Shut SMS #187

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:

Traffic Violation

Q: If I see someone violating traffic laws, such as illegal passing, crossing a solid white line, or running a red light, is it permissible or obligatory to report him?

A: It is an obligation on account of saving lives (Pikuach Nefesh).  "Do not standing idly over your fellow's blood".  Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 388:12 (See the book "Netivot Chaim" by Ha-Rav Asher Zelig Morsky regarding the severe obligation to follow traffic laws).



Q: I daven and daven to Hashem to heal me from my illness but He does not.  Why?

A: We do not know.  But the question should be the opposite: Why when we commit our first transgression does Hashem punish us by paralyzing our limbs, as the Ramak writes in Tomer Devorah on "Mi El Kamocha"?


Rising for the Elderly

Q: If an elderly person gets on to a bus knowing that all of the seats are taken, am I obligated to give him my seat?

A: He did not act properly in bothering others, but you are nonetheless obligated to give up your place (Aleinu Le-Shabeach – Shemot, pp. 689-690.  And Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv said that one should give up his seat as an act of loving-kindness.  Vayishma Moshe, vol. 2 pp. 210-211).


Coffee made by a Non-Jew

Q: Is it permissible to drink coffee made by a non-Jew on an airplane?

A: Yes.  There is no fear of him mixing in something forbidden and there is no issue of Bishul Akum (the prohibition of eating food cooked by a non-Jew), since it is mostly water.  Shut Yechaveh Daat 4:14.


Pregnant Woman's Desire for Food

Q: Is it true that if a pregnant woman desires a certain food, one should give it to her, even it is not Kosher?

A: Incorrect. Only if one knows that if she does not receive the food then she and the fetus will be endangered, or this can be discerned on her face.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 617.


Laws of a Doula on Shabbat

Q: Is it permissible to call a doula on Shabbat to tell her that labor has begun?

A: Yes.

Q: In what ways can a doula get to the hospital?

A: She may not drive and no additional activity may be done to pick her up.  She can therefore walk, be driven by a non-Jew, or travel together with the pregnant woman from her house (This is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.  Kav Ve-Naki #107).

Q: Is it permissible for her to bring items with her?

A: Yes, those that are necessary.

Q: Is it permissible for her to go home afterwards?

A: Yes, with a non-Jewish driver (see Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata 36:11).


Leftover Food from a Wedding

Q: Is it permissible for a guest to take food which remains on the table after a wedding, since it will be thrown out anyway?

A: No.  It still belongs to the person who is having the Simcha.  One needs permission (Kav Ve-Naki #60 in the name of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv).

A Friend Is a Friend

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayetze 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


What is a friend? A friend is someone you can always rely on, under any circumstances. He's always there with you when you need him, when you get married and when you get divorced, whether you are healthy or sick, when you are leading an upright life, but also when you are in jail. He may not agree with what you have done, but he will still be with you, and when you get out, he will be waiting for you there with a garland of flowers.

Friendship is a covenant. It is something very precious in the world that makes G-d very happy. I’m not really thinking about friends who we have for our own personal benefit, although that too can be good: Watch over me and I will watch over you; mine is yours, but in exchange, yours is mine. The best however, is friendship without keeping score. Eternal friendship.

And it isn't easy. Pirke Avot (1:6) therefore says, "Acquire a friend for yourself". Not, “Choose a friend for yourself", but "Acquire a friend for yourself", because with friendship, you've got to invest.

Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah, quotes from Aristotle’s “Virtues and Vices”: “A friend is an extension of oneself. You and your friend are soul mates”, and he distinguishes three types of friendships:

1. Friendships of utility. I am your friend because I benefit from our friendship - like business partners. Those are not really friendships, because when a person begins to lose out he announces that the friendship is over.

2. Friendships of pleasure. These, themselves, can be divided into two groups:

a. Friends to have fun with. This can be like males and females who go together to have fun. It goes without saying that marriage is something different. Obviously, people have fun in marriage as well, but “having fun” is not the beginning and end of the relationship. Quite the contrary, one can wed only after he completes “friendship school”. Only then is one entitled to register in the Higher Friendship Academy, as the Prophet Malachi said (2:14): “She is your partner and covenanted spouse.” Obviously, one need not be perfect at friendship before marrying - otherwise, we would never wed. Rather, we should be reasonably capable, and then we can set out on a shared journey. It’s like when the army commander calls out, “Troops, we’re going into battle immediately! We’ll organize ourselves as we move.”

b. Security friendships. This refers to someone I can trust. I don’t have to be careful about everything I do or every word I say, lest he use it against me. He knows everything I do, without my having to fear that he will give me away.

