!” In other words, despite the difficulties, losses and crises, in the larger picture, we are making progress. We are making progress in all spheres.
1.Torah. The exile endangered Jewish lives, not just physically but spiritually. A hundred years ago, rabbis opposed making Aliyah from Russia, because their own country was full of Torah scholars and people learning Torah, and Eretz Yisrael was impoverished. And what is the situation now? There, there is almost nothing – the situation is awful – while in Eretz Yisrael, the Land is full of Torah, it is full of yeshivot, and Torah is learned throughout the nation. Certainly much more work remains to be done, but we are making progress!
2. Eretz Yisrael. A white-bearded friend of mine told me, “When my great grandfather was born, there were thirty thousand Jews in the Land! When my grandfather was born, there were 80,000! When my father was born, there were 200,000! When I was born, there were 600,000. When my son was born, there were two million, and when my grandson was born, five million. And some people say the situation is deteriorating?!...”
Quite the contrary, we are becoming stronger through the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Land. Thank G-d, we have a marvelous country. We are not aware of it, but throughout the world, the State of Israel is held in esteem due to its constant leaps forward. Some love us and some hate us, but everyone holds us in esteem. As Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote, “After the numerous shortcomings we have experienced in our lives, in our generation in general, and in Eretz Yisrael in particular, we have to feel that we have been born anew, and coming from the bottom rung we are being recreated as in days of old” (Orot HaTechiyah 26)
3. Army. There is a story about a father, deeply scarred by the Holocaust, who came to Israel following the State’s establishment, and he told his son, “There, they had the weapons and they murdered us. Here, Jews in uniform have the weapons… The Messianic era is here!”
True, the Messianic era has not yet arrived, and we are waiting for Mashiach day by day. Yet what we have now is a preparation for the Mashiach, as the Talmud states, that wars are the “atchalta de’geula”, the beginning of the redemption (Megillah 17b).
Surrounding us are 300 million Arabs with many other countries supporting them. Our wise and mighty army defends us, and like their name, so too their fame: The Israel Defense Forces. What marvelous self-sacrifice we see amongst our soldiers! By the way, somebody once asked, “Surely the enemy’s armies show a little self-sacrifice sometimes as well, don’t they?” Certainly. The Nazis showed self-sacrifice as well. The question is: self-sacrifice for what? Is it self-sacrifice for evil, or the sort shown by our army: self-sacrifice for the Jewish People, for Eretz Yisrael, for the sanctification of G-d’s great name?
4. Love of Israel. Yes! The army is 100% love of Israel. If one Jew is in danger, a million Jews will come to his aid. Yet even in our mundane lives there is a policy of brotherhood, even if there is much room for improvement.
Yet take America for example. There you can see, in the subway or on the street, young women with infants in their arms and signs that read, “I am hungry,” and it is the truth. And right by this woman you’ll see a skyscraper in which people earn a million dollars a day, and they don’t care! True, the American dollar says, “In G-d we trust,” but these are just words, unless they mean that their “god” is the dollar itself… In our country you won’t find such a thing. Obviously, a lot more improvement is needed, but we are happy with what we have.
5. Leadership. To remain in the exile, in a state of physical and spiritual danger, shows a lack of leadership. To say, “Let’s move up! Let’s build! Let’s establish a state! Let’s establish yeshivot!” shows leadership. Sometimes people say, “We have no leadership, neither spiritual nor political.” Yet look at the marvelous enterprise we have set up in the last hundred years, especially since the State’s establishment. So apparently, in general terms, we do know how to work.
And now we come to the million dollar question: Certainly we are moving forward, even quickly, but what can we do so that things will move faster, as we always mention in our prayers, “soon in our day”, etc. And the simple answer is this: in order to draw the nation after you, whether you are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, young or old, people have to want to follow you. If you are disappointed, in despair, wretched and vexatious, you won’t be able to interest anybody. If you are full of strength and fortitude, optimism and joy, they will follow you. If you are full of profound thinking and faith, they will want to listen to you. If you have good character, a good heart, integrity and love for your fellow man, people will say, “What a fine person!”
So, don’t try to fix others. Fix yourself. This will automatically lead to your influencing others. Remember that Torah observant people who are dishonest and gossip about others only distance people from G-d. Yet if they avoid evil speech and are honest, that brings people closer to G-d (Yoma 86a). Thus, this is our task: Character! Working on good character.
