The Uniqueness of Rabbi Kook

Rabbi Kook and the Unifying Torah of the Land of Israel

Rabbi Kook was unique in that he established an organized doctrine
which gives room to all the methods of study and all the paths in the
service of God. This is the virtue of the Torah of the Land of Israel,
in which the Heavenly unifying light is revealed, and in which all of
the Tribes of Israel are consolidated – inspiring one and other in the
illumination of the word of God in this world. Thus the Sages said
(Tractate Sanhedrin 24a) that Torah scholars of the land of Israel are
termed ‘pleasant’ for they act amiably to one another in halacha, and
do not wrangle each other with severity, as do the Torah scholars
outside of the land of Israel.

Division Outside of Israel

Outside of Israel, each community must strengthen and defend itself
from anti-Semitism and foreign influences which threaten to destroy
it, and tailor its own special approach to deal with the challenges of
the location. With the passage of time and the lengthening of the
galut, it seemed to each community that its special style, including
its accent and way of dress, was true Judaism. Although they knew that
other communities existed, and that each and every custom had its own
place and gateway in which to enter, nevertheless, it seemed to them
that in truth, it would be appropriate for all the others to enter
through their gateway, for it included all the other approaches.

Differences between Sectors and Systems

Thus, the Jews of Lithuanian descent believe that their method of in-
depth study is the only way to truly learn Torah, and it would be
appropriate for all of Israel to learn this way and accept their
leadership. The Hassidim believe that the path that was revealed by
the righteous students of the Baal Shem Tov of serving God with
enthusiasm and happiness, cleaving to the righteous and studying
Hassidut is the path which will bring the Redemption, and everyone
should become a Hassid. And there are not a few Hassidic courtyards
who will add – either in a whisper or a loud voice – that in truth it
would be correct for everyone to follow the path of their founder of
Hassidut, for he is the true continuation of the Baal Shem Tov. Many
Sephardic and North African Jews believe that the method of learning,
‘aliba d’hilchata’ with straight forward explanations, as was the
method of the great scholars of Sephardic origin and Rabbi Yosef Karo,
is the proper way for all Jews. There are those who go according to
the kabala of the Ari z”l and the Ben Ish Chai, believing that the
complete ‘tikun’ will come through delving into the secrets of the
Torah and the deep meanings of the prayers, and even if one has not
merited to grasp the secrets of God, it is fitting for him to act
according to the customs of the heavenly Kabbalists. The Jews from
Yemen who guarded their tradition meticulously and with great self-
sacrifice believe that their path is fitting for all, especially since
they go according to the Rambam – the master of all Israel.

The Root of the Split

These deep differences create a great gap between the great Torah
scholars, much greater than the distance between the house of Hillel
and the house of Shamai, to the point where, in spite of all the love
and honor that true Torah scholars have for one another, it is almost
impossible for them to sit together and resolve the issues of the day.
Although they know the words of Chazal concerning differing methods
(Tractate Eruvin 13b) – “Both ways are the words of the Living God”,
since the style and premises are so different, it is impossible to
create a true discussion between the great Torah scholars from
different groups. Only in times of harsh distress is it possible, with
great difficulty, to bring them together for the needs of the hour.
This is a great impediment for the emergence of Torah in our times.
Superficially, people might think that the gap between the groups and
communities comes from a tendency towards egotism and discrepancy.
However, in truth, the root of the problem stems from the deep
differences in principle between the various approaches. Therefore,
although there are truly righteous people in each group who honor all
the other great Torah scholars and pray for unity, the basic problem
remains: how to unify all the approaches without blurring or weakening
any one of them.

Rabbi Kook: Unity

With the kindness of God, who has mercy on His nation – along with the
beginning of the Ingathering of the Exiles, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak
HaKohen Kook זצ”ל was sent to illuminate for us the path of the Torah
of the Land of Israel. From Heaven he was given incomparable talents
and a supreme ability to connect to the root of unity. Thus, with his
genius and insight, diligence and wisdom, Rabbi Kook succeeded to
embrace all of the approaches and grasp their foundations. He
perceived how each of the different approaches complimented one
another, and clearly recognized the special and appropriate place of
each method, in a way that it could contribute fully, without harming
other approaches.

Learning Jewish Faith and Thought

The schism between the different methods of learning Jewish faith and
thought stands out. There are the great Torah scholars who, in a
rationalistic style, dealt with the different philosophical
approaches, such as Rabbi Sadya Gaon and the Rambam. On the other
hand, there are those who greatly distanced themselves from philosophy
and instead dedicated their studies to the wisdom of kabala, such as
the Sephardic kaballists or the great Hassidic scholars. And then
there are those who chose the path of combining rationalism and inner
teachings, such as Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, the Maharal from Prague, and
the Ramchal.
Rabbi Kook was unique, paving a path that included all the approaches.
He required the study of all the different methods, for precisely
through the collection of all the dispersed ideas would a great and
complete revelation sprout forth. Although Rabbi Kook was very busy
answering all those who came to him with questions and didn’t have the
time to organize his thoughts in an orderly manner, nevertheless, in
his numerous writings which he wrote quickly between visitors, are
embedded incomparably deep ideas in which he unified and combined the
different approaches in a wonderful harmony without obscuring one of
This is the great proof of the advantage of Rabbi Kook’s path over all
the other approaches. All the other approaches contain only what they
have within themselves, while Rabbi Kook included in his approach all
the other methods without obscuring their uniqueness. This is the
advantage of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael over the Torah of the

The Laws of Elul and Selichot

  1. The Month of Elul
  2. At what point do we begin saying “Selichot”?
  3. The Time for “Selichot”

The Month of Elul

Elul is the month of repentance. With the end of the year fast
approaching, the time to make a personal accounting has arrived. It is
time to cast off all those bad habits we have become accustomed to
over the course of the year and to make a new start. On Rosh Hashana
God sits on His Throne of Justice and considers all of the actions,
words, and thoughts of the entire year. According to this He dispenses
life to the entire human race, and determines what sort of year it
will be – a year of blessing, or, heaven forbid, the opposite. All of
the prayers and acts of repentance performed in month of Elul are
intended to serve as a sort of preventative measure – a “medicine
before the illness.” For as long as a Divine judgment has not yet been
decreed, one still has the ability to nullify it very easily; yet,
after the decree has been established, it is much more difficult to
annul. Therefore, the entire month of Elul, because it precedes the
judgment of Rosh HaShana, is set aside for the purpose of improvement
in Torah and faith, prayer and charity. Such preparation allows us to
come before God for judgment in a state of purity and cleanliness.
This results in His blessing us and the entire world with a good New
That these days are capable of bringing Divine forgiveness and pardon
is also evidenced by the atonement granted the Jewish people after the
Sin of the Golden Calf. For forty days after this transgression Moses
and the Jews were rejected by God and their prayers went unanswered.
However, when the first day of the month of Elul arrived, God’s
compassion poured forth and forty days of pardon began. This lasted
until Yom Kippur, when God said to Moses: “I forgive according to your

Therefore, the Shulchan Arukh writes that from the first of Elul until
Yom Kippur it is customary to recite Selichot (penitential prayers)
and Tachanunim (supplications), and this, in fact, is the practice of
Sephardic Jewry. According to Ashkenazic tradition, though, the custom
is to recite Selichot from about the week before Rosh HaShana. The
Shofar, because it stirs people to repentance, is blown already from
the beginning of Elul after each Morning Prayer service. After the
blowing of the Shofar, Psalm 27 is read by the congregation. Sephardic
Jews are not accustomed to blowing the Shofar after Morning Prayers;
rather, they blow it during the Selichot. In this manner, all
traditions blow the Shofar during the month of Elul.

At what point do we begin reciting Selichot?

