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December 28, 2014 / 6 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Orot’

Are the Olympics for Jews?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

With the Olympics coming up, and with world attention focused on the brawny athletes who will be competing for gold, silver, and bronze medals in London, it is a good time to see what Judaism has to say about exercise and sport. We will use Rabbi Kook as our mentor and phys-ed instructor, and draw from his teachings, which appear in his books, Orot and Orot HaT’shuva.

Rabbi Kook begins his exploration of t’shuva, or penitence, by telling us that a person seeking happiness in life should have a healthy body and mind. The concept of t’shuva, which goes far beyond its normal understanding as making atonement for one’s sins, begins with the simple advice to be healthy. T’shuva is essentially a return to one’s roots. To do this, a person must first return to his natural physical well being, to his natural physical self. To reach inner peace and harmony with the world, an individual must first have a healthy body.

In our days, where health-food stores and sports clubs abound, this simple teaching is known to almost everyone. A healthy body is the basis of all creative endeavor. What is new, however, is that Rabbi Kook sees this as part of the process of t’shuva. Being in good shape is an important factor not only in attaining personal well-being, but also in forging a connection to God.

Rabbi Kook writes: “Every bad habit must cause illness and pain. Because of this, the individual and the community suffer greatly. After a person realizes that his own improper behavior is responsible for his life’s physical decline, he thinks to correct the situation, to return to the laws of healthy living, to adhere to the laws of nature, of morality, and of Torah, so that he may return to live filled with all of life’s vigor” (Orot HaT’shuva, 1).

To hook up with the spiritual channels connecting heaven and earth, a person must first be in a healthy physical state. For instance, one of the basic requirements of prophecy is a strong, healthy body (Rambam, Foundations of the Torah, 7:1). Physical and spiritual health go together. The Rambam, who worked as a physician when he was not studying Torah, has systematically detailed in his writings the rules of healthy living, stressing the importance of exercise, proper diet, and bodily care as a prerequisite to keeping the Torah (Laws of De’ot, Ch.4).

Today, everyone seems to have a battery of doctors. People cannot seem to do without an assortment of pills. Medical clinics are filled up months in advance. Yet the natural state of a man is to be healthy. Physical ailment, lethargy, and being overweight are all signs that the body is in need of repair. Sometimes the remedy is medicine. Sometimes a proper diet. Sometimes rest and relaxation are the cure.

Rabbi Kook’s call to return to a state of natural well-being has been partly answered in our generation. Today, there is a vast world industry in being natural. We have natural foods, natural organic vegetables and fruits, natural whole wheat bread, natural herbal teas and medicines, natural clothes, natural childbirth, and an assortment of back-to-nature lifestyles. In the past, it was written on food labels which ingredients were included. Now it is often written which ingredients are NOT INCLUDED: no preservatives, no additives, no salt, no sugar, no carbohydrates, no artificial coloring, and the like.

In line with this return-to-Eden existence, Rabbi Kook teaches that when a person corrects an unhealthy habit, he or she is doing t’shuva. It turns out that gyms and health clubs from California to Miami are filled with people doing t’shuva. If you are riding an exercise bike to get back into shape, you are coming closer to God. Tennis players are doing t’shuva. In Las Vegas, even though the morals of the people in aerobics classes may be bent out of shape, they too are engaged in the beginnings of t’shuva.

Accordingly, if a person stops smoking, he is engaging in repentance. If a fat person goes on a diet, he is embarked on a course of personal perfection and tikun. When a teenager who is addicted to Coke begins to drink fruit juice instead, he is returning to a healthier state. In place of caffeine, his blood will be carrying vitamins throughout all of his system. In the language of the Rambam, this person is replacing a food which merely tastes good, with one that is beneficial to the human metabolism (Laws of De’ot, 5:1). As he explains, a person should always eat what is healthy and not merely foods that give his taste buds a lift. Interestingly, the Rambam’s guide to healthy living, written generations ago, reads like the newest best-seller on the market.

Days of Mashiach

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Since so many of you enjoyed the story, “The Great America Novelist,” here’s another literary gem from my collection of fun and poignant short stories about the Jewish People in our time, Days of Mashiach.

