The Laws of Blowing the Shofar

The Order of the Shofar Blasts

According to the Torah, we are obligated to sound nine shofar blasts
on Rosh Hashanah. These blasts consist of three groups of three blasts
each, and each group consists of a “tekiyah” blast, a “teruah” blast,
and another “tekiyah” blast.
However, with the passing of time, uncertainty arose regarding the
nature of the ‘teruah’ blast. Clearly, the ‘teruah’ is supposed to
convey the sort of suffering and pain that allude to crisis and
iniquity, but we do not know how this should be done. Should the
‘teruah’ take the form of medium length blasts that resemble moaning,
or short blasts that resemble sobbing? Or perhaps the ‘teruah’ should
be a combination of these, so that it begins with ‘shevarim’ (medium
length blasts) and continues with ‘teruah’ (short blasts), like a
person who starts to moan and then suddenly begins sobbing.
Because of this uncertainty, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Abahu instituted
that blasts be sounded in each of the above possibilities: we begin
with three sets of three blasts in which the ‘teruah’ (the middle
blast in each set) consists of both ‘shevarim’ and ‘teruah’;
thereafter, we sound another three sets of three blasts in which the
‘teruah’ takes the form of a moaning sound, i.e., “shevarim”; and we
conclude with three sets of blasts in which the ‘teruah’ takes the
form of short blasts alone, i.e., “teruah.” So, instead of the nine
blasts mentioned in the Torah, today we sound thirty blasts (Tractate
Rosh Hashanah 34a).
The Rambam explains that in truth nine blasts alone would suffice, but
due to the hardships and the exiles, uncertainties arose regarding the
actual ‘teruah’, and because we lack the ability to reach a decisive
conclusion on this matter, we are compelled to blow all three types of
‘teruah’ on Rosh Hashanah, for if we leave out just one of them, we
may be leaving out the real ‘teruah’, and this would mean that we have
failed to fulfill our duty.
However, according to the Rambam’s explanation, before Rabbi Abahu
instituted blowing in the manner mentioned above, many communities
failed to fulfill their obligation to blow the shofar – and such a
situation is difficult to imagine.
Rabbi Hai Gaon, on the other hand, writes that all three types of
‘teruah’ are in keeping with Jewish law; therefore, before Rabbi
Abahu’s ruling, it was possible for each individual to choose for
himself the type of ‘teruah’ he wanted to blow. He would blow nine
blasts, and that was sufficient to fulfill his obligation.
What Rabbi Abahu wanted was for the entire Jewish people to blow the
shofar in a single manner, so there would not appear to be a
difference of opinions; and because each type of ‘teruah’ is distinct
and unique, Rabbi Abahu legislated that people blow all three types of
‘teruah’, thus making room for all of the customs and versions that
existed then. It follows that today, too, it is possible to fulfill
one’s Torah obligation with nine blasts, while rabbinic ordinance
calls for thirty blasts.

More on the Shofar Blasts

The Torah states (Numbers 29:1): “It will be for you a day of sounding
the shofar,” and from here we learn of the obligation to blow the
shofar on Rosh Hashanah day, not at night (Tractate Megillah 20b). The
sages went further by instituting shofar blasts that coincided with
the special blessings in the Rosh Hashanah prayers:
“Malchuyot” (Sovereignty), “Zichronot” (Remembrance), and
“Shofarot” (Shofar blasts), so that by doing this our prayers would be
favorably received (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a).
It would appear that, at first, people would recite the special Rosh
Hashanah blessings during the morning prayers and at that time they
would also blow the shofar, for “the fervent are quick to perform
their religious duties.” Some time later, in a period of persecutions,
the enemy outlawed the blowing of the shofar, and their soldiers would
lay in wait during the first six hours of the day to see if the Jews
would try to violate the decree.
At that time they, the Torah authorities ruled that the shofar be
blown during the Rosh Hashanah ‘Mussaf’ prayer (because it can be
recited after noon) and it was likewise instituted that the
“Malchuyot,” “Zichronot,” and “Shofarot” blessings be recited in the
Mussaf prayer. And even after the enemy’s decree was annulled, the
Jews did not go back to blowing the shofar in the morning prayers for
fear that the decree be reintroduced. This is how it became
established that the shofar be blown during the Rosh Hashanah Mussaf
prayer.
The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the enemies once heard Jews blowing
the shofar during morning prayers. They thought it was a war cry and
attacked the worshipers, killing many of them. Therefore, the sages
instituted that the shofar be blown during the Mussaf prayers. Their
reasoning was that if the adversary saw Jews praying and reading from
the Torah, and then praying again and blowing the shofar, they would
understand that the Jews are occupied with prayer and religious
duties, not war cries. If, however, the shofar was blown earlier on in
the day, it is not recognizable that this is part of the prayer.
Later, the sages instituted another ordinance, that shofar blasts be
sounded just prior to the Mussaf service. These blasts are called
“tekiyot meyushav” (“sitting blasts”) because they are not the most
important blasts and therefore, according to the letter of the law, it
is permitted to sit during them.
In the Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a) a question is raised by
Rabbi Yitzchak: “Why do we sound a ‘tekiyah’ and ‘teruah’ while
sitting and then again sound a ‘tekiyah’ and ‘teruah’ while standing?”
He answers that we do this “to confuse the Satan.” Rashi explains that
when “the Satan” hears how Israel cherishes the commandments by
blowing more shofar blasts than required by the Torah, his accusations
will be silenced.