There are two customs when it comes to reciting Selichot. According to
Rabbi Yosef Karo, Jews begin reciting Selichot from the second day of
Elul. Sephardic Jewry follows this custom. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the
“Rema,” writes that the custom of the Ashkenazic Jews is to begin
reciting them from the Sunday before Rosh HaShana, on the condition
that there remain at least four days of Selichot before Rosh Hashana.
In any case, we begin reciting the Selichot on Sunday, or, more
correctly, on Saturday night: If there remain more than four days
between Saturday night and Rosh HaShana – for example, where Rosh
HaShana falls on a Thursday or Sabbath – we begin reciting Selichot on
the Saturday night closest to Rosh HaShana; but, if there are fewer
than four days separating Saturday night and Rosh HaShana – for
example, where Rosh HaShana falls on a Monday or Tuesday – then we
begin reciting Selichot on the preceding Saturday night.

The reason that Ashkenazic Jews recite Selichot for at least four days
before Rosh HaShana is that there is a custom to observe ten days of
fasting before Yom Kippur for the purpose of repentance. And since
during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur
there are four days on which it is impossible to fast – i.e., the two
days of Rosh HaShana, one Sabbath, and Yom Kippur eve on which one is
obliged to eat – four days are set aside before Rosh HaShana for
fasting. Therefore, Selichot are recited on these days. And even
though today most people do not actually fast on these ten days, none
the less, it remains customary to get up early for Selichot for at
least ten days – i.e., the four days before Rosh HaShana, and six days
during the Ten Days of Repentance. An additional reason for this
practice is that on Rosh HaShana a person must “sacrifice himself”
before God, and since we find that sacrifices had to be prepared and
checked for blemishes four days before being offered up, it was
decided that Selichot be recited four days before Rosh HaShana. In
order that people not become confused, it was established that the
first reading of Selichot take place on Saturday night. Furthermore,
it is only fitting that an individual begin to request God’s mercy
from the first day of the week.

The Time for Selichot

The best time for reciting Selichot is at “Ashmoret HaBoker” – i.e.,
the very end of the nighttime. At this time people are still asleep,
and the world is peaceful and uncontaminated by evil thoughts and
deeds. At this hour prayer issues from the depths of the heart,
shatters all barriers, and is received in Heaven.

Most people, though, find it difficult to get up at such an early
hour. The normal time today for waking up in the morning is six
o’clock, and “Ashmoret HaBoker” is about two hours before this. Rising
two hours earlier than normal results in drowsiness and can effect a
person’s entire day. Therefore, the accepted practice has become to
rise for Selichot about an hour or a half-hour before morning prayers.
Though it is no longer dark outside, it is still permissible to recite
Selichot. Hence, if a person feels that by waking- up early his work
will suffer, it is preferable that he rise for Selichot a half-hour
before the normal time.

According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in a situation where one has no
alternative, it is even possible to recite Selichot before midnight.
If a community is unable to manage getting up early in the morning for
Selichot, its members are permitted, as an emergency measure, to
gather for Selichot at ten o’clock in the evening. By arranging
Selichot at such an hour, everybody is able to come, and their sleep
hours remain unaffected. Yet, according to many Kabbalists and
authorities in Jewish law, such practice is completely unacceptable.
According to them, the time for reciting Selichot is only after
midnight, for this is the time of Divine mercy. Before midnight the
world is still infested by evil thoughts and actions, and God’s
attribute of judgment remains present. Therefore, this is not a
fitting time for Selichot.

The Middle Road – The True Path

Haredim and Secular Studies

About a month ago in this column I wrote about the virtue of combining
secular studies with religious studies, quoting at length the
informative words of the genius and master of kabala, Rabbi Yosef
Chaim, the author of the book “Ben Ish Chai”, who spoke about the
praises of combining secular studies alongside religious studies.
As a result of this I received a number of questions, and even a few
condemnations. Some viewed my words as an attack on the Haredi public,
“for it is known that the Haredi public acts according to the
directives of the Torah giants of the generation, the Brisker Rav and
the Chazon Ish, and they completely denounced secular studies.
Therefore, how can you, in contradiction to their position, decide
that according to halacha there is virtue to secular studies, thereby
invalidating the Haredi public?” Others claimed that an apparent
hostility towards the Haredi public was evident in my words. One
person wrote that I have already written enough times “about the
virtue of secular studies, and apart from that, even if we agree that
it is possible to learn secular studies, the subject is stale and
boring, and certainly not so important that you have to deal with it
over and over again. This excessiveness creates the impression that it
is the main banner of the national-religious public.” [Here, the
abbreviation for the words ‘national-religious’, or ‘dal’ in Hebrew
was used, which also means ‘the meager public’, a derogatory term].
Thus, I received other questions and condemnations with the frequent
use of this same abbreviation.

Who Needs Secular Studies

Since there are so many questions about secular studies, this is a
sign that the subject is not clear at all. Additionally, many people
from the Haredi public constantly condemn those from the national-
Torah public for integrating secular studies in Yeshiva high schools,
consequently, there is a need to clarify its significance, as has been
explained in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 75a), Rishonim (Rambam,
Rabbenu B’Chayai, and many others), and Achronim (Maharal, “Netiv
HaTorah” 14, Gaon from Vilna, and many others). The Rabbi’s even gave
a homiletic interpretation that the Holy Ark, which was located in the
Holy of Holy’s of the Temple, represents the Torah, while the seven
arms of the ‘menorah’ (candelabrum), which was located in the Holy,
represent the seven external fields of wisdom.
Additionally, if Jews don’t gain knowledge of secular studies, the
only way we will continue to exist is through miracles, for today,
livelihood is dependent on one’s level of secular study. The position
which fundamentally rejects secular studies is similar to the opinion
which claims that it is forbidden for Jews to be farmers or herdsmen
because it entails ‘bitul Torah’ (wasting of learning time). However,
we learned in the Torah that if we follow in its ways, God will bless
the fields, trees, and beasts abundantly, this being the purpose of
the creation of the world – to reveal the Divine presence within it,
both in the spiritual and physical realms.
Today, anyone who claims that it is forbidden for Jews to study
secular subjects, in fact is declaring that the State of Israel will
remain poor and weak, unable to stand-up to its surrounding enemies,
and consequently, no country will support her. Also, domestically, the
State will not be able to continue providing the vast assistance it
presently grants to the poor and sick, and to the maintaining of Torah
One who argues against secular studies is in fact claiming that the
goal of Judaism is to rely on miracles, and not to partake in
perfecting the world, both spiritually and physically. This is
something that contradicts the teachings of the Torah. Indeed,
individuals such as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai can rely on miracles,
however, for the public at large, it is forbidden.

Our Attitude towards the Haredi Public

Possibly, there are some  amongst the Haredi Jews of Lithuanian
descent who feel that anyone who does not submit to the opinions of
their leaders insults their honor. However, they should know that
although their rabbi’s are worthy and notable, nevertheless, there are
Torah giants, from earlier and later generations, no less important,
whose opinion is different. From them I have learned, and their words
I explain.
This is not an expression of hostility towards the Haredi public, nor
does it reject the possibility of learning good things from their
ways, which includes great self-sacrifice for many mitzvoth. And of
course, we all must learn from the Torah giants of the generation –
including the Lithuanian rabbi’s.

The Path of Rabbi Kook

Nevertheless, I am sure that the path of our teacher, Rabbi Kook זצ”ל
is the all-encompassing path, for it is the only one which includes
all of the other paths, and sooner or later, everyone will acknowledge
this. It must be emphasized that the positions of our teacher, Rabbi
Kook זצ”ל are not identical to the ways of the national-religious
public, and there are certain areas in which the Haredi public are
closer to the ways of Rabbi Kook than the national-religious public.

