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September 28, 2016 / 25 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘TORAH’

The Thirst For Torah

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Hoy! Kol tzmaei l’chu lamaim – All who thirst, go to water” (Yeshayahu 50:1). The words of the navi refer to the concept of dedication and cleaving to Torah. For there is no thirst like that of a man parched for lack of learning and there is no water like that of Torah. This remarkable idea has been internalized by countless Jews who have done without the material benefits of life and who have suffered the pangs of hunger and destitution so that they might have the opportunity to learn the holy words of the Almighty.

And of all these unsung heroes none stands out more than the great Hillel HaZakein.

Not By Bread Alone

Hillel was a modest man living in Bavel. Poor and destitute, he desired nothing more than being close to Hashem and His teachings.

Hearing that in Eretz Yisrael, in the city of Yerushalayim, Shmaya and Avtalyon, the great chachamim of the time, had founded a beis midrash, Hillel decided to leave his home and travel there to hear Torah from them.

After saying goodbye to his father, Hillel took his family to Yerushalayim and visited the home of his wealthy brother who had established himself there years before.

A Refusal

“I have come to learn Torah,” Hillel said to his brother, “and I beg of you to give me a few coins a day to support my family in order that I may have as much time as I need for study.” His brother, however, who was obsessed with the idea of making money, could not understand such a request and turned him down.

Hillel realized that if he desired to learn it would be up to him to find another way. He decided to hire himself out for any available work and labor till he made one dinar a day. Half of this would go to support his family and the other half would go to pay for his place in the beis medrash.

He did this every day and never had he been so happy. If only he could do this for the rest of his life he would count himself as the most fortunate of men.

No Work

One day, however, Hillel went into the streets seeking work and there was none to be found. Desperately he went from place to place, but everywhere the response was the same, “Today, there is nothing.” Coming to the beis midrash, he tried to explain to the guard why he had no money, but his pleas were to no avail and he was turned away.

Although heartsick, he thought to himself that there must be some way to hear the words of the sages! And then he had an idea. The roof of the beis midrash was covered in one area by a skylight. If he could climb up there, he could put his ear to it and hear the lesson being given.

And so Hillel quickly climbed to the roof and, just as he imagined, by straining his ears he could just make out the words. He was delighted that he would not have to miss the lesson that day and as he became engrossed in the intricate lesson he be came oblivious to all that went on about him.

Soon, the winter sky, leaden and overcast, opened up and a heavy snow began to descend. It quickly covered the ground and the people in the marketplace and the streets hurriedly gathered their belongings and rushed to the comfort and safety of warm houses. Not so Hillel. He was not even aware of the cold, wet snow as he lay enraptured by the sweet words of Torah.

Rabbi Sholom Klass

Restoring The Glory Of Torah

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

On Shavuos we will once again commemorate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai some 3,300 years ago. The holiday is celebrated with great joy, as we remember this most seminal and transformative moment in our nation’s history. We appreciate the tremendous gift that is the Torah, and reflect upon the unbroken chain of mesorah (tradition) that has spanned all the generations from Sinai to our day.

This tradition was often transmitted and preserved amid great difficulty and persecution. There were many giants of Torah who lived their lives under the most oppressive of circumstances, including torture, forced relocation, and worse.

In most cases, these challenges to Torah study came from without. However, there have been times in our history when our worst enemies came from within.

Such was the case during the reign of Alexander Yannai, a Hasmonean ruler during the first century BCE. It was only through the heroic actions of a few great leaders that the Torah again reoccupied its rightful place of eminence.

* * * * *

Alexander Yannai served as king and kohen gadol for twenty-seven years, from 103-76 BCE. He was a member of the Tzadukkim (Sadducees), a prominent group during the Second Temple period that rejected the authenticity of such basic Jewish tenets as the Oral Law, reward and punishment, and olam haba. Yannai was married to the righteous Shlomtzion, who prevailed upon her husband to deal kindly with his opposition, the Perushim (Pharisees).