3. Friendships of the good. This refers to friendships based on the great ideal of goodness. This is what we were commanded to acquire: “Acquire for yourself a friend.” It is a friendship that includes morality. Aristotle was right when he said that this last type is the true friendship that everyone is looking for (Nichomachean Ethics Chapter 8).

Friendships based on utility, fun or security are liable to have a selfish aspect. The friendship may be based on self-love that is nourished by the mutual relationship. What is the test of true friendship? Conceding in order to be good to the other person. For example, if one friend is convicted of a crime, even though I am totally opposed to what he did, I remain his friend. A more pleasant example is the camaraderie of fellow-soldiers, which is built upon loyalty,   trust, and mutual responsibility. A soldier is ready to forego his own welfare for the sake of his buddy, even if it means endangering his own life.

Yes, certainly, it is thanks to friendship that people are cured of exaggerated self-love.

The philosopher Sartre said, “Hell is other people”. We can respond, “Heaven is a friend”. I said that friendship means being saved from one’s exaggerated ego. Therefore, friendship constitutes the entire Torah on one foot (Shabbat 31a). The letters of the Hebrew word “Ahavah” [love] have a numerical value of 13. Mutual love, the word “love” doubled, equals 26, the numerical value of G-d’s name in Hebrew. Thus the Torah said, “Love your fellow as yourself. I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:18), as is explained in the Sefer Derech Moshe (Day Fifteen).

A friend remains a friend, under any circumstances. If you are someone’s friend, then you will stay with him in his time of trouble, ready always to assist him. Even if he hurts you, you will remain with him. True, such a friend is no angel. He’s just human, with falls and failures. If a person is using scissors with is right hand and he accidentally cuts his left hand, will the left hand then cut the right hand in revenge?! (see the Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). If your teeth bite your tongue, will you bang your teeth?! (Derech Moshe, ibid.).

Now one might say, “To be that loyal in one’s friendships is blind folly!” So be it. I’d be happy to be blind and foolish in that way. The philosopher Erasmus in his work “The Praise of Folly” wrote: “Is it not folly to close one’s eyes to one’s friends’ shortcomings? Indeed it is a threefold or even a fourfold folly, yet that folly is the glue that holds friends together. Why is this? Because we are not dealing with angels, but with simple human beings, each of whom possesses shortcomings. Friendship between people who are almost perfect, almost divine, is boring, gray… and rare. And even that same stolid, somber friendship is fragile and unstable, because with their sharp, penetrating gaze, each friend will immediately discern that the other does possess shortcomings. Obviously, as far as their own shortcomings, they will remain blind. They will not see the can of worms hanging from their neck. Thus, since we are not angels, and there is no human being without faults of greater or lesser severity, and taking into account differences of age and education, misunderstandings, mistakes and all the normal mishaps of life, how can a friendship endure for even a short time, if we are not a bit crazy or at least naïve? Laugh all you want, but those very close friends who stick it out, despite everything, those mildly naïve people, are the ones who build true friendships and make their lives pleasant.” (Erasmus, ibid., Chapter 9).

Now you, dear reader, should accept the truth from him that recorded it. After all, you too are no angel. You too make mistakes, so be patient and easygoing with all your heart.

Heaven help us! People are so egotistical that a true friend represents a real miracle.  It is a miracle! If you are a friend only when you enjoy your fellow’s company, then you are not a true friend. You are only a friend of yourself.

But if you have a friend, give him what he asks for, when he asks for it. His use of the word “please” should be a magic spell for you. And even when he does not say it, you should know what he needs.

Real friendship is rare, but it exists. It exists within the family, between husband and wife, or just between any two people. It’s a real source of joy. Its existence proves that it is possible.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my teachers and mentors, David and Yonatan, for being our teachers in the School of Friendship, and to you, O G-d, for creating friendship.

Thank you David and Yonatan. Thank you G-d.

Haftarat Vayishlach: The Decline of the West

[Ovadiah, chapter 1]


In this week’s Haftarah we discover that the concept "The Decline of the West" did not originate with the German philosopher, Oswald Spengler, but with the prophet Ovadiah.  The prophet obviously does not use the expression "the West," but employs a parallel term from the Hebrew tradition: "Edom."  Esav is Edom, i.e. the father of the West.  As Rashi explains (on Bereshit 36:43), one of Esav’s princes, "Magdi'el," is Rome.


Based on the Tanachic-historical analysis of Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, it may be that the early Christians were descendants of Edom, who were more-or-less forcibly converted to Judaism by King Herod, whose memory should be besmirched.  But even if the genealogical relationship is questionable, it is the spiritual relationship that is important for this discussion, and our Sages clearly identify Edom with Western Culture.