Why Some Rabbi’s are against Secular Studies

Additionally, it seems that the objection of important rabbi’s in the
last few generations to the integration of secular studies is not
because they opposed the value of such studies, but rather out of a
fear that such studies would cause a departure from the Torah.
However, according to the opinion of the rabbi’s we follow, the
solution is not to prevent secular studies, but to learn them with the
proper approach of Torah and fear of Heaven. Precisely in this manner,
it is possible to prevent further departure from religion, to sanctify
God in the eyes of the nations, and to hasten Israel’s redemption.
Undoubtedly, there is room to instruct students who are successfully
growing in Torah to continue solely in their religious studies for a
number of years. Also, there are certain secular institutions where
the learning conditions are liable to lead to the departure from the
Torah and mitzvoth. In such cases, it is preferable to refrain from
secular studies and remain firmly attached to Jewish tradition. In
this area, the Haredi public is too stringent, while the national-
religious public is too lenient. The Torah public, which follows in
the path of our teacher, Rabbi Kook זצ”ל attempts to take the middle
road (although, not always successfully).

Opposing Immigration to Israel

Incidentally, because of similar considerations, there were rabbi’s
who objected to immigration to Israel, thinking that perhaps the new
immigrants would be influenced by the non-religious pioneers and leave
the Torah, or perhaps they would be killed by rioting Arabs. In
actuality, in most of the cases, the situation of those who remained
outside of Israel was worse. From a spiritual point of view, the
percentage of those who strayed off the path was greater outside of
Israel. Many of them left religion because of the influence of their
surroundings, while many others were distanced from religion
coercively by the evil Communist regime. And from a security aspect,
in Europe, the horrific Holocaust took place.

Opposing Serving in the Army

Also, concerning serving in the army, it seems that the main reason
for objecting enlistment in the army amongst the Haredi public is
because of the army’s non-religious character, which causes some of
the young soldiers to leave religion. To our great dismay, the army
doesn’t do what it should to prevent this concern. Indeed, from a
security aspect, it is clear that there is great value for the State
to integrate the sons of the Haredi public into the army, however it
seems that the non-religious agenda of the top army officers is more
important to them than Israel’s security requirements.

Our Rabbi’s were Right

Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, it seems that the path our rabbi’s
instructed us to follow was correct. When there is a mitzvah to
immigrate to Israel, we make aliyah. When it’s proper to learn secular
studies in addition to Torah – we learn. And when there is a mitzvah
to enlist in the army in order to protect the nation and land of
Israel – we enlist. In the midst of all this, we cope with the
problems that arise in light of the situation, and one who follows
such a course – is successful. The reason for those who left religion
was not because they immigrated to Israel, learned secular studies, or
served in the army, but rather because being attached to the Torah and
mitzvoth was not so important to them, and in any case, a large
majority of them would have found a way to leave religion.

A Look at Tu B'Av

1.The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom
2.The Attractive and the Noble
3.The Unattractive Ones
4.Sound Advice for Singles
5.The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The Ancient Tu B’Av Custom

Israel never knew such wonderful holidays as Tu B’Av (the 15th of the
Jewish month of Av) and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of
Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards and offer themselves
joyfully for the purpose of establishing Jewish families. And despite
the fact that all individuals are different – some are rich and some
are poor; some are more beautiful and some less; some are of noble
birth and some are not – all the same, on these days, special effort
was made to try and bridge the gap, at least as far as wealth was
concerned. The young women would therefore go out wearing white
borrowed outfits in order not to embarrass one who did not herself
posses such a gown.

Most likely, the young men were already acquainted to some extent with
the families of the girls in the area and had consulted their parents
regarding an appropriate match. The final decision, however, would
take place on these days. Perhaps these days were meant for those boys
or girls who were not successful in finding a mate in the conventional

The Attractive and the Noble

The Talmud (TractateTa’anit 31a) informs us as to the manner in which
these daughters of Israel would try to make themselves desirable: “The
attractive ones would exclaim: Search out beauty, for this is the
purpose of a wife; the ones of noble birth would say: Search out
family, for family is the purpose of wife; the unattractive ones would
say: choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.”

That the attractive girls would draw attention to their beauty is
understandable. Many boys choose their wives based upon beauty. Beauty
presents itself as a kind of guarantee to a good and happy life, a
life filled with vitality. Reality, though, does not confirm this.
There is no indication whatsoever that men who married so-called
attractive women ended up more content than those who married “less
attractive” women. When beauty comes in addition to good character it
can indeed add to life – but, often, it can be misleading.

Those of noble birth say just that: The main thing is character. A
good family is one in which many of its members have been successful
in obtaining a proper education and good livelihood. One can safely
assume that a woman who comes from such a family will possess a
pleasant and kind character, and agreeable educational habits. In
addition, it is highly probable that the children resulting from such
a matrimony will also possess such traits. We indeed find that the
sages (Tractate Baba Batra 110a) advise examining the brothers of the
prospective bride, for it often happens that the children turn out
like the brothers of the bride. The sages also advise marrying the
daughter of a Torah scholar (Tractate Pesachim 49a). This is the
reason that the Mishna in Ta’anit 26b only quotes the girls from good
families; in the eyes of the sages, their words were the most true.

The Unattractive Ones

The most surprising of the three groups is the unattractive one:
“Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven, so long as you adorn her
with gold.” A simple interpretation of these words tells us that these
young women are appealing to the unattractive, untalented boys who
would run after the attractive and distinguished girls only to be
turned away. To these boys they would say: “If you keep running after
the attractive and distinguished girls, you will remain single and
frustrated forever. Be realistic and marry one of us who are ready to
marry you. After all, the Torah commands you to marry – come, marry
for the sake of fulfilling God’s will.” And because marriage must
possess an element of affection they added: “So long as you adorn us
with gold,” for such behavior gives expression to your love for us.

But this is not all. There is a more profound way of understanding the
words of the unattractive girls. Sometimes a person who has merited
neither beauty nor desirable lineage, succeeds, by virtue of
exceptional faith in God, to perfect his or her character traits and
attain great personal achievement. The level such a person reaches is
even higher than that of the attractive and distinguished. A shared
life with such a person is sure to be full of beauty and happiness.
This is what they meant: “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven and
by so doing we will ascend together and surpass the level of all the
attractive and distinguished couples – and our children will be
distinguished by virtue of us.” And they added, “So long as you adorn
us with gold.” This last statement can be understood best in light of
the words of R’ Yishmael (Nedarim 9:10): “The daughters of Israel are
all beautiful, only that poverty makes them unbecoming.” If you
decorate us with gold you will uncover our true unique beauty. And so,
though in practice the most desired girls are the generally the
attractive ones, and they are followed by the distinguished ones, in
truth the distinguished are preferable to attractive and, sometimes,
the unattractive are the most desirable of all.

Sound Advice for Singles

Here, then, is a bit of advice for single men: Often, girls who are
actually quite pretty appear to be unattractive. This, though, is
simply the result of the man’s level of maturity. God created humans
such that they enter the world as babies and grow and develop until
old age. Each stage in life has its own purpose. At the age of twenty,
the desire to marry is very strong: “Twenty is the age for
chasing” (Avot 5:18). At that stage in life the heart is full of
enthusiasm and courage. The boy sees all that is good in his
prospective match and is ready to leap happily into married life. This
period is followed by a more restrained stage, the purpose of which is
to build and prepare the next layer of life. When an older single man
anticipates to be swept up by youthful enthusiasm when dating, he is
usually disappointed. Yet, instead of attributing this to his age, he
finds fault in the girl. He might admit that she is pleasant and
bright, but – he disappointedly explains to his close friends – she is
not attractive and exciting enough. Such bachelors must be informed:
If the girl is pleasant and smart in your eyes, and you enjoy being
together with her, and the only problem is that the excitement element
is lacking, “Choose your mate for the sake of Heaven.” And do not
worry, for, if you invest energy in your relationship and “decorate
her with gold,” you can be sure that you will be blessed with true
love. The enthusiasm which accompanies falling in love is actually
meant to help a person take the monumental step of entering into the
covenant of marriage. Such emotion, however, does not guarantee a
happy marriage. Good traits and shared goals are much more important.
True, ripe, deep love which reaches the inner layers of the soul is
dependent upon these ingredients.