I wrote the little fable in order to explain the first sentence of Rabbi Kook’s book, Orot, his classic treatise on the Redemption of Israel. The book begins: “Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, external to the inner essence of the Jewish Nation.” Rabbi Kook wants us to know that the Land of Israel isn’t just a nice place to visit, or merely a place to do extra mitzvot, but that it is an essential part of our lives, attached to us by an inner oneness, like a person’s mother or his wife. It’s not something you give away.

By the way, for readers who thought I was serious about going to LA – I was only kidding in order to make the point that, in our generation, a Jew has to do whatever he or she can to promote the rebuilding of Israel, and not only worry about his personal material pleasures. I’m actually driving to Beit El today to see how I can help out in the struggle to save the Ulpana neighborhood. I made a poster to hold up at demonstrations and I want to drop it off to the local troops who are faithfully trying to save the threatened buildings. Along the way, I’ll drop some posters off on the embattled settlement of Migron. Here’s the story. Let me know what you think.

EHUD

Ehud was a happy man, truly content with his lot. He had a lovely wife, three lovely children, and a lovely house in a lovely community. He had a good job and good friends. He liked and respected all people, and all people liked and respected him. He was friendly, optimistic, and always tried to see the good side of things, believing that everything that happened in life was for the best. He did whatever he could to help people, and he avoided quarrels and fights, believing that peace was life’s most precious value. He was a smart man, an educated man, but humble, never thinking he was better than anyone else. He had his opinions, but he respected all points of view, except for the radical. He kept to the middle path in life and followed the rule, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” He wasn’t a religious man, practicing rituals and the like, but he lived a very moral, principled life.

One quiet evening, while Ehud was reading his newspaper, there was a knock on the door. A man stood outside. He was a tall man, a big man, with a nondescript face. He might have been a Gentile, or an Arab, or a Jew.

Ehud greeted him with a smile and a pleasant hello. The man seemed surprised that Ehud didn’t recognize him.

“The other day in town, I lent you twenty shekels,” he said.

Ehud didn’t remember. He thought and thought, but he couldn’t remember a thing. It wasn’t like him to forget, but the man seemed quite certain. It wouldn’t be polite to argue, Ehud thought. It was only twenty shekels. And apparently he had given the man his address. Ehud apologized for forgetting, gave the man twenty shekels, and said goodnight.

The very next night, he returned. The same man. He appeared at the door while Ehud’s wife, Tzipora, was cooking dinner in the kitchen.

“I came for my television,” the man said.

“Your television?” Ehud asked.

“The television set that I lent you,” the man said. “I want it back. My children don’t have a TV to watch.”

“What will my children watch?” Ehud asked.

“I’m sorry, but that isn’t my problem,” the man replied.

“But the television is mine,” Ehud protested. “I bought it, and I have a warranty to prove it too.”

Ehud walked to the cabinet where he kept all of his papers in alphabetically arranged files. But the television warranty wasn’t there. He searched through his old bank statements, phone bills and medical records, but the warranty was nowhere to be found. Embarrassed, he returned to the door.

You Can be a Giant!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I don’t know why some readers get angry at me. I only remind them what it says in the Torah. If you don’t believe me, here’s another remarkable essay by Rabbi Kook, whose vision of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel was light years ahead of everyone else. Once again, we are presenting an encapsulation of a chapter from his classic, Orot. Readers are encouraged to read the full commentary in our book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael.  It may be the most important ten bucks you ever shelled out in your lives.

If we could dissect a soul, what would we discover inside? What would a microscopic examination reveal? What are a soul’s components? Its atoms? When we probe as deeply as we can into the anatomy of the soul, suddenly under our high-powered lens, an Alef comes into focus. Then we see a Mem, and a Taf. If a soul had a genetic make-up, we would discover that its DNA helix is made up of Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew letters are the atoms and basic building blocks of the Jewish soul. The letters which Rabbi Kook describes are not only the outer, graphic shape of the letters, which have meaning in themselves, but the inner essence and content of the letters. In another work, “Rosh Millin,” Rabbi Kook writes in depth on the meaning of each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike the letters of the English alphabet which are mere symbols of sounds with no inner meaning of their own, the letters of the Holy Tongue have an independent existence, and spiritual roots in the celestial worlds above.

In the wisdom of the Kabbalah, letters are understood to be powerful, life-giving forces. The Gemara teaches that the Hebrew letters were used to create heaven and earth. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters which were used in Creation. It was this secret wisdom which enabled him to build the Mishkan.