The Ran understands “the Satan” to be a person’s own evil inclination,
and by sounding many shofar blasts our hearts are humbled and we are
able to concentrate better on our prayers, for it is well known that
shofar blasts awaken a person to repentance. We have learned, then,
that already according to the Talmud, the custom was to blow sixty
shofar blasts. Later on, the Mystics of Safed began to adopt the
teachings of the Holy Ari, which call for 100 blasts.

Proper Intention During the Shofar Blasts

The sages mention numerous reasons and ideas behind the commandment of
the shofar blowing, from the most straightforward, i.e. that it stirs
the heart to repentance, and that we use a ram’s horn in order to
recall the binding of Isaac, to the most sublime Kabbalistic
meditations.
I would like to mention here an explanation that contains both depth
and simplicity. The Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that the first
shofar blast in every order of blasts expresses the soul’s natural
goodness; it represents the newborn child, untainted by sin, clean and
pure. When the child grows, he becomes exposed to the complications
and the crooked ways of this world, he struggles and is tested; he
also falls and sins. This is expressed via the ‘teruah’, through
moaning and sobbing over the failures that taint our character and the
transgressions we become entangled in. The order finishes with a final
simple shofar blast, which again expresses man’s virtue and goodness,
but this time after repentance, after requesting forgiveness.

Finally, at the conclusion of all of the blasts, we blow a single long
blast that expresses the end of all struggles and hardships, the final
rectification. The greatness of a penitent is that after sin and
failure he achieves a state of completeness, as a person enriched by
trials, and despite everything, has succeeded in overcoming all
obstacles to refine his soul. In this regard, the sages say, “In the
place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot
stand” (Tractate Berakhot 34b).

Various Laws

Men alone are commanded to hear the blowing of the shofar, and this is
because it is a positive, time-bound commandment. Even though,
strictly speaking, women are exempt from hearing the shofar, almost
all women make a practice of fulfilling this commandment voluntarily.
It is important to remember that in order to fulfill this commandment,
it is not enough to merely hear the blasts. One who hears the shofar
blasts must intend by so doing to fulfill the Torah commandment to
hear the shofar. This is because we follow the opinion that
commandments must be accompanied by proper intention.
It is forbidden to talk from the time the blessings are recited over
the shofar blowing until the completion of the blasts, so that speech
not constitute an interruption between the blessing and the
fulfillment of the commandment.
If one synagogue has a good prayer leader and a poor shofar blower,
and another synagogue has a poor prayer leader and a good shofar
blower, it is preferable to go to the synagogue where one will
unquestionably fulfill his obligation to hear the shofar blown in
keeping with Jewish law.

The Story of the "Unetaneh Tokef" Prayer (Part 2)

Rosh Hashanah in the Mainz Synagogue

“After these things, the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah
arrived.” He rolled in torment. From one such wound it was difficult
to recover in those days because of infections, blood poisoning,
swelling, and abscesses. Yet he had twenty such wounds. This was no
quick death. For many days his body was inflamed, languishing,
bleeding, and he could see and feel everything. He writhed. This was
the punishment. The oppressors knew very well that a quick death would
be an act of compassion. And so, he lay this way, in his sickness, his
suffering, with the knowledge that his death was approaching. And
here, “the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah arrived.”