The Unique Power of Tu B’Av

The author of the work “Bnei Yissachar” explains that Tu B’Av is a day
of deep-rooted significance because it falls forty days before the
date of the world’s creation. The sixth day of creation was Rosh
HaShannah. On that day God formed man. Six days prior to this is the
Twenty-fifth of Elul, and forty days prior to this is Tu B’Av (the
Fifteenth of Av). The sages tell us, “Forty days before the formation
of the infant an announcement is made in heaven: “The daughter of so-
and-so is matched up with so-and-so.” Tu B’Av, too, because it falls
forty days before the formation of the world, is a day of fatal
importance with a unique capacity to initiate life – especially for a
bride and groom who wish to establish a family.

Fasts of the Destruction

Institution of the Fasts

After the First Temple was destroyed, the Prophets instituted fasts
marking the tragic events surrounding the Destruction and the ensuing
exile of the Jewish People. This step was taken in order to prompt the
nation to grieve and mourn over the Destruction and Exile. It was
intended that by so doing, people would repent and mend their corrupt
ways, for it was the evil ways of the people which brought on all of
the difficulties which befell the nation, and which continue to befall
us even until today.
On the tenth day of the month of Tevet they instituted a fast because
on that day Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, began his siege on
the walls of Jerusalem. In the month of Tammuz, a fast was instituted
because in that month the walls of the city were breached. On the
ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha B’Av) a fast was instituted
because on it our Holy Temple was destroyed. And on the third day of
the month of Tishrei they instituted a fast marking the death of
Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the leader of the Jews who remained in Judah
after the Destruction of the Temple. With his death the last burning
coal of Jewish rule in the Land was extinguished.

And in this manner the people fasted, about seventy years, until the
building of the Second Temple. At that time the people asked: “Must we
continue to observe these fasts?” to which Zechariah the Prophet
responded: “So said the God of Legions: ‘The fourth fast (the fast of
Tammuz, the fourth month), and the fifth fast (Tisha B’Av), and the
seventh fast (the third of Tishrei), and the tenth fast (the tenth of
Tevet) will become for the House of Judah times of joy and happiness
and pleasant occasions; therefore love the truth and the peace.'” And
so it was that during the period of the Second Temple, these days of
fasting became days of joy and happiness.

With the Destruction of the Second Temple the original ordinance was
reinstated and the people returned to fasting on all four fast days.
Yet the date of one of the fasts changed – the fast which had been
instituted in the month of Tammuz, marking the breaching of the walls.
In the Destruction of the First Temple the walls were breached on the
ninth of Tammuz, and on this day they fasted during the seventy years
of Babylonian exile. In the Destruction of the Second Temple, though,
the walls were breached on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, and it is on
this date that we fast until today. And though the actual institution
of the fasts by the Prophets was established because of the
Destruction of the First Temple (and we therefore fast on the tenth of
Tevet – the day on which Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, placed a
siege on Jerusalem during the Destruction of the First Temple, and on
the third of Tishrei – the day on which the last remnant of Jewish
rule was abolished at the end of the period of the First Temple), when
it came to marking the breaching of the walls, the sages instituted a
day of fasting on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, when the walls were
breached by the Romans in the time of the Second Temple. This is
because the pain of the Second Temple is closer to us than that of the
First. This, too, remains in keeping with the words of Zechariah who,
as we have mentioned, referred to this fast as the “fourth fast,”
indicating that the essence of its institution was that it be in the
fourth month, that is, Tammuz. And therefore even when the later sages
changed the day of the fast from the ninth to the seventeenth day of
Tammuz, they didn’t, in so doing, change the institution of the
prophets to fast in the fourth month because of the breaching of the
walls of the city. Concerning the fast on the ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av,
no change was made, for both the First and Second Temples were
destroyed on that day.

The Ninth Day of Av

The sages said in the Mishna: “Five things befell our ancestors on the
Ninth of Av: It was decreed that our ancestors would not be permitted
to enter the Land, both the first and second Temples were destroyed,
Betar was taken, and the City was plowed over.”
The first event befell the generation which wandered in the wilderness
after leaving Egypt. Moses gave in to the requests of the people and
sent twelve spies to search out the Land of Canaan. Upon their return,
ten of the twelve spies gave an evil report of the Land claiming that
they would not be able to conquer the Land of Canaan because its
inhabitants are mighty and giant. Thus, they weakened the hearts of
the people. “And all of the congregation lifted up its voice and
cried; and the people wept that night. And all of the Children of
Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation
said to them: ‘If only we had died in the Land of Egypt, or if only we
had died in the wilderness! And why has God brought us to this land to
fall by the sword leaving our wives and our children as prey? Is it
not better for us to return to Egypt?’ And they said to one another,
‘Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt’.”

And though Joshua and Caleb reprimanded them saying: “The Land is
exceedingly good. If God is pleased by us then He will bring us into
this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey.
Just don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t fear the people of the
Land, for they are like our bread, their defense is departed from
them, and God is with us, fear them not.” Yet the response was: “And
the whole congregation said to stone them with stones.”
The Sin of the Spies was greater than the Sin of the Golden Calf, for
in the Sin of the Golden Calf the people had not renounced God and
Moses completely; they simply strayed to idol worship. The people
believed that since Moses had disappeared, God would no longer appear
to them in His glory and might, and therefore it was necessary to look
for an idol which would serve as a mediator between them and their
Creator. It was for this reason that after the Sin of the Golden Calf,
God forgave the people. In the Sin of the Spies, though, the people
denied the ability of God to be active in the world, and to assist
them in conquering the Land. In addition, they denied the central
mission for which the world was created and for which the Jewish
People was chosen – to reveal the Divine Presence in this world, via
the Land of Israel. Therefore, the Sin of the Spies was not forgiven
and it was decreed that all those who were involved in the
transgression would die in the wilderness. Only Joshua the son of Nun
and Caleb the son of Yefuneh, who did not take part in the sin, were
privileged to enter the Land.

The night on which the people cried and expressed contempt for the
Land was the night of the ninth of Av. The Holy One Blessed be He
said: “You cried for no reason, and so I will establish for you
weeping for all generations.” In that very same moment it was decreed
that the Holy Temple would be destroyed.

During the Sin of the Golden Calf the walls of faith were broken
through, and as a result the walls of Jerusalem were broken through; a
rift was set in the honor of the Torah, and in the service of the Holy
Temple. During the Sin of the Spies the fundamental faith in the
mission of the Jewish People – to sanctify God’s name in the world –
was destroyed. All of the hardships that resulted from this particular
sin signify elimination and destruction of our capacity to reveal
holiness while firmly settled in the Land of Israel. Firstly, it was
decreed on the Ninth of Av that the entire generation would not enter
the Land. Later, since the nation did not manage to mend the Sin of
the Spies, that very same transgression caused the destruction of both
the First and Second Temples. And because even afterwards we still had
not corrected the Sin of the Spies, with the defeat of Bar Kochba, the
stronghold town of Betar was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem was
plowed over. All of these are painful events which prevented the
Divine Presence from residing in Jerusalem, and therefore we mourn and
fast on Tisha B’Av.