According to our Sages, Ovadiah himself was a righteous convert, a descendant of Edom (Rashi to Ovadiah 1:1).  He knew exactly what he was talking about. In the single chapter he bequeathed to us, he relates the ultimate collapse of Edom: "A vision of Ovadiah: Thus said Hashem, G-d, about Edom…Arise, and let us rise up against her in battle.  I have made you small among the nations.  You are greatly despised.  The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart: who can bring me down to earth?...For on that day, says Hashem, I will cause the wise men of Edom to be lost, and understanding from the mountain of Esav…Because of your violence against your (i.e., Edom’s) brother Yaakov, shame will cover you, and you will be cut off forever…You should not have looked on the day of your brother's misfortune, and you should not have rejoiced over the children of Yehudah on the day of their destruction" (Ovadiah 1:1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 12).


If we return to the philosopher Oswald Spengler, we see that he was pessimistic, and rejected the idea of humanity’s advancement.  He arrogantly claimed that the Jewish Nation had completed its historical role and was in the process of disappearing from the earth's stage.  He emphasized that there is an essential contrast between the Nation of Israel and the German nation – the latter being the point of Edom’s sword.  According to his opinion, there would be an unavoidable collision between the young German culture, rooted in its land, and the senile, cosmopolitan, homeless Jewish culture.  But amazingly, as revealed each day before the nations of the world, the three-thousand year old Nation, despite its suffering and Exile, has the youthfulness which allows it to be reborn in its Land, while Europe is in a process of dissolving and being consumed by despair.


The Decline of the West will occur not because human history will stumble, but on the contrary, because it will succeed.


New Song by Rav Aviner: A Love Song

Shut SMS #186

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day!  Here's a sample:

Guarding One's Eyes

Q: Is guarding one's eyes (deriving pleasure from the opposite gender (aside from one's spouse) or looking at immodest images) a halachah or stricture?

A: It is certainly a Torah Mitzvah.  We recite three times a day: "And do not be led astray after your heart and eyes" (Bemidbar 15:39).

Q: Where can I find sources from a spiritual perspective on guarding one's eyes?

A: Sefer Reishit Chochmah, Sha'ar Ha-Kedushah, chap. 5.

Q: Is it also forbidden to look at single women?

A: Certainly.  "I made a covenant with my eyes, how then can I look at a young woman?"  Iyov 31:1.  Rambam, Hilchot Isurei Biah, chap. 21.


Feet Facing the Door

Q: According to the Torah, should one refrain from sleeping with his feet facing the door?

A: It is a superstition taken from Feng Shui.


Yaakov and Dinah

Q: Why was Yaakov Avinu punished because he didn't want to give Dinah to Esav for marriage – Esav was wicked?

A: The Alter of Slobodka explained that he was punished because he was not pained enough over his brother's state.


Selling Food to Someone who will Not Make a Blessing

Q: Is it permissible to sell prepared food, such as a drink or cookies, to someone who will not make a blessing?

A: It is forbidden to give such items as a gift to someone who will not recite a blessing.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 163:2.  But it is permissible to sell it to him.  Torat Chesed of Ha-Gaon Mi-Lublin, Orach Chaim #5 (It is asked in Shut Divrei Chachamim, p. 281: Regarding the law of "Do not place a stumbling block before the blind," is it permissible for someone who owns a restaurant to serve food to a secular Jew who he knows will not recite a blessing?  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and the Steipler Gaon answered that the world relies of Ha-Gaon Mi-Lublin to permit it).


Two Worlds

Q: I feel like I live in two worlds.  I learn Torah and perform Mitzvot, but I also sin a lot.  Perhaps I should stop with the Torah and Mitzvot so I can be complete with myself?

A: You should certainly not give up but rather add as much Torah and Mitzvot as you can.  See Igeret Kiddush Hashem of the Rambam.  "Just because someone ate garlic and his breath stinks, should he eat more garlic and make it worse?!" (Berachot 51b and Ain Aya of Maran Ha-Rav Kook ibid.).


Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge

Q: Why do so many people think that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple?

A: Christian art (see Berachot 40a and Bereshit Rabbah 77:7 that it was either a date, wheat, grapes or Etrog).


Ten Commandments

Q: Were the Ten Commandments rounded or square on the top?

A: Square.  Baba Batra 14a.  The idea that that they rounded is from Christian art (The Lubavichter Rebbe was strongly opposed to using the round design.  Shaarei Halachah U-Minhag, vol. 1 p. 199.  And the same is true of the Steipler Gaon.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:535.  Ha-Rav Moshe Sternbuch writes, however, that while it is preferable to use the square design, it is permissible to use the round design since it is not an exact depiction but rather merely a symbol.  Ibid.).


Visiting Sick Person Who Hates Him

Q: Is it permissible for one to visit a sick person who hates him, or is there a concern that he will be offended that he came to see him in his time of suffering?