“He asked his relatives to bring him to the synagogue with all of his
dismembered organs and place him by the prayer leader, and they did
this.” We can well image the atmosphere in the synagogue. Everybody
knew what had happened to Rabbi Amnon, and now, here, they were
bringing him in on a stretcher, and placing him next to the prayer
leader at the head of the congregation.

“And as the prayer leader was about to to say the Kedusha prayer,
‘VeChayot Asher Hena,’ Rabbi Amnon said, ‘Wait a moment and I will
sanctify the great God.’ And then he said in a loud voice, ‘And so the
Kedushah prayer shall ascend to you,’ i.e., that I have sanctified
Your name upon Your kingship and Your unification. Then he said
‘Unetaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom,’ (‘Let us now relate the power of this
day’s holiness).” Now he was able to relate the power of this day’s
holiness.

“Then he said, ‘It is true that You alone are the One Who judges,’ in
order to declare God’s acts as just, that God take note of these
dismembered fingers and toes and the whole episode. And he mentioned
‘and everyone’s signature is in it’ and ‘consider the soul of all the
living,’ because it was thus decreed upon him on Rosh Hashanah, and
when he finished the entire prayer (“siluk”), he passed away
(nistalek).”

A “siluk” is a liturgical poem. In Aramaic it means an ascension. Any
such poem in prayer is called a “siluk” because its purpose is to
elevate the supplicant to a higher level. “And when he finished the
entire prayer, he passed away.” “Nistalek” has a similar meaning,
i.e., that he ascended to the upper world.

“And he disappeared from the world before the eyes of all, for God
took him, and regarding him it says, ‘Oh how great is Your goodness,
which You have hidden away for those who fear You’ (Psalms 31:20).” It
would appear that immediately after he finished his prayer his soul
ascended to Heaven.

The plain description of this event is shocking. How is it possible to
torture an individual of such greatness who is completely innocent?
After all, he did not wish to be a king, ruler, governor, or
plantation owner. He merely wished to live according to his faith. For
having performed no injustice he was tortured in the most painful
manner. Yet he accepted this decree and sanctified God.

The Accurate Version

The congregation in the synagogue was no doubt startled. This man’s
prayer as he lay dying on his bed and his subsequent death left them
shaken, and they could not accurately recall all of his words.

“After these things, wherein Rabbi Amnon was elevated and called to
the Academy on High, on the third day after his sanctification, he
appeared in a dream of Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi Meshullam ben Rabbi
Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos, and he taught him this prayer, ‘Unetaneh
Tokef Kedushat Hayom,’ and he commanded him to send it to the entire
Diaspora, that it should serve as a testimony and a remembrance. And
the rabbi did this.”

It is interesting to note that a version of the prayer “Unetaneh
Tokef” with minor differences was discovered in the Cairo Geniza.
Apparently this prayer was sent from Ashkenaz to many communities in
the exile, and it was even sent to Cairo. And indeed, the prayer also
reached the communities of Spain, though it did not commanded so
central a role in their prayers as it did in Ashkenazi liturgy.

Born of Torment

It is the torment itself that gives birth to the prayer “Unetaneh
Tokef Kedushat Hayom.” What depth of soul and what power of spirit are
called for in order to create such a wonderful prayer while in a state
of extreme pain. Sensitive, gentle, exact, and clear:

“Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome
and frightening. On it Your kingship will be exalted.”

Not the kingship of the governor, not that of the king, and not that
of the kaiser. Sanctity is the kingship!

“And your throne will be firmed with kindness, and You will sit upon
it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves,
knows, and bears witness; who writes and seals, (counts and
calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the
Book of Chronicles – it will read itself, and everyone’s signature is
in it.”

Rabbi Amnon can no longer sign his name, but his signature is in the
Book of Chronicles on high, Rabbi Amnon declares God’s actions as just
and accepts them lovingly, and sanctifies God:

“The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be
heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them –
and they say, ‘Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the
heavenly host for judgment!’ – for they cannot be vindicated in Your
eyes in judgment. All mankind will pass before You like members of the
flock.”

One mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that these terrible killers
will be absolved, that God forgets. Everybody, from an angel to the
very last of creatures, will be judged. God is the seeing shepherd. It
is not the bishop, or “episcopus,” who oversees matters. It is not the
governor that rules and controls things.

“Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his
staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the
soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all
Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.”

The Secret to Jewish Survival

The threat which hovered over the Jewish communities was terrible.
From period to period mass murders were carried out, and in the midst
of such events there were frightening stories not unlike that of Rabbi
Amnon. During the time of the Crusades, about seventy ears after the
death of Rabbi Amnon, terrifying massacres took place in Ashkenaz.
Jews were ordered to abandon their faith or face death, and thousands
died sanctifying God’s name. During the calamities, neither
possessions nor intellect were of any avail in helping the Jews save
their lives.

In the eyes of their foes, a Jew’s life was worthless. It did not
matter whether it was a man, woman, or child. Such harsh conditions
normally cause nations and communities to disintegrate and disappear,
or, at least, to be rendered an insignificant element. This, however
is not the case with the Jews. Jewry commanded a central position in
European culture, and also in the Islamic lands. Members of the Jewish
community were shining examples, full of intelligence and wisdom,
poetry and knowledge.

The secret of Jewish survival is connected to self-sacrifice in
sanctification of God. Attachment to faith until the end, spiritual
might beyond description. Rabbi Amnon’s story is not an exception;
there were hundreds and thousands like him. The willingness to receive
upon oneself manners of torture which are hard to even imagine, this
was the means to survival! This is the wonder of the sanctification of
God’s name. This is the secret of maintaining an existence full of
vitality.

Who created this wonderful prayer? Not the handsome and striking Rabbi
Amnon, but the stricken, tortured, infected, and poisoned Rabbi Amnon,
as he lay on his deathbed. Could one imagine anything more astounding
than this? How is it possible that states of such darkness and terror
gave rise to the Tosafists, the commentators, the liturgical poets,
the Kabalists, the sages and the righteous, people who knew how to aid
and show compassion upon others.

This heritage has continued for thousands of years, since the Binding
of Isaac and the Egypt bondage, events which gave birth to the nation
which would stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive the Torah.
During the course of generations an especially unique Israeli identity
has crystallized with an inestimable capacity for perseverance,
capacity for creativity containing morality and greatness, vision and
anticipation of better days, the days of the Messiah.

This is the inner continuity of Jewish history, despite all of the
geographical and political twists and turns which the Jewish people
have experienced since the time it was settled on the soil of the Land
of Israel and throughout the long period of exile, dispersed and
dismembered amongst the nations – humiliated and contemptible, yet
towering and extraordinary.

Addendum
Most of the above article was given as a lecture by my knowledgeable
friend, Rabbi Zeev Sultanovitch, at the Har Bracha Yeshiva. It will
appear in its entirety in the second volume of the “Bina Le-Itim”
series which will be published, God willing, this coming winter. This
volume will focus on the period following the Mishna until the end of
the period of the Early Authorities (“Rishonim”). After this, there
will appear two volumes on the modern era.

Translations of the “Unetaneh Tokef ” prayer in the above article were
take from the Artscroll Yom Kippur prayerbook.

Guest Article by Cherna Moskowitz

The following article, which recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post,
was written by Cherna Moskowitz, who, along with her husband Dr.
Irving Moskowitz, are long-time friends and supporters of Yeshiva Har
Bracha. The importance and timeliness of the article speaks for
itself.