Shlomtzion’s brother, Shimon ben Shetach, was the leading sage of the time. Yannai conferred with Shimon on both political and religious matters. However, this peaceful, productive arrangement would not last long.

Foremost on Yannai’s mind was a desire to expand Judah to an even greater extent than his predecessors had done – the Hasmonean state would reach its largest territorial size and political power during his reign. He was particularly focused on securing the Mediterranean coast and its port cities, which included Acco in the north and Gaza in the south. He also aimed to expand Jewish holdings in Transjordan.

Early on, Yannai had much success. Between 103 and 95 BCE he used an army consisting primarily of foreign mercenary soldiers, as well as an alliance formed with Cleopatra III of Egypt, to secure the entire coastal region from the hands of her son and rival, Ptolemy Lathyrus.

Hasmonean territory soon extended all the way south to the Egyptian border. Yannai was also victorious over numerous Greek cities in Transjordan known as the Decapolis.

Despite his numerous military accomplishments, Yannai failed to garner the support of the Perushim for his ambitions. They were unimpressed with his selfish goals of personal triumph and glory. They further resented his use of mercenaries, who drained the Judean economy. Many also found fault with Yannai’s insistence on occupying the positions of both king and kohen gadol.

Over the next twelve years, a sizable rift developed between Yannai and his people, one that would lead to internal violence, bloodshed, and civil war. Many sages were tortured and killed. Others were forced to seek refuge, either by fleeing the country or going into hiding.

The Tzadukkim took advantage of the situation. Using their close relationship with Yannai, they secured practically every significant political position for their party. Even the Sanhedrin came under Sadducean control, and their insistence on a literal interpretation of the Torah guaranteed errors in judgment. It also resulted in the appointment of ignorant men to the role of kohen gadol.

Ignorance and spiritual decline were becoming a real issue for the Perushim as well. Too few teachers remained active in the land to adequately teach Torah to the next generation of students. In the words of the Gemara (Kiddushin 66a), “The world was desolate” from lack of Torah.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

Lieberman – Learn Some Torah!

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes that the absolute unity of the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel can only be fully understood by the deep and holy thinkers amongst the Jewish People. Obviously, Avigdor Lieberman is not among them. In his first address as Israel’s new Minister of Defense, he stated, “When there is a conflict between the values of the unity of the Nation or the wholeness of the Land, the unity of the Nation comes first.” He said this to justify his support of a two-state solution. Besides showing his disdain for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who fervently believe that all of the Land of Israel should be under Israeli sovereignty, he doesn’t understand the deep spiritual connection between the Nation and the Land.

Just as Hashem is One, the Land of Israel and the Nation of Israel are one. Just as you cannot divide the Torah, you cannot divide the Nation, nor the Land. If you do, G-d forbid, you shatter the light of Hashem in the world. The wholeness of the Torah and the wholeness of the Nation, and of the Land of Israel, go together, like the wholeness of Hashem.

Rabbi Kook chose to begin his book, “Orot,” his classic study on the Nation of Israel in our time, with a chapter on the Land of Israel. In his very first sentence, he writes:

“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the Nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual.

“Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the Nation, bound with inner Segulot with the Nation’s existence.

“As a result, it is impossible to comprehend the essence of the inner Segula of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and to reveal the depths of its love, through any form of human conceptualization; but only through the Spirit of Hashem which acts on the Nation as a whole… and which beats in the hearts of the holy thinkers and those who are involved in the deep contemplations of Israel.”

In this essay and our next, we will try to explain this very deep concept, which is explained in greater depth in our book, “Eretz Yisrael,” which I wrote with Rabbi David Samson. https://www.createspace.com/3604549

To comprehend the depths of Rabbi Kook’s writing, we first must recognize that the world has both a physical and spiritual dimension. A world perspective encompassing the physical and spiritual worlds does not come easily. Much work is needed to activate our inner natures, and to cultivate our spiritual powers. This is our task as Jews and as a holy Nation – to link the physical world with the Divine. As Rabbi Kook makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the G-d given place ideally suited for this task.