A: He should clarify the situation through a third party to see if the sick person would want to see him or not.  See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 335 with commentators (Shach ibid. #2 and Hagahot Yad Shaul).

Those Who Dictate to G-d What to Do

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Toldot 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Bilaam was certainly a believer in G-d. After all, he'd dared to argue with Him! He also believed in G-d's might, and  thought that it was possible to bend the will of G-d to match his own will, to force G-d's hand, and to dictate to Him. Thus, he was no prophet, but a sorcerer and a magician - a spiritual technician who held that by way of certain mystical measures it would be possible to transform G-d's will to be like his own. G-d could be tempted, G-d could be deceived. G-d could be manipulated as a means towards achieving his own ends.

After all, it was as clear as day that G-d did not want him to curse the Jewish people.  "Do not curse the nation, because it is blessed" (Bemidbar 22:12). Even so, he sought out one trick after another to carry out his scheme and curse us. Bilaam thought that not everything is always revealed to G-d; that G-d is not always in the same state of awareness. It was therefore possible, he thought, to take advantage of moments of inattentiveness in order to curse the Jewish people (Rashi 22:9). Likewise, if G-d did not wish him to go with Balak’s princes to curse Israel, perhaps he could curse them from his present location (Rashi 22:12).

Or, if he couldn't curse them, then he could bless them (ibid.) and conceal veiled curses within these blessings. It was entirely clear to Bilaam that G-d opposed his plans and was angry. Even so he went, thinking, "Perhaps I will be able to induce G-d to accept my plan" (Rashi ibid. 20). All the same, because he had a great desire to curse, and that was the overriding factor (Rashi 22), he sought every possible avenue. He told the angel, "If you consider it wrong, I will go back home" (ibid. 34), by which he meant, "True, you are obstructing my path, but G-d gave me permission" (Rashi ibid. 34). Obviously that wasn't true. G-d had not given him permission, but He had given Bilaam free will (Rashi 22:9). "A person is led along the path of his own choosing" (Rashi ibid.).

Bilaam told the angel: "G-d gave me permission and you are nullifying His words.  That's common with G-d - He says one thing and an angel nullifies it, as when he told Avraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, and then he had an angel nullify it. Here as well, you have the final say" (Rashi ibid. 34). The bottom line, according to Bilaam, is that G-d did not have the final word. The angel did, and it would suffice to come to an arrangement with him.

Even after the miracle of the talking donkey and the angel blocking his path, Bilaam still thought he would succeed in finding an escape hatch to bribe G-d. All along the way, Bilaam was hoping that perhaps G-d would agree with him. "Perhaps G-d would come to meet him as he wished" (Rashi 24:1). After all, Bilaam saw as his life's goal bending G-d's will to his own will. Yet since all of his previous attempts had failed, he had an alternative strategy: "I will mention their sins, and that will give my curse a foothold" (ibid.). In the end, after all his efforts failed, he used a doomsday weapon, literally inciting them to sin. "I will tell you what to do: their G-d hates sexual sin... my advice is that you make them sin" (Rashi 24:14), and this was carried out with Moabite women (ibid. 25:1).

Without a doubt, the man was very wise. Indeed, he was a great genius equipped with lofty, mystical talents. Yet he used those talents to oppose G-d's will and to try to bend G-d's will to his own: “You might ask: Why did G-d cause his divine presence to rest upon a wicked non- Jew? It was to prevent the nations from being able to say: ‘If we just had prophets we would repent.’ G-d thus sent them prophets, and the nations rebelled. At first they were sexually chaste, but Bilaam advised them to abandon themselves to promiscuity" (Rashi 22:5).

Bilaam is dead, but his disciples and his disciples’ disciples continue to contaminate the world among each of the nations. For some of them, the most important thing is their own will. For them, the world is a means to their satisfying their wishes. They want to bend G-d's will to their own; to nullify it before their own.

We however, Avraham’s disciples, say "Treat G-d's will as your own so that your own will becomes like his (G-d will so love your wishes that they will become like His own).  Nullify your own will before His (the fear of G-d), so that the will of others will be nullified before your will" (Avot 2:4). The ideal for us is to increase G-d’s glory on earth.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch distinguishes between Avraham, who when he went to sacrifice Yitzchak said (Bereshit 22:5), “We will bow down”, i.e., we will humble ourselves, and Bilaam, who told Balak, “Stand by your burnt offerings” (Bemidbar 23:3). i.e., stand erect.