Remembering the Temple's Destruction

In Remembrance of the Temple’s Destruction

In the wake of the destruction of the Holy Temple a great change took
place. It seemed as if after the destruction, and all that came in its
wake, it would no longer be able to continue living in a normal
manner.The Talmud relates (Tractate Baba Batra 60b):”Our Rabbis
taught: When the second Temple was destroyed, many of Israel separated
themselves from eating meat or drinking wine. Rabbi Yehoshua
approached them, saying: ‘My children, why do you not eat meat nor
drink wine? They replied: ‘Should we eat meat of which sacrifices were
brought, or drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the
altar, but now no longer?’ He said to them: ‘If so, we should not eat
bread either, because the meal offerings have ceased.’ They replied:
We can live on fruit.’ ‘We should not eat fruit either, [he said,]
because there is no longer an offering of first fruits.’ ‘Then we can
manage with other fruits [they said].’ ‘But, [he said,] we should not
drink water, because there is no longer any ceremony of the pouring of
water.’ To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: ‘My
children — come and listen to me. It would be wrong not to mourn at
all, because the evil decree is executed. To mourn too much is also
impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which
the majority cannot endure.’ ”
R’ Yehoshua continued and explained to them that the principle is that
life must go on. We cannot allow our great mourning over the
destruction of the Holy Temple to cause a state of depression that the
nation cannot endure. It is therefore impossible to institute that so
long as the Temple sits in ruin it is forbidden to consume meat or
drink wine. However, any time a person participates in a celebration,
he must recall the destruction of the Holy Temple, for as long as the
Temple is in ruins, the joy is still not complete.

Therefore, the Sages teach that a groom on his wedding day must place
Jerusalem above his highest joy and put ash on his head as a sign of
mourning. Likewise, when a person builds a house he must leave a
square cubit of wall without whitewash in remembrance of the Temple’s
destruction. And when preparing a celebrative meal, one must exclude
one cooked food in remembrance of the Temple’s destruction. And the
same is true of women’s jewelry.

A Square Cubit – Remembrance of the Temple’s Destruction

The Sages enacted a number of ordinances in order to remind us of the
destruction of the Holy Temple. The underlying principle is that when
a person has the good fortune of arriving at an occasion that gives
him a sense of gratification, he must remember that his joy is still
incomplete, for the Temple lies in ruins.

Therefore, the Sages instituted that when a person builds a house for
himself and reaches its final stage, the whitewashing of the walls, he
must remember that the house of the nation, the Holy Temple, still
lies in ruins. And in remembrance of the destruction of the Holy
Temple he must leave a square cubit of wall without whitewash.

In this ordinance, the Sages teach us that so long as the Holy Temple
is not built, the private home of an individual also cannot be
complete. Therefore, a square cubit of wall must be left without
whitewash. A cubit is approximately half a meter, and therefore, in
practice, a square half meter of wall must be left without whitewash.
In the same respect, if a person covers his walls with wallpaper, he
must leave a square half meter of wall without whitewash and without

The bare square cubit must be in a place that catches the eye. The
Sages therefore instituted that this square cubit be situated opposite
the entrance of the house. Some have understood this to mean that the
square cubit should be situated above the entrance inside, in order
that the people in the house always see the area without whitewash.
However, according to most authorities, the non-whitewashed space
should be situated on the wall opposite the entrance so that whoever
enters the house can see it. Only in a case where it is impossible to
leave a space opposite the entrance – for example, in a house that has
no wall opposite the entrance – is it permitted to situate the non-
whitewashed space above the entrance (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim
560:1; Mishnah Berurah 3; Aruch HaShulchan 5).

The Law Concerning One Who Buys a House

It often happens that a person buys a house from somebody else and
discovers that no square cubit of wall has been left without
whitewash. In such a case, does the buyer have to scrape off some of
the wall opposite the entrance in order to uncover a square cubit in
remembrance of the Temple’s destruction? Or do we say that because he
was not the one who whitewashed the house to begin with, he is not
obligated to leave an area without whitewash in remembrance of the
Temple’s destruction?

Answer: It all depends on who built the house, i.e., who the original
owner was. If the person who built the house was a Jew, he was
obligated to leave a square cubit of wall without whitewash. If he did
not do so, the square cubit of wall was whitewashed counter to Jewish
law. Therefore, the buyer must scrape off the whitewash. However, if
the original owner was a non-Jew, he was not obligated to leave an non-
whitewashed area, and it follows that the buyer is exempt from
scraping off a square cubit of whitewash (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim
560:1; Mishnah Berurah 4).

It does not matter who the builders are. What matters is who the owner
of the house is. If the owner of the house is a Jew, he must leave a
square cubit of wall without whitewash even if non-Jew’s build his
house, for they are building the house for him. And if the workers
mistakenly whitewashed the entire house, the owner of the house must
himself scrape off a square cubit of wall opposite the entrance.

Ceramics, Wallpaper, and Decorative Paint

There is a debate in Jewish law between Rambam and Tur over the
question of whether or not it is permissible, while the Temple sits in
ruins, for a person to decorate the walls of his own house with
decorative ceramic tiles or patterned wallpaper, or even a patterned
two-color paint job. While it is clearly permissible to hang pictures
on the walls, there is disagreement about painting the walls with
decorations or patterns.

According to Tur, it is permissible for a person to beautify the walls
of his house with all sorts of decorations on the condition that he
leave a square cubit of wall without any decoration and or whitewash
in remembrance of the destruction of the Holy Temple (Tur, Orach Chaim
560, based upon the third Baraitha in Baba Batra 60b).
However, according to Rambam, with the destruction of the Holy Temple
the Sages instituted a prohibition against overly decorating one’s
home. Therefore, it is forbidden to cover the walls with ceramic
tiles, wallpaper, or decorative paint. When the rabbis instituted
leaving a square cubit of wall un-whitewashed they were referring to
whitewash or paint, but decorating the walls with ceramic tiles, etc.,
is completely forbidden (Laws of Ta’aniot 5:12, based upon the third
Baraitha in Baba Batra 60b, and this is how Shulchan Aruch rules,

As far as a final ruling is concerned, many authorities follow the
lenient opinions, and the accepted practice in many households is to
decorate the walls with wallpaper or decorated ceramic tiles. And in
remembrance of the Temple’s destruction they leave a square cubit of
wall un-whitewashed (Rif and Rosh also insinuate that it is
permissible, and Mishnah Berurah 1 writes that this is the custom).
The pious, however, act stringently, in keeping with the opinion of
Rambam. They refrain from decorating the house with ceramic tiles and
the likes and make due with whitewash or a simple paint job. And, of
course, they leave a square cubit of wall un-whitewashed and

All authorities are in agreement that in synagogues and study halls,
there is no need to leave a square cubit of wall unpainted. It is
likewise permissible to cover the walls of these places with wallpaper
or decorative ceramics. This is because the rabbinic ordinance applies
specifically to private homes, not public places (Magen Avraham and
Pri Megadim 560:4 ).

A Depiction of Jerusalem

Some people practice the erroneous custom of hanging a picture of the
Temple Mount opposite the entrance of the house. This is not in
keeping with Jewish law, for the picture cannot replace the rabbinic
ordinance. Rather, one must leave a square cubit of wall un-
whitewashed opposite the entrance of the house. And if a person seeks
to go beyond the letter of the law by making some kind of sign that
will cause whoever enters the house to understand the significance of
this bare square cubit, he can hang a picture of the Temple Mount
above or next to the bare space. It is also possible to write the
verse “If I should forget thee Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its
cunning” (Psalms 137:5). Others leave the plaster exposed but etch a
picture of walls into it, and since there is no whitewash, they
fulfill their obligation.

Though, as we learned in the previous section, it may well be that
those who follow the lenient path have authorities to rely upon, for
perhaps the underlying principle of the rabbinic ordinance is that
there be something that recalls the destruction of the Holy Temple –
and a picture of the Temple Mount certainly recalls the destruction of
the Holy Temple – but according to the overwhelming majority of
authorities the main idea of the ordinance is that the square cubit be
left with neither paint nor whitewash. This shows that the house’s
construction is not complete, and it gives expression to the idea that
so long as the Holy Temple is not built, our own private house also
cannot reach completion.