This is Our Place, So Mind Your Manners
By Cherna Moskowitz

When my husband Irving was a young man he would go door-to-door around
Milwaukee with a Jewish National Fund blue box collecting money to
redeem property in the Land of Israel. Although it was during the
Depression, everyone put in what they could afford: pennies, nickels
and dimes.
In the 19th century, wealthy Jews like Rothschild were purchasing
large tracts of land for Jews to settle in the Holy Land. The
synagogue Ohel Yitzhak in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City,
abandoned in 1938 after waves of Arab violence – which we recently
rebuilt – was originally built and paid for by European Jews in the
1880’s. For thousands of years Jews dreamed of Israel and in the last
centuries all Jews took part in the effort to reclaim the land and
support Jews who lived there.
This is a part of the Jewish tradition: charity for the poor and
reclaiming the land of our country. It was perfectly normal for Irving
and me to continue to fulfill these mitzvoth. It was the driving force
behind Irving’s quest to work hard to continue the tradition.
How did this become world news, fodder for riots and outraged
pronouncements from foreign leaders?
We were both born in the United States and experienced anti-Semitism
while growing up. However, we were secure in the knowledge that our
government would ensure our equal rights to live in any neighborhood
in any part of the country we wished. We believed that if it was
legal, the full force of the government would protect us regardless of
the fact that we were Jews.
How is it then that President Barack Obama demands that the Israeli
government disallow the Shepherd Hotel a building permit because Jews
would live there? Christians and Muslims yes, Jews no. This is clearly
racist. Furthermore, this would deprive us as American citizens of our
constitutional rights to equal protection of the law.
It seems to be a continuation of a 2,000-year-old habit of Jews being
told where they can and cannot live. This spanned from the ghettos of
medieval Europe, to severe zoning restrictions in czarist Russia and
finally to the edicts of Nazism, where we were eventually told that we
could not live at all.
Can it be possible that we will accept any part of that today in our
own nation? Jews should be able to live anywhere in the world. The
question should be: “Is the purchase legal and are the permits in
order?” Not “what faith do the families living there follow?”
The British Consulate, located near the Shepherd Hotel, also objected
to Jews building on our property there. This while construction on
several nearby Arab-owned buildings is currently in progress. Someone
should remind the British Consulate that there is no longer a British
Mandate. I don’t mind if they don’t come over with a pot of tea, but
at least they should remember that they are guests of the Jewish state
and behave in a civilized and neighborly way.

The writer is the president of the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation and
serves on the board of numerous prominent organizations both in Israel
and abroad.

The Story of the "Unetaneh Tokef" Prayer (Part 1)

Transmitters of the Tradition of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz

The tragic story of the events leading up to the composition of the
liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” is brought in the work Or Zarua,
which was written by one of Judaism’s leading early Torah authorities,
Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe of Vienna.

Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna, who lived from 4940-5010 (1189-1250), was a
student of Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel and a number of other Tosafists in
Ashkenaz (Germany). He was considered one of the leading authorities
of his generation, disseminating Torah in Bohemia (today’s Czech
Republic), and, during his last years, in Vienna. It was there that he
died at the age of seventy. Amongst his many students was Rabbi Meir
ben Baruch, known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, who, in his later
years, was considered the leading rabbi in all of Ashkenaz.

The work Or Zarua is considered one of the most important books of
Jewish law written by early Ashkenazi scholars and often cites
preceding authorities. Chapter 276, the Laws of Rosh Hashanah, cites:
“From the handwriting of Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn ben Rabbi Yaakov [we
learn] that Rabbi Amnon of Mainz established ‘Unetaneh Tokef’ because
of the terrible incident which he experienced.”

Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, born in 4893 (1133), was the student of Yoel
HaLevi and seceded him in his position as rabbinic chief justice. He
wrote Tosafot, legal responsa, and commentaries to blessings and other
customs. He also composed liturgical poems, of which about twenty-five
have come down to us. Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna was too late to learn
directly from Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, but he studied his legal
writings, which constituted a kind of collection of Torah lessons from
his mentors.

At the end of the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz mention is made of a
Rabbi who lived at that time and who received the exact version of
“Unetaneh Tokef” in a dream. This was “Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi
Meshullam ben Rabbi Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos.” Rabbi Klonimos was
known to many, and his name is mentioned in books of Jewish law. Based
upon his name, the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz is estimated as
having taken place around 4780 (1020), about seventy years before the
decrees of 4856, during which the large massacres which accompanied
the First Crusade took place. In other words, Or Zarua recorded an
event which took place about two hundred years before his time.

Mainz

The Mainz Jewish community was one of the three largest and oldest
communities in Ashkenaz, which were known collectively by the acronym
“Shum” – Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. Mainz was the oldest of the three
communities. The Klonimos family, which came from northern Italy,
established a large talmudic academy there, and from it grew the
Jewish community of Ashkenaz.

Non-Jewish sources from that period note that the city of Mainz was
controlled by a bishop-governor. This fact is confirmed by the account
of Or Zarua and lends strength to the accuracy of the narrative.