Like Bilaam, his disciples think that the purpose of sacrifices is to make G-d capitulate to our will. Therefore, since the Patriarchs built seven altars in all, Bilaam also built seven altars. (Rashi 23:4). We, the disciples of Avraham, do not involve ourselves with magic and sorcery, but with serving G-d, and we do not force Him to do our will. Actually, we would wish to sacrifice ourselves as Avraham did when he brought Yitzchak, and we long to do all we can for the sake of his name.

Bilaam's disciples look for every possible way to make the commandments fit into their world, nullifying, erasing or minimizing. They scratch away at the edges of Jewish law, neutralizing halachot by all sorts of pseudo-halachic arguments. After all, their whole world consists of I, what I want, what I feel. "I have set myself before me always." What determines whether a Mitzvah will be relevant and in force, is whether or not I emotionally take a liking to it...

They support their utterances with nonsensical comments, claiming that our Sages nullified Mitzvot that they found inconvenient, such as Shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat, Lulav on Shabbat, Prozbul, and Heter Iska. In their opinion, these enactments provide a flexible model suited to the needs of man.

G-d forbid! It's just the opposite! These laws were enacted in order to do G-d's will. They constitute holy reverence for G-d's will, and a fear of the Sabbath being profaned, or a fear that people will refuse to make free loans to the poor.

Thus, Reform and Conservative Jews at first did not wish to differ openly, so they invented all sorts of Prozbuls and Heterei Iska and Shabbat timers to change the Torah, to make life easy for themselves. In the end however, the cat came out of the bag, and their true face was revealed. The idea of moving to the Land of Israel was not so easy for the Reform Jews either, so they blotted it out of their prayer books and dispensed with their longing for it. Indeed, in our Holy Land, they constitute a marginal minority. Still other examples of self-deception, as though in the name of the Torah, can be found in Mesillat Yesharim, Sha’ar Ha-Nekiyut.

The “Bilaamic” foundation for preferring man’s will over G-d's likewise finds expression in Torah learning. There are two approaches to Torah learning: the traditional Torah approach and the academic approach. The traditional approach of our Sages and of their disciples and their disciples’ disciples says the following: Moshe is true and his Torah is truth. The words of the Medieval Sages are truth and the words of the later Sages are truth, and we stand before this heavenly truth with holy reverence. We do not understand everything, but we know that this is the truth. We therefore break our heads trying to understand this truth, and when we do not understand it, we lower our heads in humility and we say: "This requires further study.” Who requires the further study? We do. When the eminent genius Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes regarding Tosafot, “this requires further study,” he does not mean that he recommends to the author, the Tosafot, to examine their own words more carefully. Rather, he is addressing himself, saying that he must examine the text more and more until he understands it.

"If our predecessors were angels, then we are human beings. If our predecessors were human beings, then we are like donkeys” (Shabbat 112b). It is therefore not surprising that we do not always understand what Rashi says. Quite the contrary, what is puzzling is that we sometimes do understand it. We strive to adapt and exult our intellect to Rashi's level.

Yet Bilaam's modern disciples say, "I decide what is right and what is not, what the verse means and what it does not, and if Rashi or our sages did not say what I say, then that is a question on them. It shows that they did not understand the topic so well and we understand it better."

“The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for that is man’s whole essence” (Kohelet 12:13). Man’s whole essence – the fear of G-d! If you dictate to G-d what to do, that's not reverence.

You might ask: True, Avraham’s disciples have things good in the World-to-Come, but the disciples of Bilaam have things good in this world because they do what they like. If G-d robs us of this world, then we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the disciples of Bilaam have the better deal.

That is not true, however. Bilaam's disciples descend to Gehinom whereas Avraham's disciples enjoyed this world and inherit the next, as it says, “Endowing My friends with wealth, I fill their treasures” (Mishlei 8:21. See Avot 5:23).

That must be our goal: to draw near to G-d, and not to draw G-d near to us. After all, we know what G-d’s will is, so let’s not try to be overly smart. Rather, let us be the living fulfillment of, “Relate to G-d with perfect faith” (Devarim 18:13).

Haftarat Vayetze: Two Types of Repentance

[Ashkenazim/Sefardim: Hoshea 11:7-12:12

Yemenite Jews: Hoshea 11:7-12:14]


Our Haftarah presents us with two types of repentance: repentance unto Hashem and repentance to Hashem.


In his rebuke of the Nation of Israel, who was deeply entrenched in sin, the prophet Hoshea proclaimed: "Israel, return unto Hashem your G-d for you have stumbled in your iniquity.  Take words with you and return to Hashem" (Hoshea 14:2-3).  This linguistic pair “unto/to” is repeated numerous times, showing us that it has special significance (and in general, there is nothing fortuitous in the Tanach).  We see this doubling in other places: "Yet even now, says Hashem, return unto me…and return to Hashem your G-d" (Yoel 2:12-13).  And we read about the prophet Yirmiyahu: "Let us search and examine our ways, and return unto Hashem, Let us lift up our heart with our hands to G-d in heaven" (Eichah 3:40-41).  When we turn to the Oral Torah, we find a statement from our Sages that proper behavior which is not for its own sake reaches unto the heavens, while proper behavior for its own sake reaches to the heavens (Pesachim 50b).  In order to complete the list, we turn to the Torah itself: "And you will return unto Hashem your G-d…when you will return to Hashem" (Devarim 30:2-11).