Islam Lives by the Sword

War with the Arabs

Question: With all due respect, Rabbi – do we have a choice? All the
leaders of the world are pressuring us to withdraw from Judea and
Samaria, and in their opinion, withdrawal will bring peace and
security. How can you be so sure they are wrong, and that an agreement
to withdraw will not bring peace?
Answer: The path ahead of us is not simple. We are in a state of war
with the vast majority of Arab countries, with Islamic believers
throughout the world supporting them. We are talking about ten’s of
million’s of enemies who are ready to go to war against us at any
moment, and hundred’s of million’s more who voice support for it. In
such a situation it is easy to be enticed by the false prophets who
promise peace. However, one who examines the circumstances with open
eyes will understand that withdrawal and compromise will not bring an
end to the Arab’s war against us, but on the contrary, it will only
increase it.
In order to understand this, the source of our enemy’s motivation must
be understood.

Islam – A Religion of War

It is no coincidence that the Arabs have succeeded in imposing the
Islamic religion on many nations, to the point where presently there
are approximately 1,400,000,000 people who are believers. The genetic
code of Islam is directed towards a steadfast war to impose the
religion of Mohamed on the entire world by means of the sword. And to
achieve this goal, everything is legitimate. If they need to lie –
they will lie. If they need to kill – they will kill. Even if it takes
hundred’s of thousands or even millions – they will kill. It was not
the enchanting beauty of the Islamic religion which drew so many
nations to accept it upon themselves, but rather the clear threat of

Special Motivation Towards War

All nations reached their achievements through wars and victories;
however in Islam, unlike other cultures, the principle of compromise
is unacceptable, especially a compromise over land. Therefore, even
when the Muslims lack the power to defeat their enemy, they are not
willing to accept compromise. If they make a cease-fire (‘tahadiya’ in
Arabic), in the view of Islam, it is only a recess which must be
utilized to prepare for the continuation of the war. If possible, in
the meantime they will weaken their opponent with terrorist attacks
and ransacking. If not, at the very least they will attempt to
anesthetize him with lies, until they are able to attack once again
and defeat him.
This fundamental principle causes the Muslims never to lay down their
sword; to always be ready for the continuation of the war. Similarly,
the deep genetic code of Islam does not compromise with weakness, but
rather turns it into a period of preparation for the continuation of
the war. This is how the Muslims succeeded to impose their religion on
many nations, who in turn, according to this genetic code, continued
to conquer additional territory.

Territory Previously Conquered by Islam

According to the Muslim way of thinking, the world is divided into two
areas: ‘Dar al-Islam’ is the area already conquered by Islam. ‘Dar al-
Harb’ is the area of war, which the Arabs are commanded to conquer
until it is turned into Muslim territory. After a certain territory
has been conquered by Islam, it is declared as holy Muslim territory
which is forbidden to be relinquished under any circumstances. Even if
this territory is conquered by another nation for hundreds of years,
according to Muslim law it is still considered holy land which must be
returned to Muslim control. Accordingly, Muslims execute more
terrorist attacks in Spain and large parts of India, because the Islam
which conquered them in the past, demands them in return now. And if
unable to conquer them, the Muslims will at least carry out terrorist
attacks, so that normal life cannot be conducted there until they are
returned to Islamic rule.

The Land of Israel: War Zone

The State of Israel constitutes a double problem from their
perspective, for it was established on territory that was conquered by
Islam since its foundation (except for a period of approximately 100
years when it was ruled by the Crusaders), and not only this, but the
land of Israel is located in the heart of Muslim territory. Therefore,
as far as they are concerned, this is the first place they must
conquer – either by sword or by guile. Some Muslims are more
religious, others less; however, the central foundation which strives
to conquer and rule, remains alive to a great extent amongst all of
The present debate between the moderates and the extremists is over
the question of whether it is necessary to implement agreements with
the State of Israel in order to cause its collapse, or to crush it
from within through extended gorilla-warfare. Concerning the goal
itself – the dismantling of the State of Israel and the conquering of
the entire Land of Israel – none of them concede.

Silence from Middle East Experts

There are numerous university departments which deal with the study of
Islam and Arabic nations. Seemingly, one could ask: why don’t these
experts warn the Western governments about the danger to be foreseen
from the awakening Islam?
The problem is that today’s ‘politically-correct’ language does not
allow the Muslim threat to be discussed seriously. All people are
supposed to be equal without discrepancies of religion, race, or sex;
how can one then claim that the Muslim culture presently produces the
most serious threat to world peace? Therefore, even one who analyzes
the subject correctly is not able to express his thoughts properly
within the framework of the accepted public forum. Thus, the danger
continues to grow without any experts warning Israel and the world
about it. By the way, there are actually a number of Muslims who, in
their wish to highlight the positive sides of the Islamic culture, are
worried about the rise of the negative aspects. They presently are the
only ones who are cautioning about the dangers of Islam, but nobody
listens to them.

How to Deal with the Threat

The only way to exempt a Muslim from going to war is to create a
situation where he is totally compelled – without the ability or
chance to succeed. Then he will wait for years or generations, and
when the time is right, return to war. Perhaps in the meantime the
Muslims will repent and correct their outlook, or instead, the time
will come for this religion to disappear from the face of the earth as
other religions have in the past.
However, when we project doubts in relation to our rights to the land
and our readiness to fight for it, we are encouraging them to attack
us. Additionally, our international status does not improve, just as
it did not improve as a result of the woeful Oslo Accords. The more we
agree to compromise, the more people throughout the world will support
the demand to “return” to the Arabs “all their rights” – in other
words, to put an end to our existence. This is what happened as a
result of the “Bar Ilan speech”. The Prime Minister and his supporters
were sure that in the merit of his capitulation to pressures and his
agreement to establish a demilitarized ‘Palestinian State’,
international pressure concerning the topic of the settlements would
be removed. Lo and behold, the reality is the exact opposite – any
compromise from our side results in additional demands.

The Settlements: Our Guarantee to Peace and Security

Therefore, the existence of the settlers and the settlements, which
come in the name of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the
most important thing for Israel’s security. Our enemies know that they
have no chance to defeat Israel in a face-to-face war, but they are
sure that they can destroy Israel through terror and gorilla warfare.
It is only the settlers with their firmness and faith which stand in
their way. As long as the settlers are not ready to compromise on
anything, and continue to hold tight to the land, multiply, get
stronger, and stand firm as a defensive shield, the Muslims won’t be
able to defeat Israel.
Fortunate are those who assist these courageous people, helping to
enlarge and widen the settlements, for this is the foundation of the
security and salvation of Israel. ”Be of good courage, and let us be
strong for our people, and for the cities of our God”.

Postponing Pregnancy (Part 1)

Postponing the Obligation to Have Children

Question: I am a twenty-year-old woman and, God willing, I will be
getting married soon. My question is this: Am I permitted, according
to Jewish law, to postpone pregnancy for two years in order to finish
the majority of my university studies without the burden of pregnancy
and parenting? I should point out that my future husband and I want to
have a fairly large family, five or six children. The question is can
I postpone birth by two years?

Answer: A person may not delay fulfilling the commandment to have
children. On the contrary, one must always hasten to perform Torah
precepts. In this vein, Rabbi Yoshia teaches: “It is written ‘Be
careful regarding the matzah’s’ (Exodous 12:17), and just as a person
must not allow the [dough of the] matzah’s to ferment, so one must not
allow the mitzvah’s (Torah commandments) to ‘ferment’; rather, if you
have the opportunity to fulfill a commandment, do it immediately.” And
Rabbi Shimon bar Lakish adds, “You must not skip over the precepts” –
i.e., do not postpone a commandment that has come your way, even in
order to fulfill another commandment (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Bo 201).
Now, in view of the fact that there is an obligation to fulfill
commandments with alacrity, it is clearly unacceptable to cause a
commandment’s fulfillment to be delayed. This is especially true when
it comes to so important a commandment as bearing children, a
commandment upon which the world depends and by virtue of which man
becomes partner with the Holy One, blessed be He.
The Sages forbade the sale of a Torah scroll except in order to
fulfill one of two commandments: the commandment to study Torah and
the commandment to bear children (see Tractate Megillah 27a; Beit
Shmuel, Even HaEzer 1, 15-16). Sometimes there is a particular
problem, physical or mental, that allows for postponing the
commandment, but it is proper to consult with a Torah scholar in order
to be sure that the problem indeed justifies delaying the obligation.