That city was ruled by a senior clergyman, and therefore the ruler was
known by the title of governor or bishop. Bishop is from the Greek
“episcopus” which means “overseer” and “watcher.” At that time, there
were quite a few cities that were given over to the control of the
church by one of the kings in return for a pardoning of sins, or in
order that the church pray for him. Only hundreds of years later was
secular rule reestablished in Mainz.

The Connection Between the Governor and Rabbi Amnon of Mainz

This is how Or Zarua relates what transpired:
“Here is the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who was the leading Torah
sage in his generation, wealthy, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome,
and who the ministers and governors began to attempt to convert – yet
he refused to listen to them.”

It appears that the governor of Mainz at that time was interested in
attaining wisdom and in learning about the sources of Christianity.
Most clergymen were ignorant, and very few enjoyed attaining wisdom
and speaking with the Jewish scholars. The Jews had little choice but
to agree and to maintain good relations with the governor. And so they
would meet in order to talk from time to time. As time went by, the
governor and the ministers began speaking with Rabbi Amnon. They did
not use force; they “merely” requested that he abandon his faith:

“They spoke to him day after day, but he would not listen to them, and
the governor implored him. When they became insistent with him, he
replied, ‘Let me take council and consider the matter for three days.
He did this in an attempt to repel them.”

Such discussions were carried out in a calm and routine manner,
however, every such discussion involved repeated petition and request.
They met on a daily basis. The educated church leaders were looking
for company on their own level. The Jews, especially the Jewish sages,
were potential partners as far as they were concerned. Furthermore,
every governor considered it a challenge to cause a Jewish sage to
abandon his faith and convert to Christianity.

The church heads learned from their own sacred books that the founders
of the church, aware of the fact that the Jews are the people of God,
targeted the Jews for conversion, but the Jews rejected them. The
resulting frustration was great. Therefore, great efforts were
invested, sometimes by sweet enticement, sometimes by force, to cause
a Jew – and how much more so a Jewish scholar – to disparage his faith
and become Christian.

Rabbi Amnon is Forced to Establish Relations with the Governor

It is clear, then, what interest the governor had in forming relations
with Rabbi Amnon. He wanted the company of an educated man, and he
also harbored the hidden hope of convincing the rabbi to abandon his
faith. Yet what interest did Rabbi Amnon have? After all, he had no
need of the knowledge or wisdom of the governor.

It must be understood, however, that we are dealing with a small
Jewish community in the midst of a hostile non-Jewish environment. The
Jews had no choice but to depend upon the kindness of the ruler, for
he was the only individual who could defend them from the anger of mob
or the scheming of the knights. The Jews had no rights per se. There
were no soldiers or fighters in their midsts. They had no ministers
that could use their authority to protect the community. They were
few. They had no allies that would come to their defense from
elsewhere.

The plight of the Jewish communities was dismal to say the least.
Their entire physical wellbeing was dependent upon the goodwill of the
ruler, for with the aid of his soldiers and by the laws which he laid
down, he was able to protect them. Therefore, it was to the benefit of
a Jewish sage or leader to see to it that relations with the governor
remain positive and stable. This is what allowed the community as a
whole to exist in relative tranquility: to pay their taxes and to lead
a normal life of commerce, craft, Torah study, and preservation of
community institutions.

Rabbi Amnon had to protect the community, and it followed that he
could not reject the governor in a harsh manner. Such relations, in
various places and in various periods, were extremely delicate, like
explosives. The fonder a leader was of his Jewish subjects, the
greater the pressure upon him to convert them. Noncompliance with the
imploring of such leaders would be interpreted as ungratefulness,
betrayal. The Jew would have to navigate with great skill, walk on the
razor’s edge; he could neither get too close nor distance himself too
greatly. The slightest slip could result in a serious blow to the
existence of the Jewish community.

The Pressure Mounts

After many days and repeated requests, the situation became worse. The
governor and his ministers applied much pressure and it was difficult
to reject them outright. Therefore, Rabbi Amnon asked to to be given a
number of days to take council and consider the offer. This is a
reasonable response. It is an acceptable request. Until now, the
course of things is understandable and expected, especially when we
take into account the stress of survival.

Jewish Survival

We now arrive at a most incredible development in our story. This
development can explain how it is that Judaism has succeeded in
surviving amidst a sea of hatred and scheming. Not only has Judaism
survived, but it has amassed great spiritual power.