It is quite clear that there is a distinction being made here, and we must try to figure out what these words mean with regards to repentance.  For this purpose, we permit ourselves to use the language of mathematicians.  The word "unto" ("ad" in Hebrew) means that the borders are not included and "to" ("el" in Hebrew) means that the borders are included.  Therefore, repentance unto Hashem does not include Hashem Himself.  But is repentance without Hashem possible?


Based on the theory of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, this type of repentance is seen in the Zionist movement, which has shaken the Nation of Israel over the last one hundred and twenty years.  He wrote at the end of his book "Orot Ha-Teshuvah" that the awakening of the Nation to return to its Land, its identity, its spirit and its character truly contains the light of repentance in it.  And this phenomenon is fully clarified by the Torah's expression: "And you will return unto Hashem your G-d…when you will return to Hashem" (Orot Ha-Teshuvah 17, 2).


Is it possible to find a rational explanation for a movement that causes the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land?  At the time of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, this movement was at its modest beginnings.  In our time, we have a state, an army, an economy, a living language and many of the fundamentals which contribute towards our national revival.  There are those who will protest: Zionism is a completely secular movement!  But do they know what is hidden in the recesses of the soul of Israel?  Have they penetrated our national sub-consciousness?


Maran Ha-Rav Kook (ibid.) concluded that this is inner repentance that is “covered over”, but there is absolutely no impediment which can prevent the supreme light from appearing upon us.


Secular Israelis envisioned for themselves a Holy Land without holiness, a holy language free of holiness, a Kingdom of Hashem on earth without Hashem, an army of Hashem without a King on High, even a Tanach free of Torah.  But we are not led astray by this.  We see the immeasurable self-sacrifice which allowed the national revival of the Nation of Israel.  We know with full confidence that the Jewish soul – including the pioneers before the establishment of the State and the soldiers after the establishment of the State until this very day – yearns for this return to, this inner repentance.


We are therefore optimistic.  We are confident that the Jews who repented unto Hashem will eventually repent to Hashem and everyone will be transformed into lovers of Torah.  And then all of the lovers of Zion will also become lovers of the G-d of Zion.

The Chief Mistake of Religious Zionism

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Chayei Sarah 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


What is the chief mistake of the disciples of Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and of Religious Zionism in general? Obviously we are only human and we make many mistakes, but it is good to know the main point from which all of the problems derive - such that if we rectify that main point, all the details will be rectified as well.

The chief error is that their longing for the fear of G-d was shunted far aside by their overwhelming longing to love G-d, rejoice in G-d, find strength and fortitude in G-d, and find pleasantness and tranquility, faith and belief in oneself.

All of these things are fine and important, and essential in our generation, which is a generation of redemption, as Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in his famous letter, Letter #378, in which he notes the need to explain the repentance suitable to the generation: “Before all else we must clarify the confidence, tranquility, strength and joy with which the individual must be enveloped when the light of repentance illuminates his soul…” (page 36).

The reason for this need is that “if someone seeks to achieve a lofty understanding of repentance in these times without taking into account the redemption unfolding before us, and the light of salvation, he will not arrive at the truth” (ibid., 37).

Now we can understand Rav Kook’s testimony about himself: “What a harsh inner struggle I wage, and what a powerful spirit induces me to talk about repentance. All my thoughts are concentrated on this” (Introduction to Orot Ha-Teshuvah).

We therefore wonder: if this letter was written in 5671, why did Rav Kook delay publishing Orot Ha-Teshuvah? As of 5685 he had written only three chapters and then stopped? In fact the book was only published when his son, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, compiled that work from his father’s various manuscripts.

It is well-known that Maran Ha-Rav Kook was blessed with divine intuition. That being the case, what caused the delay? Rav Kook answers this himself: “The greater the matter, the more the hindrances” (Igeret #378). The reason for this is that the person must also “seek ways to ensure that this true joy and holy bliss do not impinge on one’s fear of G-d, and do not in the least lessen the spiritual arousal acquired through all sorts of aspects of earthly fear. Quite the contrary, that joy and bliss should be increasing the force of one’s spiritual caution and alacrity” (ibid.). In other words, Rav Kook was afraid that sublime repentance would harm our conventional fear of G-d, as well as jeopardize the caution and alacrity elucidated at the start of Mesillat Yesharim, i.e., caution to avoid all sin and alacrity to perform every mitzvah.