The Torah itself is made up of letters. Each letter is said to represent one of the basic 600,000 Jewish souls in the world. In addition to their alphabetical form, each letter has a deeper, living nature. Every letter contains a concept, a direction, a will which finds expression in the soul. Beyond a person’s individual ego is the deeper, general will of existence. There is a force of life which is Divinely inspired, and this is what inspires each individual ego and psyche. The inner components of this deeper life-force are the Hebrew letters. Just as the letters are the building blocks of Torah, and of the world, they combine to form the molecular blueprint of the soul. What atoms are to the physical world, Hebrew letters are to the spiritual. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence.”

The soul is filled with letters which contain the Divine life-force which grants us existence. They themselves have knowledge and will and a quest for spiritual inspiration. All of a Jew’s primary activities, whether his thought, will, deed, and imagination, stem from the letters of his soul. Different combinations of letters make for different types of souls. There are high-powered combinations, and there are souls of lesser might. According to the brilliance of these life-giving letters, a man’s soul radiates with more and more energy.

“From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life’s building are filled with the light of life – all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit, and of the soul, in all of their values.”

Like atoms, these letters exist in a constant, dynamic flow. They are active, full of knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and will, constantly affecting the life of the soul. They are full of vision and imaginative flight. They are filled with full existence, not bounded in nature, containing a blueprint for all of Creation within them; in the same way that a molecule contains a solar system of atoms within it, and a cell contains the genetic structure of the body as a whole. Every soul contains a blueprint for all of the world. Letters activate letters in a constant chain reaction which is the motivating force of all life.

“Why Should I Live in Israel? America Has Everything I Need”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I seem to remember the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song, “Something is going on Mr. Jones, but you don’t know what it is.” That’s exactly what it’s like for a Jew today if he hasn’t studied the book Orot, by Rabbi Kook. Something is going on with the Jewish People and he doesn’t know what it is. Why? Because for the first time in nearly 2000 years, Jews have risen up with great courage, taken up weapons, and fought for the right to live in our own Jewish Land. There’s another thing equally as startling to many devoutly religious Jews – the fact that the pioneers who risked their lives and largely led the way in rebuilding the Land of our forefathers were often far from Torah observance. Obviously, something very big was taking place. But because they didn’t understand it, or couldn’t accept that God had chosen to bring about the beginnings of Redemption in this seemingly traif manner, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews rejected it. It was Rabbi Kook, with his towering Torah vision, who taught us to recognize that, indeed, the long-awaited Redemption was unfolding before our eyes, even if Hashem decided to bring it about through our secular brothers.

What causes many Jews in the Diaspora, as well as communities of Haredi Jews in Israel, to have a negative to modern Zionism and the Land Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – it stems from an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael,   a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly, on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot. Take your time reading it. Print it out. Study it thoughtfully on Shavuot night when you have the time. Surely, it will help you to understand what is going on, Mr. Jones. (And for readers, like me, who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them soon, Bezrat Hashem, after our pre-Shavuot mini course in Orot.)

In the first essay of Orot, we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the Nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish People depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening our connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life. He writes:

“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion.”

The secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish Nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of God’s manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook’s great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish People in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the National Israeli Soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.

Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Book Week is coming soon in Israel. In America, there’s also a book week, but it’s called Jewish Book Week to distinguish it from Chinese Book Week, and Italian Book Week, and Afro-American Book Week, and Puerto Rican Book Week, and Comic Book Week. In Israel, since everyone is Jewish, except for the Arabs who don’t read books, it’s simply called Book Week.

Actually, it’s really Book Month; since the “People of the Book” love books so much, stores continuing running their discount sales for weeks. For me, Book Week is starting today, when a newly published French translation of my book of short stories, Days of Mashiach,  is being featured at an all day “French Book Fair” being held at the Menachem Begin Center in Jerusalem. The collection of wry and humorous stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora is being put out by a non-Jewish publisher who compares my writing to Kafka and Voltaire. My prize-winning novel, Tevye in the Promised Land also appeared in a French translation, and it seems that I have a somewhat of an avid following in France.