Rabbi Amnon, in his personality, represents the entire Community of
Israel. He is wise, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome. He is a man of
many virtues. If he had agreed to convert, he himself could have
become a governor. He had all of the necessary traits. There is only
one thing he could not be even if he were to accept the governor’s
offer – he could not be himself. He could become a minister or an
important clergyman, but the Jew in him would not survive. The Jew
would not live. This is what rested on the balance:

“And it happened that as soon as he parted with the governor, he
reflected upon his having voiced uncertainty, that he was in need of
council or time to think over the question of disavowing the living
God.”

His Judaism was his complete essence, his entire being. How could he
have made such a statement? True, there is great importance in
securing the necessities of physical existence, peace and quiet. But
what does it involve? It is even possible that somebody in the world
should think that this matter calls for taking council or
consideration?

“He Would Not Be Comforted”

“He returned home and he was unable to eat or drink, and he became
ill. All of his relatives and friends came to comfort him, but he
would not be comforted, for he said, ‘I will go down to the grave
mourning because of what I said.’ And he cried and became very
depressed. And it came to pass that on the third day, as he was
paining and distraught, the governor sent for him, and he responded,
saying, ‘I will not go.’ And the oppressor sent many additional
ministers, more prestigious than they, yet he refused to go to him.
And the governor said, ‘Go quickly and bring Amnon against his will.’
And they went quickly and brought him to the governor. And he said to
him, ‘What is this, Amnon? Why did you not come to me on the day that
you designated to me so that you could take council and give me an
answer and fulfill my will?

Note the words of the governor, “fulfill my will.” It is already clear
to him. If it is possible to consider and take council on this matter,
then the answer is clear. If it is possible to even think about
abandoning the Jewish faith, then there is every reason to arrive at
the “correct” conclusion. Why remain a persecuted minority, weak,
despised, denigrated, and subject to plunder when you possess wisdom,
good lineage, majesty? You have all of the important traits. Why be
satisfied with so little?

I Shall Determine My Own Sentence

“And Amnon answered, saying, ‘I shall determine my own sentence’” –
Indeed, I did not come to you, and I know that you are angry with me,
and because I have no intention of fulfilling your will, I know that
you will punish me. Yet, “I will determine my own sentence.” I will
decide what my punishment will be, because I misled you. I should not
have instilled false hope in you that I would abandon the Jewish
faith. True, I am to blame for this and I shall determine my own
sentence. Rabbi Amnon does not wish to endanger the entire community,
and therefore he endangers himself alone:

“The tongue which spoke and misled you shall be cut off” – now I
reveal to you that I only said what I did in order to repel you, and
this really was not correct, for you are the governor and ruler. This
tongue “shall be cut off.”

It is important to realize that under the tyrannies of that age such
punishments were accepted. They used to cut off people’s tongues,
noses, ears, and hands. But Rabbi Amnon had an additional reason to
decree such an awful punishment upon himself:

“For Rabbi Amnon desired to sanctify God for having spoken in such a
manner” – he wished to sanctify God in the eyes of the Jews, and,
indirectly, in the eyes of the non-Jews. He wished to make it clear to
all that a Jew who promises to somebody to consider abandoning his
faith can do nothing but disappoint. It is unthinkable. There is no
reason to think about such a thing. There is no point in trying to
persuade Jews into doing this.

The Decree of the Oppressor

“And the governor answered, saying, ‘No, the tongue shall not be cut
off, for you spoke well. Rather, the feet which did not come at the
time that you told me, they shall I cut off, and the rest of your body
I shall torture.’ And the oppressor gave the command and they cut off
his fingers and thumbs.”

Yet not all at once – “And with each finger they would ask him,
‘Perhaps now, Amnon, you would like to join our faith?’ And he
answered, ‘No.’” The axe was raised twenty times, on each finger and
toe. We are not talking here about the pain of the cut alone, but also
of the horrifying anticipation of the one to follow. And it is
possible to stop the process. He need just say the word. But Rabbi
Amnon repeats twenty times “No!” to the conversion proposal, twenty
times to continue with the cutting, to continue the torture, to
continue the irreversible damage to his body, and, in fact, the
hastening of his end.

“And when they finished the cutting, the wicked governor gave the
order to lay Rabbi Amnon in a bed and to place all of his dismembered
fingers and toes at his side and to send him to his home.” This was
done, of course, so that all see and become fearful. It was done to
show everybody what happens when one does not abide by the governor.

However, the transmitter of the story writes, “This is why he was
called Rabbi Amnon, for he had faith [“He’emin”; from the same Hebrew
root as “Amnon”] in the living God and suffered great torture lovingly
due to his faith, just because of that which left his mouth.

A Festival of Hate, Lies, and Falsification

Discrimination against the Settlers

Question: I usually agree with the logic in your words, Rabbi, but in
your last article I was surprised. How, from a discussion about the
rising violence in the streets of Israel, did you once again arrive at
the problems between the settlers and the Arabs? We’ve gotten used to
the Left, who twist every discussion and blame all the problems on the
settlers. Do we also have to act this way and blame the rising crime
rate on the discrimination against the settlers?

Answer: Indeed, in opposition to one another are the good and the bad,
and therefore, don’t be surprised that the claims of the evil are
similar, although in reverse, to the claims of the righteous.
The question is: how to differentiate between the good and the evil,
between the truth and the lies.
First of all, according to basic tendencies – the evil deny that God
chose Israel and commanded us to live in the Land of Israel, while the
righteous believe He did. The evil support terrorist organizations
whose goal is to murder and destroy; the righteous support the
settlers who are making the desolate land blossom.
Secondly, by checking the facts – who are lying, and who are telling
the truth. The damage that a small group of settlers cause the Arabs
doesn’t amount to even one percent of the crime carried out in the
Arab sector, therefore those who claim that this one percent is the
problem, while ignoring ninety-nine percent of the crimes, is lying,
for distorting reality is a lie.

Festival of Hate and Lies Surrounding the Olive Harvest

Soon the olive harvesting season will arrive, and people from the
Left, led by the Reform Rabbi Asherman, will once again begin their
festival of hate and lies against the settlers who disturb the
harvesting, and once again we will hear harsh curses in the media
against the settlers.
The story begins with the fact that the Arabs murdered hundreds of
settlers, and as a result of this, there are settlers who do not want
Arabs to come near the settlements without close guard by soldiers;
and there are those who want to prevent the harvesting as a punishment
for routine harassment of the settlements by the Arabs.
In any case, the cost of all the olives in discussion comes to no more
than 10 million shekels. On the other hand, every day and every hour,
Arabs carry out enormous amounts of robberies, at the cost of billions
of shekels a year. They steal from farmers herds of sheep, cows,
calf’s, beehives, tractors, fruit crates, plows, forklifts, irrigation
systems, water sprinklers, fences, banisters, electricity poles,
trees, seedlings, and anything they can grab. From the cities and
settlements they steal cars, motorcycles, bicycles, carriages, and
electronic devices; all this in addition to drug dealing, tax evasion,
and the trampling of building codes. Unfortunately, there are also
Jewish criminals; however the percentage of crime in the Arab sector
is approximately four times greater — the farmers who live next to
Arab villages can testify to this. And let no one try to play dumb and
claim that all this isn’t caused by nationalistic motives. This is
methodical crime which receives wide backing from the Arab street.
Therefore, when the discussion of the day centers around a few olive
orchards, but the systematic crimes against Jews at the cost of
billions of shekels is ignored, this can be called the annual festival
of lies, which wraps itself in a false cloak of ‘defending property’,
but in fact, its essence is to persecute the settlers who came to make
the desolate areas blossom, as God spoke through His Prophets.

Deterioration

If this was the order of preferences of only some Left-wing people, it
would be bearable. If it were only the media who joined them, it would
be difficult, but even then we could overcome. But when this becomes
the hierarchy of values for the Supreme Court and the chiefs of the
police, this is a sign that the deterioration has spread throughout
the system. It is only in the merit of some simple policemen who still
remember what justice is all about that a certain lawful conduct
remains in Jewish surroundings. But concerning farmers and business
owners who live next to Arab villages, the police are helpless. In
order to save their property, at least temporarily, Jewish farmers and
businessmen are forced to pay protection money to criminals. The
problem is that the price of protection only increases until it
becomes unaffordable. And after all this, the only thing left for the
judicial system, the media, and the Left-wing demonstrators to concern
themselves with is that the settlers are wild, and therefore must be
discriminated against and punished severely.

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
them.
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
Diaspora.

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
Year.
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
request.”

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
study.
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
way.

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.