“Particularly difficult for me was achieving a precise clarification” (ibid.). That is, Rav Kook expressed his difficulty in striking a precise balance between how much we must address joy and how much we must avoid this. This is the hard work of finding a balance (and see Orot Ha-Teshuvah at the end of Chapter 14).

The rule is this: joy does not erase the fear of G-d. Rather, it constitutes a stage above it, and quite the contrary, it strengthens it. Rav Kook likewise writes in Chapter 1 of Orot Ha-Teshuvah, that supreme repentance will appear after the lower stages of repentance, they, themselves, having developed into the higher stages.

We find the same in the Zohar, which notes the contradiction between “Serve G-d in fear” (Tehillim 2:11), and “Serve G-d in joy” (Tehillim 100:2), and resolves it by stating that

first one should serve G-d in fear and afterwards in joy (Zohar Vayikra 56:1).

True, in his article “Ha-Dor,” about his generation, Rav Kook wrote, “They are incapable of repenting out of fear, but very fit to repent out of love” (Ikvei Ha-Tzon 111). Yet that involves a non-ideal situation in which the edifice is constructed starting with the upper stories. All the same, when we have to rescue someone, we do it however we can.

Obviously, however, afterwards the fear of G-d has to be filled in, for the Torah includes a mitzvah of fearing G-d, and that mitzvah has not been nullified.

Moreover, fear of G-d is the foundation of all else. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d” (Tehillim 111:10); “What does G-d ask of you other than to fear Him?” (Devarim 10:12);

Fear the L-rd your G-d and serve Him” (ibid., 10:20); “Any person who has Torah in him but not the fear of G-d is like a thief who has been given the inner keys, but not the outer keys” (Shabbat 31a); “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind” (Kohelet 12:13).

Moreover, if there is no fear of G-d, the love of G-d will collapse as well, as the Jerusalem Talmud explains: “One verse states, ‘Hashem your G-d’ (Devarim 6:5), while another states, ‘Fear Hashem your G-d and serve Him’ (ibid., 6:13). Exercise both love and reverence.

Exercise love, so that should you be prone to hate Him, your love will already be there, and one you love you cannot hate. Exercise reverence, such that should you be prone to show G-d disrespect, your reverence would stop you from doing so.” (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 5:5).

One who loves cannot hate, but he can show disrespect. There are all sorts of disrespect. There is harsh disrespect, such as rebellion, trespass, willful sin and casting off one’s yoke. There is subtle disrespect, coated in a false coating of love. Examples include, “I can’t connect to Torah”; “It doesn’t speak to me”; “I have to be true to myself”; “I have to heed my inner voice”; “I listen to the G-d within me”; “Accept me as I am”. All these comments represent New Age thinking, which was adopted by “Neo-Chassidism”, which is actually Neo-Paganism.

Although it is possible to find such expressions amongst the great figures of Chassidism, or in the writings of Rav Kook, they are only in very small doses. When, however, such an approach occupies a much larger place, when a marginal point becomes the be-all-and-end-all, it turns into idolatry. This subtle disrespect creates all sorts of sins, under the veil of serving G-d joyfully.

Yet reverence can save one from such disrespect, because fearing G-d means seeing yourself as a servant of G-d who created us and brought us out of the House of Bondage. As it states in the “Sefer Ha-Gan” by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rav Elazar, a disciple of Moshe Ha-Darshan: one who fears G-d constantly thinks: “I was created only to wholeheartedly be G-d’s servant, as it says, ‘Serve G-d with all your heart’ (Devarim 11:13)… This means sincerely… Every individual must undertake to submit himself totally to G-d, to fear Him at all times, and to serve Him as a servant who must serve his master. He mustn’t behave like a person who sometimes obeys and at other times does not. Rather, one must perform G-d’s commandments with constancy… Neither should one pass up the least commandment of His Maker” (Sefer Ha-Gan Le-Yom Rishon).

Some will say, “But surely we attach ourselves to G-d better as G-d’s children than as G-d’s servants.” The answer to that appears already in the Zohar: Even a son cannot escape being his father’s servant, albeit that he has permission to glimpse into the king’s treasure house. (Zohar Vayikra, Behar, 111:2:272).

Remember this: “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere G-d and observe all His commandments, for this applies to all mankind.”