Upon a superficial examination, one might think that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is based merely on a historical relationship, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. Rabbi Kook rejects this understanding outright. He calls upon us to probe beyond surface explanations toward a much deeper contemplation. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. The connection is a deep spiritual bond. Rabbi Kook tells us that Eretz Yisrael is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the Nation, a deep inner root of the Nation’s existence – and not merely a branch.

For instance, our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not dependent on history. Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu without previous historical connection. The bond between Avraham and the Land was

not based on any external reason. The Brit between Avraham and the Land was Divine. Only in the Holy Land can the NATIONAL life of the Chosen People be totally uplifted to G-d. Prophecy, and the many mitzvot which are unique to the Land, and the Beit Hamikdash’s exclusive location only in Jerusalem, are all manifestations of this Divine connection. It is an attachment based on Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, beyond scientific inquiry and rational explanation. This first essay of Orot introduces us to this higher vision and to the need to perceive Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in a deeper, more poignant light. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter.”

The Hebrew word, “Hitzoni,” in this important first sentence has the meaning of external, superficial, peripheral, secondary; a side matter lacking central importance – something which is not integrally vital to existence. Before explaining what the Land of Israel is in positive terms, Rabbi Kook tells us what the Land of Israel is not. He first rejects the mistaken understanding which views Eretz Yisrael as a means to a goal, and not as a goal in itself. He wants to negate the opinion which maintains that while the Land of Israel has historical and even strategic importance, it is not something vital to Jewish existence. People like Avigor Lieberman who don’t understand this are willing to let foreign peoples, and enemies of the Jewish People, rule over large chunks of the Land of Israel.

A simple example will help us understand the difference between an external matter and the central matter itself. When a person wakes up in the morning, he dresses and begins his daily routines. The clothes he chooses to wear are an important part of his day, but they are not the person himself. While there is a popular expression, “The clothes make the man,” one readily recognizes the superficiality of this phrase. Though a person may feel more attractive wearing a blue shirt than a

black one, his choice of attire does not represent his essential self. Joseph Cohen remains Joseph Cohen whatever suit of clothes he wears.

In the case of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, the relationship is not an external one. The connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is not a peripheral matter. On the contrary, the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel are inseparably united. As Rabbi Kook will explain, the Land of Israel is an absolute foundation of the Jewish Nation. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish People, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.

The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our Homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.

This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish People. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the Nation which brings the word and blessing of G-d to the world. As we will learn, our NATIONAL attachment to G-d, and the blessing it funnels to the world, can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.

Eretz Yisrael is the Land where the Shechinah appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish People. Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel (See Ramban, Vayikra, 18:25). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders so we won’t forget how to do them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the Land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).

The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life, scattered individuals and not our own sovereign Nation (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37, 12-14).

This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish People survived in exile for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell lacking spirit?

First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish People as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the

partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish People at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the Nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish People, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine. They cannot be divided. For the Shechinah and Hashem’s blessing to appear in the world, the Torah, and the Jewish People, and the Land of Israel must be whole – all of the Jewish People, living a full life of Torah, in all of the Land of Israel.

The new Defense Minister doesn’t understand any of this, so he spouts what he spouts. Before continuing in his new job, he should sit down in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and learn a little something about the Land and the Nation he is supposed to defend – rather than being so willing to surrender our Homeland it to others. Rachmonis!

(To be continued…)


Tzvi Fishman

Police Arrest Women of the Wall Director for Torah Scroll Violation and Catch 22

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Police arrested Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of Women of the Wall, as she was exiting the Western Wall plaza with a Torah scroll Tuesday morning. Sachs was detained for “disturbing the public order,” although, according to the WOW’s own report, the prayer service of about 80 women at the Kotel was “relatively quiet and uneventful” on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Apparently, Police accused Sachs of smuggling a Torah scroll into the women’s section.