Anyway, with Book Week around the corner, it’s a great time to devote the blogs we will be writing in the upcoming month to talk about some of the most important books in the world – Jewish books of course. I love books and I hope you do too. While many of these book reports will be scholarly in nature, and not regular blogs, I will try to intersperse the heavy stuff with my normal spicy felafels on rye.

This week, between our celebration of Jerusalem Day and Shavuot, in order to better understand the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Torah, we will be examining a series of poignant essays written by Rabbi Kook in his classic work, Orot. Presented here are condensed versions of the full commentaries which appear in the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael, which I had the privilege of co-writing with the distinguished Torah scholar, Rabbi David Samson of Jerusalem.

Certainly one of the most important Torah treatises of our times, the book, Orot, explores the deepest understandings of the Nation of Israel, and Israel’s Redemption. In beginning his treatise with a series of essays on Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook explains that a proper understanding of the Nation of Israel and Torah can only be obtained after one first recognizes the significance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People. To understand who we are as a Nation, and to actualize our role in the world, we must first understand the special relationship between the Divinely-Chosen People and the Divinely-Chosen Land.

Rabbi Kook’s unique style is both poetic and deeply intellectual, and so you will have to bear with me as I endeavor to explain his writings with the seriousness that is due them. As I mentioned, Rabbi David Samson, one of Israel’s top educators, and a longtime student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, aided my understanding of Rabbi Kook’s immensely deep and incomparable writings.

The first essay of Orot is not only a study of our connection to the Land of Israel, it is also an introduction to the Segula of the Nation, one of the main themes of Rabbi Kook’s writings. This Segula, a Divine inner attachment to God, unique to the Jewish People, is the key to understanding the unity of the Nation of Israel, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and God.

Jerusalem in the Twilight Zone

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

I came on aliyah in May, toward the end of Iyar, just in time for Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day. As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the same Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, who co-founded the Volunteers for Israel/Sarel project, also began the joyous flag-waving parade through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. While Yom HaAtzmaut was widely celebrated throughout the country, Jerusalem Day, the day marking our re-conquest of the Old City and the Kotel hadn’t yet become the gala, inspiring event that it is today. After the Six-Day War, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva would hold a festive dinner with speeches from government leaders and leading Rabbis. After midnight, students would join the Rosh Yeshiva in a joyous march to the Kotel. With each passing year, students would gather from other yeshivot around the country for the festive procession. Seeking to turn the march into a national event which would express the Nation’s eternal attachment to its Holy City, and proclaim to the world that Yerushalayim would never be divided again, Rabbi Hazani, who was studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, organized another parade for the following day. Plastering the billboards of the country with posters, he handed out hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags and had the crowds follow a lively band from Emancipation Park across from the United States consulate to the Kotel. Every year the crowds increased, swelling to fifty thousand and more. Women entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, while men and families walked along the walls to the Shechem Gate, where they paraded through the narrow main street leading through the Old Jewish Quarter, who’s name had been changed to the “Moslem Quarter” after the pogroms of 1929, when Arabs had slaughtered dozens of resident Jews and chased the Jewish population out from the Old City. How wonderful it is on Jerusalem Day to see Arabs cowering in their doorways and windows as the Jews swarm through all the gates our eternal Holy City!

That first year, being a greenhorn in Israel, the happy parade blew me away, walking side-by-side with so many proud Jews into the Old City, along the alleyways of the Moslem Quarter. When we arrived at the Kotel Plaza, Rabbi Hazani grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the bandstand where a band led the joyous flag waving and dancing. Introducing me to the huge crowd as the director of Volunteers for Israel in America, who had just come on aliyah, he had me read out a Psalm in English for the foreign press. Talk about an aliyah! I felt 100 feet tall, as if I had suddenly become a giant Jew in my connection to Jerusalem and Clal Yisrael! That year, and every year since at the incredibly festive gathering at the Kotel, the joy is supernatural, above time and space, a spiritual high like no other, illuminated by the Divine Presence which still shines forth from the stones of the Kotel, and by the great light of Redemption that fills the air over the Old City as tens of thousands of Jews from all corners of the world pay tribute to God for His transcendental kindness in bringing us back to our beloved Holy City in fulfillment of prophecies of old.