Rabbi Eren Tamir – Rabbi in the Israeli Dept. of Machon Meir
“The Prayer for Rain”
What is the meaning of the prayer for rain that, G-d willing, we will start to say on Shabbat Shemini Atzeret? Simply speaking, it seems that this prayer is a request that in the coming year a lot of blessed rain will fall, which in turn will facilitate economic bounty and a good livelihood. It thus follows that in the summer when in Israel we say the words “morid hatal” [G-d causes dew to fall], we mean that we hope G-d causes material bounty to descend to our world, so that we can live graciously and not in penury, in contentment rather than in suffering.
Yet we can go further. That same rain, that same material bounty which descends upon us from On High, begins with “Mashiv HaRuach”, which can mean “G-d causes the wind to blow,” – or – G-d causes the spirit to flow. The full expression, “mashiv haruach umorid hageshem” thus means, “G-d infuses our world with spirituality by way of the rain that falls. That rain meets the earth, seeps into it, and by such means, lofty spirituality is linked together with the height of base, earthly materialism, the soil, the inanimate.
Henceforth begins a gradual process. The inanimate earth becomes saturated with water, and it rises a level, causing plant life to sprout forth. That plant life is consumed by animals, providing them with life and sustenance. Thus, the inanimate is elevated to plant life, and the plant life is transformed to part of animals. Yet it does not end there. Man continues the process, by consuming animals, raising them up another level, by transforming them into part of man. And that man – Israel – continues on and adds the next level, by way of his “mashiv haruach”, by way of his revealing his soul, the infinite, divine part of him, when he studies Torah, prays or performs mitzvoth. Then we arrive at the desirable end, in which EVERYTHING, inanimate, plant, animal and man, is elevated to “mashiv haruach”, to the spirituality inherent in reality, by way of the spiritual activities of man.
We start with “mashiv haruach” and we end with “mashiv haruach”. Yet along the way we elevate all materialism to the level of man, who invests real worth and meaning into it all. Thus, the purpose of the prayer for rain is not just for us to merit quantitative economic bounty, but chiefly, to merit qualitative spiritual bounty, by elevating our material world and sanctifying it, until it reaches perfection through our redemption in our land, through the advent of Mashiach and through the rebuilding of our Temple. Then, “The L-rd shall be King over all the earth. On that day shall the L-rd be One and His name One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Rabbi Itiel Ariel
“Moshe prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage for the congregation of Jacob”
This day of rejoicing over the Torah’s completion became established as the day of “kehilat ya’akov”, the congregation – or the congregating – of Jacob. It is characterized by communal rejoicing, with the Torah standing at its center. In terms of individual Jews who have merited to learn Torah assiduously and to complete the Torah with the community, there is certainly great cause for joy, for both the individual and for the community. Yet it would seem that there is no other holiday like this one, which so completely revolves around the community as a self-contained unit, with its yeshivot and their regular, cohesive learning groups, and with all the synagogues in which the Torah is read throughout the entire year, and which also serve as sanctuaries for fixed Torah study.
Indeed, the expression “kehilat ya’akov” is not a common term in the Torah. Generally we are accustomed to other expressions such as “Bet Ya’akov” [the House of Jacob] or “Zera Ya’akov” [the Seed of Jacob]. Some have suggested interpreting the term “kehilat ya’akov” at face value, as an allusion to the many converts who shall in the future gather together [lehikahel] and join the Jewish People (see Ramban). Yet precisely the newer interpretation seems more appropriate to the general meaning of the verse, namely, that the Jew’s attachment to the Torah has to go by way of the community, and only in that framework can the Torah pass as an inheritance from generation to generation.
On this day, we want to stress the general character of the details of the Torah and its commands, which we learn from our ancestors, going back to Moses through daily toil in Torah learning. This emphasis necessarily underlines the role of the community, through which is determined the character of public life, crystallized around the Torah. Toil in Torah learning, by its very nature, is associated with the individual. The individual has to determine for himself the scope of his personal diligence in Torah learning, and he must create for himself time frameworks and appropriate study. Yet these personal accomplishments, with all their importance, cannot be passed on or bequeathed to others. The Torah learning of Moses is not like the Torah learning of Rabbi Akiva, even though every new idea that the disciple produces was already uttered to Moses at Sinai. Only where a group is formed that takes upon itself the yoke of Torah as a group, is the deep association built up that continues down through the generations.
And for that reason -- the Chassidim explain -- we make sure to dance with the community’s Torah scrolls, covered and sealed in festive attire. We keep them covered to emphasize the common attachment to Torah of every Jew, as part of the community to which he belongs, even if he has not yet merited to delve deeply into the letters written within.