According to the WOW email, the incriminating Torah scroll was lent to WOW executive board chair Anat Hoffman by Peter and Lawrence Michaels from Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California, in memory of their parents, Ann and Rudy Michaels. Hoffman, who flew from Sacramento to Israel with the Torah scroll in her arms, related that on her journey she ran into her flight’s all-female team of pilots, Captain Wendi Shaffner and First Officer Katrina Mittelstadt, who were moved by the small Torah. The email did not specify what or where they were moved to.

“Though we believe that the Torah was handed down to women and men equally at Mt. Sinai, and though women and men both sacrificed their lives and loved ones for the reunification of Jerusalem, in 2016 Women of the Wall struggle for access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel,” the WOW statement lamented. Of course, these dear women could access as many Torah scrolls as they wished anywhere else, including at the Reform section of the Kotel a few yards away, but over at the Women’s section of the Kotel it was No Torah for you, ladies, which, apparently, defied the equality promised to women at Mt. Sinai. Not the one on Fifth Ave., the one in Sinai.

The email also accused Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the state-appointed administrator of the Kotel, of creating a “Catch 22” for women: “he prohibits entrance with private Torah scrolls and refuses women access to the 100 scrolls he holds at the Kotel for public use in the men’s section.” But that’s not a catch 22, which was described by Joseph Heller in his 1961 novel by the same title via the character Doc Daneeka, an army psychiatrist who invokes “Catch 22” to explain why any pilot requesting mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his own sanity in making the request and thus cannot be declared insane.

Rabbi Rabinowitz simply doesn’t want women to read out loud from the Torah at the Kotel because he interprets this as a desecration of halakha. As the WOW email confirms, he has the right to interpret it this way because he is the state appointed official in charge of interpreting Kotel-related issues.

The real question, not asked by WOW, is how come Sachs was picked up at the end of the Rosh Chodesh prayer session in which she openly defied the law, and not while she smuggled it in, or while the women were reading from it?

In a final episode of Heller’s book, the Catch-22 rule is described to Yossarian, the main protagonist, by an old woman recounting an act of violence by soldiers: “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”


David Israel

Soul Talk – G-d and the Torah: Do They Restrict Your Life or Enhance It? [audio]

Monday, June 6th, 2016

How do you see G-d and the Torah with its laws and commandments? Do you feel that they restrict your life or enhance it?

The holiday of Shavuot is upon us, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. Yet, not everyone embraces the presence of G-d and his teachings in their lives. What is it that stops us from recognizing that inviting G-d’s presence by learning and keeping the Torah can truly enhance our lives?

Listen to Soul Talk with Rabbi David Aaron, where he will share a perspective that will clear common misunderstandings and reinvigorate our desire to make G-d and Torah an integral part of our lives.

Please send us your questions to soultalk@israelnewstalkradio.com. We would love to include them in future broadcasts of Soul Talk!

Soul Talk 05Jun – PODCAST

Israel News Talk Radio

If You Will Labor In Torah Study

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

“If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them…” – Vayikra 26:2


The Torah lays out two divergent destinies for the Jewish people: “If you will go in the ways of my statuesI will give you rainfall in its time, the land will give forth with abundance, the trees of the field will produce fruityou will eat until you are satisfied…. There will be peace in land…”

However, “If you do not guard my statutes you will suffer diseases and famine…you will plant and not harvest…your enemies will chase you the skies will turn to iron…wild animals will attack…[and finally] an avenging sword will come into the land.”

Rashi explains that the pivotal point of these two paths is if you will labor in Torah. If you will labor in Torah, then you as a nation will find great success. Your enemies will fear you, and you will rise ever higher. If, however, you cease to labor in Torah study, then curses will befall you. In short, our success or failure as a nation hinges upon this one activity.