Postponing is No Solution

I would add, however, that I do not quite understand your question.
Why do you think that after your studies it will be easier for you to
have children? Most subjects studied in the university can be covered
in half a day, or slightly more, and the studies last for only about
seven and a half months a year. By contrast, most jobs necessitate
more than half a day’s work and continue for about eleven months of
the year. If you think it will be difficult to give birth while you
are a student, how will you be able to do so after you have entered
the working world?
In truth, this is a matter of determination and priority; the more a
person grasps the importance of family and children, the more desire
and willpower one has to bear children, to raise them, and to educate
them. Just as you will have strength at the age of thirty to give
birth, to take care of children, and to work, so too today you will
have the strength to learn a profession and to begin to raise
children. And just as at the age of thirty you will not be able to
immerse yourself entirely in work outside the home, so too today, you
will be unable to immerse yourself entirely in studies and
establishing yourself in work.

The Problem of Religious Colleges

Question: All of the above is true as far as university study goes,
but there are women who study in colleges where students must attend
classes from morning to evening. In such cases it is indeed easier for
women when they graduate and begin teaching. What, then, should a
woman do if she finds herself in this situation?

Answer: This is indeed a painful problem. A number of young women
inquired regarding this problem and I advised them to transfer to an
institution in which the study lasts fewer hours each day, so that
they are able to dedicate more time to establishing their families.
True, from the perspective of the religious framework these colleges
have an advantage, but it is forbidden to endanger the family,
marriage, pregnancy and childbearing, in order to learn in such
institutions. However, where there is reason to believe that a woman
will deteriorate spiritually at the university, it is best that she
remain in a religious framework.

Best to Give Birth When Young

I would go even further and say that, in many respects, the earlier
you give birth, the easier your life will be. Even if you know how
many children you want to have, it is best to have them when young.
The earlier the pregnancies, the easier they are and the less danger
there is. Moreover, younger parents have more strength to bear the
burden of rearing and educating children. When your children grow you
will be able to invest more time in your work outside of the home and
in nurturing your talents.
Moreover, because we only live so long in this world, one who
postpones birth will naturally see her offspring for fewer years. For
example, she will enjoy fewer weddings, births, and celebrations of
her offspring.
It must also be added that pregnancy is not guaranteed to anybody, and
preventing oneself from giving birth is like preventing divine
blessing and generosity. Who can say if when a woman is finally ready
to have children she will merit divine generosity?

Miraculous Remedies and Wonder Working

Cure-Seeking through Blessings and Miraculous Remedies

How should we view the practice some people have of approaching rabbis
with requests for healing, miraculous remedies, and amulets?
At “Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav,” under Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, there was
no such dealing in the supernatural, and one did not go to request
magical remedies or blessings from rabbis. No doubt, there is a place
for supplication prayers and for receiving the blessings of prominent
Torah scholars; where there is Torah greatness, there is certainly
divine assistance and unique providence. Such providence, though, is
not to be confused with an independent talent for wonder working.
Rather, it results from the spiritual might of the Torah knowledge
which the scholar possesses.

In general, it is possible to say that the more Torah greatness and
perfect faith one possesses, the less need one feels for resorting to
the supernatural; where Torah knowledge is lacking there is a greater
tendency toward wonder working, blessings, miracles, and amulets.
Indeed, it is no coincidence. Man possesses a yearning for the
spiritual, for things that reside beyond his own mundane physical
realm. He harbors a thirst for the living God and for closeness to his
Maker. When one studies Torah and senses that it is the source from
which he quenches his thirst, he no longer feels the need to visit
wonder-workers. He appeals directly to his Creator, the Ultimate
Source of all things. When, though, one lacks Torah knowledge and
faith, one feels the need for conjurers of miracles and wonders.
Because he finds no spiritual sustenance in Torah study, he searches
for it in the miraculous. He does not quite comprehend the
spirituality that exists in Torah greatness. He feels the need for
wonders, powerful spiritual flashes, in order to strengthen his faith.
This is reflected in the words, “Miracles and wonders in the plains of
the children of Ham” – in a place of darkness, lacking genuine Torah
insight, a need for spiritual flashes makes itself felt. One, though,
who is full of Torah, whose Torah study is the great central spiritual
channel through which he becomes filled with a sense of closeness to
God – a person like this feels no need for wonders.

In addition, one must be aware of the fact that the capacity for
spiritual insight exists not only with Torah personages and scholars.
Even non-Jews possess such powers. Such capacities, though, lack
exactness, for what we are dealing with here is not prophecy, but
general insight. While such insight is sometimes accurate, it is
preferable not to become dependent upon it, for it can also cause

It is told, regarding Rabbi Zusha, one of the giants of Hassidism,
that he had a follower – a Hassid – who sought his advice with regard
to everything related to God’s service, and would even give him
redemptive money as a form of atonement. One time, the Hassid came to
the house of the rabbi and found that the rabbi was out. He asked
Rabbi Zusha’s wife where he had gone and she replied that Rabbi Zusha
had gone to his rabbi, the Maggid of Mezritch. The man was surprised
to hear that Rabbi Zusha, his rabbi, also had a rabbi, and said to
himself, “Why should I go to a disciple when I can go to the rabbi.”
Yet, from the moment he began frequenting the Maggid he experienced
misfortune in all respects. The Hassid went to Rabbi Zusha and asked,
“How is it that when I sought your advice I succeeded, yet when I
sought the advice of your rabbi who is greater than you I encountered
misfortune?” Rabbi Zusha answered, “I will tell you. When you did not
search out the best possible rabbi in order to give him your
redemptive money, God did not make so thorough a check to see if you
are a good and upright person deserving of His blessing. But, when you
searched out the best possible rabbi in order to give him your
redemptive money, God began to inspect you as well, to see if you are
a good and upright person deserving of His blessing.” This tale
contains a profound lesson. A person who has a rabbi who understands
him and guides and councils him in his service of God merits heavenly
blessing. If, though, a person is not truly connected to a rabbi, yet
merely goes to him in order to receive a blessing and displays no
sincere desire to change and improve, God inspects him more closely.

All hardships that befall an individual befall him in order to perfect
him and direct him in his service of God. When a person goes to a
rabbi who does not know him, the rabbi tells him to say a few chapters
from the Book of Psalms, light candles, etc. Perhaps this will be of
some benefit to him, perhaps not, for the rabbi’s advice is just that
– advice. It is not prophecy. This is not the way for a person to deal
with his difficulties. And while it is still best to refrain from
denying this path to a person who does not possess a healthy
connection to the Torah and whose connection to rabbis and blessings
is what fills his entire spiritual world, all the same, a person
should be aware that the main channel for clinging to God is through
the study of Torah and closeness to a rabbi who provides him with
guidance regarding his service of God. This is the path taken by
people of Torah, and it is the healthiest approach to serving God.

Miraculous Remedies and Amulets

Having addressed the practice some people have to request healing and
blessings from rabbis, let us continue and deal with the phenomenon of
miraculous remedies and amulets. It is not advisable to seek out such
supernatural devices, despite the fact that they sometimes contain
concrete solutions to problems. This is not the path that the Torah
has chosen. This path does not appear anywhere in the entire Oral or
Written Tradition. Often, such things are no more than a hoax and a
deception. According to Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, the Rambam, for
instance, the effect of such practices is no more than psychological.
Yet, even if we were to accept their legitimacy, this is not the
correct path. For this reason, the Sages teach us that when
difficulties befall a person he must reflect upon and examine his
ways, to check his behavior, to repair and refine his service of God.
Instead of seeking out short cuts through supernatural and miraculous
solutions, one should make a thorough spiritual mending.