I couldn’t imagine that there could be anything like it until the following week and the arrival of Shavuot. After the evening holiday meal at the home of Rabbi Hazani, I learned with Rabbi David Samson, the English-speaking hevruta he had arranged for me at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. In the wee hours of the morning, all of the students set off for the Kotel. As we walked along Jaffa Road toward the Old City, more Jews appeared from every direction, thousands of them, young and old, men, women, and children, Haredim, Hasidim, Religious Zionists with knitted kippot, even secular Jews. It was amazing! By the time dawn arrived, the Kotel Plaza was full!

Here I was, just out of New York, not knowing Hebrew, not knowing what the Torah was really about, surrounded by tens of thousands of ecstatic davening Jews, with the choruses of “Amen, yihe shamai rabbahs” ringing in my ears like the blasts of the shofar on Mount Sinai, standing beside Rabbi Hazani and a sea of Moses-like beards. What can I tell you? New York and Hollywood were blown out of my brain, like a dream that never happened, just like the Psalm says: “When the Lord brings back the captives of Zion, we were like those who dream.” I felt like I had been Star-Trekked into another time and planet – into another galaxy and totally different reality, into a living, vibrant, electrifying Judaism I had never experienced before.

“The People Shall Rise Up Like a Lion!”

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

For several weeks now, my younger children have been gathering tree branches, logs, and wooden crates for their Lag B’Omer bonfires. I don’t know how they do it, but they work like skilled engineers, erecting teepee-shaped towers that rise thirty-feet high into the sky. The heat of the blaze is so intense, I have to be careful that my beard doesn’t catch on fire. The incredible wonder of Lag B’Omer in Israel is like nowhere else in the world. Not only are the hillsides of Jerusalem ablaze with towering bonfires in tribute to the great light of Torah that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed; not only are the streets of Jerusalem inundated with the smoke of burning embers; but hillsides and streets all over the country are lit up with the fiery love of Torah which kindles in every heart. Not only the streets, my friends, but the smoke of these holy bonfires penetrates into every single apartment and house, like the aroma of incense on the Temple’s altar, penetrating through windows and concrete walls to reveal the inner spirit of every Israeli soul, of every Israeli home, revealing the secret, inner holiness of the entire country of Israel whose National Soul is completely Torah, no matter how secular its surface appearances seem.

This recognition is doubly important today, in the wake of Israel’s expanding secular government, when it seems that the light of Torah is being threatened. Not so. Lag B’Omer, and the holy Zohar, which it commemorates, teach us to look more deeply into the essence of our Nation’s soul.

This is what Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught us – to see below the surface appearance to the inner reality, where the light of Israel shines in an eternal, unquenchable blaze.

Rabbi Kook encouraged the learning of the Zohar and said it was precisely its study which would forge a pathway to Redemption in helping us to uncover the great hidden light of Israel (Orot HaTechiya 57; Zohar, Parshat Naso 124B).

Inspired by the light of the Zohar, Rabbi Kook writes: 

Out of the profane, holiness will also come forth, and out of wanton freedom, the beloved yoke (of Torah) will blossom…. Let the bud sprout, let the flower blossom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the Spirit of G-d is speaking within the Nation of Israel in its every expression. All of this will climax in a repentance which will bring healing and redemption to the world” (Orot HaT’shuva, 17:3).

Indeed, the revival of the Jewish Nation in Israel is a wonder that is impossible to explain in any mundane fashion. Clearly, there are powerful inner forces at work as we return to our homeland. Increasingly sensitized to our own national longings, we realize that gentile lands cannot be called home. The process takes time. The nation is not transformed overnight. But gradually, the curse of exile is erased. From being a scattered people, the Israeli Nation returns to have its own sovereign state. God’s blessing is revealed in all facets of the Nation’s existence; military success, economic prosperity, scientific achievement, the resettlement of the Nation’s ancient cities and holy sites — all ultimately leading to a great national t’shuva, the renewal of prophecy, and the return of the Divine Presence to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, in fulfillment of our prayers.

Rabbi Kook explains that the secular, physical rebuilding which we have witnessed in our time must necessarily precede the spiritual building. The Talmud teaches that the Beit HaMikdash was first constructed in a normal, profane manner, and only after its completion was its sanctity declared (Me’ilah 14A). This is the pattern of spiritual building; first comes the physical vessel, and then its inner content. First the Ark is constructed, and then the Tablets are placed within.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/the-people-shall-rise-up-like-a-lion/2012/05/09/

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