However, as Rashi also points out, this concept of laboring in Torah study is not found in the pasuk. The words are “If you will go in the ways of my statutes.” Nowhere does it specify what this refers to. Rashi explains that it cannot refer to keeping the mitzvahs because that is specifically mentioned at the end of the pasuk. So by process of elimination, he reasons that this must be referring to laboring in Torah study.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. There seems to be no indication of the concept in the pasuk. Granted, learning Torah is very significant, and we may know from other sources that laboring in Torah study is central to serving Hashem, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication here that this statement is speaking about laboring in Torah study. How does Rashi know that this statement of “If you will go in the ways of my statutes,” refers to laboring in Torah study as opposed to any other mitzvah?

The Inner Workings of the Human

The answer to this question stems from understanding the inner nature of man. Chovos Ha’Levavos (Sha’ar Avodas Elokim) explains that Hashem created man from two very distinct elements. Part of man is pure intellect and wisdom. This part of the person only wishes to do that which is noble and proper. It desires to be generous and giving. It needs to do that which is good and right. This part deeply hungers to experience Hashem. Chazal call this segment the nefesh ha’sichili – the pure soul.

However, there is another component of the human personality that is pure instinct and desire. That part of the individual doesn’t care about anything but fulfilling its needs and wants. It is comprised of base appetites and inclinations. This is referred to as the nefesh ha’bahami – the animal soul.

When Hashem created man, He took these two diverse segments and mixed them together, creating a new synthesis called man. Man has two competing sides to him, each one crying out to fulfill it needs, each one demanding its fill. These two elements are in competition for dominance of the person. Much like a muscle that grows stronger with use and atrophies with disuse, each side is constantly being strengthened or weakened. If a person gives in to his animal instincts, those instincts become stronger and more dominant. If a person listens to his spiritual soul, it becomes stronger, gaining primacy over his personality. The human is in constant flux, with one side or the other always growing, always gaining supremacy and control over the person.

Man was put on this planet to grow. By resisting the pull of the animal soul and allowing the pure soul to flourish, man elevates himself and reaches the state of perfection of which he is capable. On the other hand, if he gives in to the cries of the animal soul, he elevates it, allowing it to take control of him. His appetites become stronger and dominate him until they effectively rule over him. He becomes more animal than man.

The Ultimate Guide for Human Perfection

The Torah, which is the ultimate guide for human perfection, warns us against certain activities that give an unusual advantage to the nefesh ha’bahami. These are the sins as outlined in the Torah. We are cautioned to avoid certain foods, and we are warned against certain activities because they give an unfair edge to the animal soul.

However, any activity a person engages in strengthens one side or the other. When a person eats, sleeps, works, or goes about all of his daily activities, these physical actions strengthen the nefesh ha’bahami. In a sense, there is an unfair lead given to the animal soul. All day long it is in its element, and by being utilized, it is thereby strengthened.

To bring balance to the equation, Hashem gave us specific mitzvos to nourish the nefesh ha’sichili. The single greatest nutrient of the neshamah is learning Torah. When a person learns Torah, his neshamah is strengthened and invigorated. It becomes fortified and then takes the lead in the battle against the nefesh ha’bahami. However, without it, the neshamah doesn’t stand a fighting chance because the animal soul is so much more in its element in this world.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. Since the expression “If you will go in the ways of my statutes” is the pivotal point of the Jewish people’s destiny, it must be referring to that element that is the key to the equation: laboring in Torah study.

There is a great lesson for us in this concept. The Jewish nation is never stagnant. We are either going up toward great heights or down to the lowest abyss. The single greatest nourishment for the soul of the individual, and therefore for the soul of the nation, is laboring in Torah study. If we engage in it, support it, and actively pursue it, we will flourish as a people and enjoy unparalleled success. But if not….


To view Rabbi Shafier’s parsha videos, click here.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Beyond The Matrix – Beard Oil, Coffee, and the Non-Jew [audio]

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Rod is back from New York and the guys get into a discussion on beard oil, coffee and the Orthodox Jewish response to hearing about non-Jews coming to Torah.

Beyond The Matrix 30May – PODCAST

Israel News Talk Radio

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