Haftarat Toldot: A True Cohain

[Ashkenazim/Sefardim: Malachi 1:1-2:7

Yemenite Jews: Malachi 1:1-3:4]


In our Haftarah, the prophet Malachi bitterly laments the catastrophic state of the priesthood during the period of the Second Temple: the cohanim had turned into the lowest level of technocrats offering sacrifices.  Following the behavior of the cohanim, Malachi warns with anger: "Hashem of Hosts says to you: O Cohanim, you who despise My name.  And you respond: In what way have we despised Your name?  You offer disgusting bread on My altar and you say: In what way have we polluted You?" (Malachi 1:6-7).  The prophet emphasizes that the religion has changed radially from what it is supposed to be, service and closeness to Hashem, into something mechanical, a ruse close to idol worship, a device designed to attain favors from Heaven.  If service of Hashem could sink to the level of business for profit, why shouldn't the cohanim limit their expenses?  They simply decided: we have spoiled food which cannot be used, so why don’t we save money by offering it on the altar? After all, either way it will be burned in the fire, and G-d Himself will not notice anything!


The cohanim were unaware of the seriousness of their behavior, and their attempts at justification made their transgression even worse.  "In that you say: The table of Hashem is contemptible" (7).  You are profaning Hashem's Name and turning the religion into a business of fraud.  "And if you offer the blind for a sacrifice, is it not evil?  And if you offer lame and sick animals, is it not evil?  Please offer it to your governor; will he be pleased with you or will he show you favor? – says Hashem of Hosts" (8).  "You have brought stolen, lame and sick animals as a sacrifice.  Should I accept this from your hand? – says Hashem" (13).  We must not forget that a worker in the Temple, whether a cohain or a levi, is before all else an educator.  Before his death, Moshe Rabbenu described the role of the Tribe of Levi in this way: "They shall teach Your statutes to Yaakov and Your Torah to Israel.  They shall place incense before Your presence and burnt offerings on Your altar" (Devarim 33:10).


They were obviously involved in the holy service in the Temple, but they also had great influence over Torah learning throughout the entire Land.  Their role in the Temple only occupied them for a few weeks each year.  During the remaining time, they would travel from place to place to teach, educate and build spirituality. This was all in order to come closer to G-d, since they themselves were capable of getting ensnared in the monotonous routine of daily life and forgetting about the light (Maran Ha-Rav Kook in Orot, Orot Ha-Techiya 4).


Our prophets returned to this topic with a special emphasis.  "And you should know that I have sent this commandment to you, so that My covenant will be with Levi, says Hashem of Hosts.  My covenant was with him for life and peace, and I gave them fear with which he feared Me and was afraid of My Name" (Malachi 2:4-5).  The cohain – and in our time, the educator - needs to actualize in his own life the great ideals which he will teach to others: awe of Hashem and humility.  The Divine service he performed in the Temple was not merely the focus of his activities -  it had to be his way of life as well.  His service was built upon an inner sense of nullifying one's ego before the Creator, a merging of one's character with the Divine light.  "The Torah of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found on his lips" (6).  The character became united with the Torah in all of its truth.  Intellect and emotion are Torah, the body and the spirit are Torah.  And unjust words never departed his lips.


His behavior was to be without stain, and his societal relations were to be the climax of his purity: "He walked with me in peace and uprightness" (6).  Closeness to Hashem must reveal itself not only in the highest spheres of his character but also in his interpersonal relations.  When people would meet a person such as this, they would have to be influenced.  Before they would judge the cohain on his actions or his worship, they would judge him on his behavior towards other people.  They thus would see that the Kingdom of Hashem is not only in Heaven, but is also on earth; that the awe of Hashem which fills and directs the cohain is expressed through behavior of peace and love.  Therefore, "many turned away from iniquity" (6).  In order to return others to the straight path, one must first be an example of uprightness himself.


"For the cohain's lips should keep knowledge and they should seek Torah from his mouth" (7): The cohain is a man of knowledge, a Torah scholar, but the essence is "for he is an angel of Hashem of Hosts" (ibid.).  He is an angel on earth!  This expression says it all!  Our Sages rule that one should only learn Torah from a rabbi without blemish.  "If the rabbi is similar to an angel of Hashem, seek Torah from his mouth, and if not, do not seek Torah from his mouth" (Moed Katan 17a).


The Torah is not only a theoretical science, it is instruction for life.  It is told that a professor of Jewish thought was asked by a student: "Why doesn't his honor perform what he teaches?"  He responded: "Does a math professor have to be a triangle?"  The comparison obviously lacks reason.


Our Sages tell us that in a large city in Babylonia, with many wise people, there was once a great rabbi who allowed himself to be involved in extra-marital relations – and this caused major gossip.  The Sages were extremely distressed by this desecration of Hashem's Name.  After a difficult discussion, they decided to excommunicate him (Moed Katan ibid.).  One needs great courage for a decision such as this, but it was necessary since their rabbi, despite his wisdom, was far from being an angel of Hashem.