Hassidism thus teaches the following story: A villager hired a tutor
to teach his son Torah. When it became known to the father that this
innocent teacher was in fact a secret mystic, he pleaded with him to
teach him the language of the birds. Initially the teacher refused,
but the father insisted and threatened to make public the fact that he
was a mystic. Finally the teacher gave in, and agreed to teach the
father the language of the birds. After mastering this, the father
would go about listening to the birds. If the man heard the birds say,
“Whoever buys flour today will gain,” he would buy, “Whoever sells
wheat today will gain,” he would sell. And so, in this way, the
villager became wealthy because of the birds. One day he heard the
birds say, “This villager will die in thirty days.” Startled, the
villager turned to the mystic and asked him what to do. “I told you,”
said the mystic, “that you were better off not knowing the language of
the birds. True, if you had remained ignorant of the language of the
birds you would have lost a bit of money here and there, but this
would have served as atonement for you and you would have continued to
live. Now, though, there is no way of escaping your fate.”

This tale too contains a profound message. “Be innocent before God
your Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:13). If trouble befalls a person, it is
actually for his own good. One must deal with it and learn how to
improve his actions. Yet, when one avoids difficulties through the use
of supra-logical actions, this does not mean that he has solved the
true problem. Even when supernatural practices succeed – and quite
often what appears to be success is no more than an illusion – it is
likely that this is only a partial solution. Yet, when one does not
solve the problem from its foundation, it is bound to reawaken and
burst forth from another direction.

In summary, the healthy way of serving God is through studying His
Torah, through adhering to the Torah, and clinging to the Torah
scholars who guide us according to the word of God. The more one grows
in Torah, the less one deals in supernatural devices. Therefore, one
must seek guidance from a rabbi concerning proper service of God. This
relationship becomes the true source of one’s blessing. If a person
confronted with difficulties attempts to bypass them via supernatural
exercises and amulets, he will not solve the true and fundamental
problem, and it may reappear in some other situation.

The Two Sins of Netanyahu

What’s so bad About the Prime Minister’s Speech

Question: I have read responses from right-wing spokespeople on Arutz
7, and all of them are disappointed and embarrassed about the Prime
Minister’s speech. I don’t feel betrayed. What do you expect the Prime
Minister to say in such an official speech? Do you expect him to
declare that he supports the transfer of all the Arabs? If he’s not in
favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state, what’s his
alternative? What exactly do we want him to say?
Honestly speaking, I was not disappointed with his speech, and even a
little bit pleased, for everyone knows that the Arabs won’t agree to a
demilitarized Palestinian state, or to recognize Israel as the Jewish
state, so at least there won’t be evacuations, and we can build
according to our natural growth needs. Does anyone have a different

The Sins of the Speech

Answer: The Prime Minister sinned twice. His first sin was his
agreement to concede the inheritance of our forefathers and to give it
to another nation. God promised us this land, from the Euphrates River
to the Nile River. We are the only ones who have national and
historical rights on this land, for during all the years of our exile,
we never gave-up hope of returning to her. The Prime Minister conceded
this absolute right. We can learn something from the Arabs, who, for
nearly twenty years have been conducting negotiations with us,
speaking and promising us peace, and yet they still haven’t conceded
on any of their demands.
The Prime Minister’s second sin was that he lied to his voters. Only a
few months ago he conducted an election campaign whose central
platform was the rejection of an Arab state in the land of Israel, and
within a few months, he broke his promise. Later on, he will blame his
voters for expecting him to fulfill his promises.

The Religion of Islam – A Warring Religion

We have no easy and simple solutions. We are in a state of war with
the vast majority of Arab nations, and the believers of Islam
throughout the world support them. We did not initiate this situation,
and nothing that we do will stop their war against us.
According to the Islamic way of thinking, the world is divided into
two sections: ‘Dar-al-Islam’ is the section already conquered by
Muslims, and ‘Dar al-Harb’ is the place of war. One of the central
commandments, from their point of view, is the commandment of Jihad,
in other words, the commandment to wage war and conquer, turning the
combat area into Muslim territory. The State of Israel constitutes for
them an especially difficult problem, for it was established on an
area that had already been conquered by Muslims, and therefore, it is
the first place they must conquer – by sword or by guile. Their
religious belief has been weakened; however, this genetic code remains
as their central, national motive.
The only way to exempt a Muslim from war is to create a situation
where he is totally compelled – he has no chance or opportunity to
succeed. Then he will wait for years, if not generations, and when the
time is right, he will go to war once again. This is the religious
Muslim motivation – to impose their beliefs by force of the sword.

The Failure of Capitulating

Therefore, any agreement to give them rights over any part of the Land
of Israel constitutes a foundation and an incentive to continue their
war against us. This won’t remove the Iranian threat, rather it will
increase it. Only one who does not surrender to pressure can deter the
enemy from using nuclear weapons.
Unlike the proclamations of his advocates, Prime Minister Netanyahu is
continuing the policy of a building freeze and discrimination against
the communities in Judea and Samaria. His speech will not allow him to
help the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria in the future; it
will only invite additional pressure and hinder any of his efforts to
strengthen them. Such voices can already be heard from the leaders of
Europe and America.

The Alternative

The only response to the Arab threat can be found in a return to our
roots – to the true reason why we got here. A return to the covenant
which God made with Abraham our forefather (Genesis 15:18): “To your
descendants I have given this land, from the Egyptian River as far as
the great river, the Euphrates”. A return to the mitzvah we are
commanded in the Torah (Deuteronomy 1:8): “Come, occupy the land that
God swore He would give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and
to their descendants after them.”
Therefore, it is forbidden to concede even one grain of land. Israeli
sovereignty should be applied to more areas of Judea and Samaria
without granting any more civilian rights to additional Arabs. On the
contrary, we must work towards the expulsion from Israel of all those
people who oppose the existence of the State of Israel. True, our
ability is limited, and at the present time we lack the strength to
expel all of our enemies from the land, but we can definitely create
motivation amongst those who are hostile to the State of Israel to
emigrate to other countries.
We must inform our neighboring countries that we have a claim to the
entire land of Israel – till the Euphrates River. Indeed, in the
meantime, we are not planning to go to war, however, any war started
against us will be utilized to liberate additional land and to expel
additional enemies from our land. Then the Arabs will understand that
in a war against us, they stand to loose. Then they will honor us, and
wait for us to become tired or weak. For decades, our leaders have
taught them that there is no price for wars – either they won, or they
didn’t win, but they couldn’t lose, for we are afraid to conquer
additional territory, and we can’t govern them properly due to our
moral weakness. But when we display strength, firmness and faith, they
will understand that if they try to fight us, they will lose even
The World Can Understand

There are those who claim that the world won’t understand this. But
the world will not even understand what Netanyahu said. If he agreed
to an Arab state, why won’t he freeze the settlements? On the
contrary, he proved that he can be pressured, and therefore his
position will not be understood, but rather be used as the foundation
for additional and stronger pressure.
On the other hand, if we were to talk, at every opportunity, about our
rights to all of the land of Israel, many people would understand us.
If we were to give each ambassador and every visitor a book of the
Bible and on the front pages, in gold lettering, print all the verses
where God promised us the land, translating them into all the
languages, and together with the honored visitors, read the verses and
be enthused by the miracle of the Return to Zion – then they would
honor us and our position. Unfortunately, this hasn’t even been tried.

With the Kindness of God and in the Merit of the Settlers

It is only because of the kindness of God and the self-sacrifice of
the settlers, who, with their bodies, are preventing and restricting
any withdrawals, that Israeli politicians do not retreat and concede
to the Arab pressure. If it weren’t for the settlers, our
international situation would be much worse, and we would be facing a
difficult battle for Jerusalem and the cities in the Lower Plain, such
as Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva.
We must enlarge our study halls and yeshiva’s, so they can conceive an
organized, political doctrine. We must produce honest leaders,
possessors of vision and practical wisdom, who know how to advance the
State of Israel towards its goals.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed