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Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

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Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Sunday 1:00PM
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Course Description

In this course we will take an in-depth look at Ein Ayah, Rav Kook’s commentary on the aggadot (anecdotal texts) of the Talmud. We will focus on the aggadot of Massechet Shabbat to gain a stronger understanding of the lessons one can learn from the stories in the text.


Torah learning on WebYeshiva.org in Spring Semester 2017 is dedicated in the memory of Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel z”l by their loving family.     יחזקאל בן אשר למל ושאשא יוכבד ז”ל ושרה מניה פייגע בת יום טוב וטשארנה רבקה ז”ל

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About Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman
Rabbi Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. Since 1989 he has been studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.

Class Resources & Information

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April 23, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    Here is a review of yesterday's shiur on the עין איה.

   The Gemarah in masechet Shabbat discusses how  three different  Amoraim prepared themselves for prayer. רבא בר רב הונא would put on special shoes before he prayed. He explained that he did so to prepare himself for meeting Hashem, as is written:

עמוס פרק ד

 ...הִכּוֹן לִקְרַאת אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

רבא on the other hand would remove his special cloak, fold his hands together and pray. He explained that he viewed himself while praying as a slave before his master.

Finally, Rav Ashi said that he saw Rav Kahanah pray. When there was suffering in the world, then Rav Kahanah would follow the practice of רבא. When times were good he would follow the practice of   רבא בר רב הונא.

    Rashi in his commentary explains that each rabbi's practice reflected his feeling towards prayer. רבא בר רב הונא felt that it was important to dress before prayer in a manner that befits an important occasion while רבא felt that wearing a fine cloak would be inappropriate when seeking something from God. Rav Kook expands on these ideas.

   Rav Kook writes that prayer has two aspects. We praise Hashem in our prayers (רינה) and we petition Hashem in our prayers (בקשה). Prayers which focus on praise of Hashem are ecstatic and lead to a great outburst of love for Hashem. Ecstatic love needs to be watched carefully. It has often happened that people became carried away by their love for Hashem and came to think that they have a "special relationship" with God. They convinced themselves that the mitzvoth were only given to us to teach us self-control. The goal of the mitzvoth is to allow us to reach the level of comprehension which leads to the love of Hashem. Once we reach that level, their thinking goes, the mitzvoth are no longer needed.

    This idea is of course wrong. The mitzvoth are always binding. There is no "end" to the comprehension which we can reach regarding Hashem who is infinite. The more we understand about Hashem the more we need to take care in our observance of mitzvoth. Chazal teach us כל הגדול מחברו יצרו גדול מחברו. This is why רבא בר רב הונא took such pains to wear the correct shoes when he prayed. רבא בר רב הונא prayed ecstatically, saying the praises of Hashem. But רבא בר רב הונא     was sensitive to the need to praise Hashem out of a sense of awe and respect. That is why he paid attention to something as trivial as his footwear. To fail to wear the right shoes would have been a sign of disrespect for Hashem which would have led to others as well, and רבא בר רב הונא  was careful about not falling into that trap.

    רבא prayed, as Rashi explained with an attitude that differed from that of  רבא בר  רב הונא. רבא prayed while oppressed by the needs of the time. He needed to free himself of those concerns in order to pray properly. By removing his formal cloak and folding his hands together he was showing that he understood that all that he needed was not in his control. On the contrary human effort is insignificant and everything in this world is given by Hashem. This attitude frees a person from worry and allows him to reach the level of prayer which is based on the praise of Hashem.[1]

    רבא בר רב הונא  and רבא had particular and apparently fixed attitudes towards prayer. Rav Kook notes that most of us do not have such fixed spiritual traits. The best way for a person to know how to pray, either with a sense of joy or as a slave seeking a gift, is to look at the world. If the world is in trouble then by all means pray as a servant and seek Hashem's aid. If the world is at peace then the person should free himself of his worries and pray joyously. This was the practice of Rav Kahanah.

   I hope you enjoyed the shiur. Stuart Fischman

[1] It seems to me ( and I may be mistaken) that Rav Kook zt"l gives primacy to "spiritual" prayers as opposed to prayer which focuses on the person's needs. I mentioned in the shiur that Rav Soloveitchik zt"l in his essay רעיונות על התפילה"" wrote that there is no need to apologize for asking Hashem to help us when we need His assistance and that this sort of prayer is totally appropriate.


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April 30, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    In today's shiur in the עין איה we saw how Rav Kook zt"l understood the balance between study of Torah and prayer.

    The study of Torah and prayer are two of the most intimate ways that a person communicates with Hashem. With the former, the person applies his or her mind to understanding Hashem's law as expressed in the Torah. With the latter a person pours out his or her thoughts and wishes to Hashem. That there is a tension between the two mitzvoth is almost inevitable. Both mitzvoth can demand all of a person's energies. When the mitzvoth are taken seriously the question arises to which mitzvah should a person devote his or energies; to the mitzvah which engages the mind or the mitzvah which engages the heart?

    This question is the focus of several stories in the Gemarah and has been dicussed  down to our day. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l wrote an essay titled "איש ההלכה" which defended the scholars of Halacha against the charge that their focus on the study of Halacha leaves spiritually dead. On the other hand, Rav Kook zt"l who authored many Halachic monographs and hundreds of תשובות wrote that he found the study of Halacha spiritually  stifling. The passages in עין איה which we studied today were based on two stories which address the issue of study versus prayer, the head versus the heart:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף י עמוד א

רבא חזייה לרב המנונא דקא מאריך בצלותיה, אמר: מניחין חיי עולם ועוסקים בחיי שעה! - והוא סבר: זמן תפלה לחוד, וזמן תורה לחוד.

רבי ירמיה הוה יתיב קמיה דרבי זירא, והוו עסקי בשמעתא. נגה לצלויי, והוה קא מסרהב רבי ירמיה, קרי עליה רבי זירא: מסיר אזנו משמע תורה גם תפלתו תועבה.

In both stories we see tension between a sage who wished to pray and another sage who views prayer as interfering with the study of Torah.

    Rav Kook explains that the first story about the exchange between Rava and Rav Hamnunah was a debate between two different types of religious personalities. The study of Torah gives the student  greater and clearer insights into Hashem. This development of the intellect is priceless. Prayer on the other hand does not lead to new insights. Rather prayer deepens the religious understanding  which a person already possesses. It develops sensitivity and feeling.

    Our souls live on after our deaths and they take with them all the Torah that we have studied during our lives. Our feelings and our emotions however die with us. Rava rebuked Rav Hamnunah for spending too much time with his prayers because the time spent developing the soul could be better spent on developing the mind. The eternal  is more valuable than the ephemeral. Rav Hamnunah replied to Rava that there are people whose emotional lives are bound up with their intellectual lives. Yes, Torah is the most important value in the Halachic system, but there is a need to balance the legitimate needs of the heart with the demands of the mind. Hence the statement of Rav Hamnunah- זמן תורה לחוד זמן תפלה לחוד.

   There is a body of thought which claims that people have an innate spiritual sensitivity. The proponents of this idea would like to see everyone engage in spontaneous prayer as the spirit moves them. Rigid systems of religious behavior, such as the Halacha, are at best unnecessary and at worst oppress those who would wish to express themselves to God freely.

    Rav Kook, for all that he appreciated and endorsed spiritual expression explains that untrammeled spirituality is not a good thing. We humans need to constantly be aware that when we pray we are addressing our Creator. This is what רבי זירא pointed out to רבי ירמיה when the latter wished to end their lesson so that רבי זירא could pray. רבי זירא  quoted a verse from משלי:

משלי פרק כח פסוק ט

מֵסִיר אָזְנוֹ מִשְּׁמֹעַ תּוֹרָה גַּם תְּפִלָּתוֹ תּוֹעֵבָה:

Even a person such as רבי ירמיה who could never be accused of being one who is "מסיר אזנו משמע תורה" needs to understand that his yearning to pray, to speak with Hashem, needs to be balanced by the intellect as guided by the Torah.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

   A happy יום העצמאות to all.

Stuart Fischman

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May 7, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Here is a summary  of yesterday's shiur on  עין איה.

   There is a remarkable story in מסכת שבת. A man's wife passed away, leaving him with an infant who required nursing. The man was very poor and could not afford to hire a nurse. Hashem made a miracle for this man. The man developed breasts and nursed the baby himself. The Gemarah records a difference of opinion regarding the man and the miracle which was performed for him:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נג עמוד ב

אמר רב יוסף בא וראה כמה גדול אדם זה שנעשה לו נס כזה

אמר לו אביי אדרבה כמה גרוע אדם זה שנשתנו לו סדרי בראשית

Rav Yosef felt that this miracle demonstrated that this man was truly great. Abayei felt that the opposite was true. The fact that Hashem would only send him miraculous support as opposed to providing him with more conventional help proved that he was an unworthy individual.

   Rav Kook[1] zt"l explains these two divergent perspectives on the role of miracles.

   Rav Kook explains that we ought to see the entire world and everything that happens as a series of miracles. Everything is a result of Hashem's guidance. Unfortunately we are so accustomed to the routine which follows the laws of nature that we have lost sight of the fact that the laws of nature were created by Hashem.

   Rav Yosef remarked when he heard about the man who developed breasts to nurse his baby: ".כמה גדול אדם זה"  We can understand that Hashem makes miracles for the exceptional individuals among us and that He makes miracles to rescue the Jewish people. But the man in this story was apparently not exceptional at all.[2] Rav Yosef taught that even though we fail to see anything exceptional in this father he must have great merit since Hashem made a miracle for him and his child. The lesson which this teaches us is that there is nothing in this world which is insignificant. Hashem in His wisdom saw that this man and his child at that moment and place needed to be saved miraculously, and so it happened. Rav Kook wrote that this is the taught by the verse:

תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ב

גְּדֹלִים מַעֲשֵׂי ה' דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל חֶפְצֵיהֶם:

Abayei disagreed with Rav Yosef's attitude towards this miracle.

אמר לו אביי אדרבה כמה גרוע אדם זה שנשתנו לו סדרי בראשית

Hashem created a world which operates with certain laws which we view as "nature." Miracles are the tool which Hashem uses to remind us that He is managing the world through the medium of nature. Miracles are impressive, but we should not become enamored of them. We should strive to see Hashem in nature. If a person is incapable of seeing Hashem in the everyday events that surround him then Hashem will make a miracle to make His presence felt. The person who needs a  miracle to see Hashem in his life is not worthy at all- כמה גרוע אדם זה.

    Rav Yehudah and Rav Nachman commented on the story:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נג עמוד ב

 אמר רב יהודה בא וראה כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם שנשתנו עליו סדרי בראשית

 אמר רב נחמן תדע דמתרחיש ניסא ולא אברו מזוני

Since the man was poor and the immediate need was for his infant son to be fed, Hashem could have of course provided the father with a conventional livelihood. Why did Hashem take the dramatic step of providing the father with breasts?

   Rav Yehudah and Rav Nachman taught on this basis " .כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם"

What are they teaching us with this observation? Rav Kook explains that Hashem created the world in such a way that we need to apply our greatest efforts towards making a living. The economic structure of our lives (and even the economic life of ancient Babylon) is immensely complex. For Hashem to intervene in the economy of a locale in order to provide a person with a livelihood would demand Divine intervention in a myriad of relationships. That is what Rav Yehudah meant when he remarked ".כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם"  That is the reason that Hashem chose to provide a man with breasts as opposed to improving the man's economic state. Creating breasts in a man required less tampering with the usual course of events than creating a successful business.

   Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Yesterday there was a problem with the shiur's web-platform which prevented many people from logging on and I apologize for the inconvenience.

Stuart Fischman



[1] We opened the shiur with the commentary of the משך חכמה to פרשת בחקתי because many of his ideas are echoed in Rav Kook's comments.

[2] Ms. Sinensky correctly observed that the miracle was performed for the baby and not for the father who remained poor. This point is also made by Rav Zilberstein shita"h in his commentary חשוקי חמד.


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May 14, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Here is a summary of yesterday's shiur on the עין איה of Rav Kook zt"l. I am happy to be able to report that there were no technical problems with WebYeshiva site so the shiur proceeded smoothly.

   The Gemarah says in masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב

ואמר רבי חנינא בקושי התירו לנחם אבלים ולבקר חולים בשבת

   The word "בקושי"  is quite odd in this context. Visiting the sick should be permitted or forbidden on Shabbat. If it is permitted, why is it permitted "with difficulty?" What is Rabbi Chaninah telling us by saying that visiting the sick is permitted "with difficulty?"

    Rav Kook says that what we need to know about Shabbat is taught in the chapter of Tehilim that is the שיר של יום of Shabbat:

תהלים פרק צב

(א) מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת:

(ב) טוֹב לְהֹדוֹת לַה' וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיוֹן:

(ג) לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת:

     Shabbat is the day of the week when we can allow ourselves to look at the creation in its entirety.  On Shabbat we need to allow ourselves to look at eternity and not just at the world that we see. The world which we inhabit has suffering and evil. It provokes thoughts along the lines of נח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא "." It is difficult to ignore the ugly sides of life but on Shabbat we need to live not in the present but in the future. As Rav Kook says:

"כל מי שיש בו דעה כאלו נבנה בית המקדש בימיו  העתיד יתיצב  נגד עיניו כמו שכבר הוא במציאות."

   The great benefit of Shabbat is the wealth of spiritual insight that the person gains from seeing the great future now.

   By visiting the sick we perform a great mitzvah. But the difficulty of visiting the sick and mourners on Shabbat is to put aside the painful sights and regain the tranquility needed to put the present aside and concentrate on the future.

   When we pray for the sick on Shabbat we don't actually request their recovery. What we say on Shabbat is:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב

 "...שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא..."

Why do we say "שבת היא מלזעוק"- what do we mean when we say that "we don't cry out on Shabbat?"

   Rav Kook explains that Hashem sends illness in order to urge a person to do teshuvah. The person stricken with illness turns to Hashem in prayer and is cured. But there are two types of prayer. One type of prayer focuses on the person's needs. The person who is ill prays for health, the person who is poor prays for a livelihood. There is nothing wrong with this type of prayer, but there is a higher level of prayer. A person can realize that whatever Hashem does is for the best. Truly, a person should accept whatever Hashem does since whatever Hashem is merciful. A person should only pray to be allowed to be a vehicle for performing God's will on Earth.[1]

    Only a very small number of people are  capable of reaching this higher level of prayer. To pray for one's needs is perfectly legitimate. What is expected from everyone is to pray differently on Shabbat. On Shabbat our work-related concerns weigh us down. On Shabbat we are able to shake those concerns off and contemplate Hashem's glory in prayer.

    When we achieve this sort of exalted prayer on Shabbat there may be a lurking thought in our minds. We   may think that by not praying for the recovery of our sick friend on Shabbat his or her recovery may be delayed. This, Rav Kook says, is not so. The spiritual height that is reached on Shabbat, the level of בטחון that we achieve by not praying for the recovery from illness elevetes all concerned and the person suffering from illness will receive his or her cure.

שבת היא מלזעוק- It is Shabbat and we do not cry out; ורפואה קרובה לבא- And healing comes swiftly.

     Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

     Stuart Fischman



[1]  We saw that Rav Soloveitchik zt"l in his essay "רעיונות על התפילה"  addressed this idea. He wrote that Rav Kook's ideal of selfless prayer was endorsed by the מקובלים but has no support from the Halachic literature. Rav Soloveitchik emphasized that our prayer book and especially the שמונה עשרה addresses human concerns and needs.


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May 21, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    In yesterday's shiur on עין איה we studied Rav Kook's explanation of a suggyah in masechet Shabbat.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף טו עמוד א

כשחלה רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי שלחו לו רבי אמור לנו שנים ושלשה דברים שאמרת (לנו) משום אביך שלח להם כך אמר אבא מאה ושמנים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית פשטה מלכות הרשעה על ישראל שמנים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית גזרו טומאה על ארץ העמים ועל כלי זכוכית ארבעים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית גלתה לה סנהדרין וישבה לה בחנויות למאי הילכתא אמר רבי יצחק בר אבדימי לומר שלא דנו דיני קנסות דיני קנסות סלקא דעתך אלא אימא שלא דנו דיני נפשות

The sages asked רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי  to share with them some historical facts that his father רבי יוסי passed  to him.[1] רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי  told the sages the dates of three events:

a) 180 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Romans occupied Israel.

b) 80 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis decreed that the countries bordering Israel were impure and that glass vessels are to be included in the laws of impurity.

c) 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin left their chambers on the Temple Mount. The reason for the move was to abandon jurisdiction in capital cases.

    What  did these three dates have in common? What do they teach?

   Rav Kook zt"l explained the connection between these  dates. The Rabbis knew that the Second Temple would not stand indefinitely. 180  years prior to its eventual destruction the sages of that era knew that they would need to prepare the people for a life in exile. The problem facing the sages was that no one shared their sense of urgency. In order to help the sages with their goal Hashem allowed the Romans to occupy their land. Once the Romans occupied Israel and the Jews began to lose their sovereignty the task facing the sages was sadly made easier. The erosion of political power led the people to understand that exile was a real possibility.

   As part of the preparation for exile the sages decreed impurity on חוץ לארץ as well as on glassware. When the situation of the Jews in Israel was positive there was no need to decree impurity on חוץ לארץ. However as the situation in Israel deteriorated and the people began to abandon Israel for neighboring countries the rabbis needed to  point out the negative attributes of the neighboring countries. Therefore, eighty years before the חורבן , the Rabbis  instructed the people  that חוץ לארץ is tainted . Ideally the rabbis could teach the people what is worthwhile in Israel without any need to build an identity based on negativity. This changed  with the  חורבן .The loyalty of the people to the land needed to be strengthened by pointing out the deficiencies of the neighboring countries which became our homes.

   Why was it important to decree impurity on glassware? The Torah speaks about the possible impurity of pottery, wooden and metal utensils, and textiles. Glassware was not in widespread use when the Torah was given so it is not discussed. As glassware became more widely used the rabbis needed to teach that the Halacha adapts to new circumstances. The Jewish people were facing new challenges and they needed to see that the Rabbis are aware and sensitive to the new circumstances.

    Finally, ר' ישמעאל ברבי יוסי taught that forty years prior to the חורבן the Sanhedrin abandoned the prerogative of passing death sentences. Why did they take this step?

    Rav Kook explains that societies need to be able to punish criminals. This is essential for the maintenance of order. But a healthy society needs to be led by a balance of joy and fear. A society governed only by fear of punishment will never achieve anything great. Fear paralyzes and stifles initiative.  Nevertheless, there does need to be an awareness that criminals will answer for their crimes.

    The balance of fear and joy would be changed by the חורבן. Jewish society would lose its autonomy. Society would no longer be held together by  an organized government with the authority to punish those who break the law according to the Torah's rules of justice. Instead of a nation bound together by laws it would be a nation held together by choice. Fear of punishment would no longer be relevant. The Sanhedrin therefore chose to suspend the ultimate punishment. Forty years before the חורבן the Sages began a program to lead  with love.

    This is a summary of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischman



[1] רבי יוסי was the author of the historical work, סדר עולם.


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May 28, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

  In yesterday's class we studied one of the most famous stories in the entire canon of Jewish literature, the story of the man who tried to make Hillel lose his temper.

    The story is introduced by a Talmudic dictum:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף ל עמוד ב

תנו רבנן לעולם יהא אדם ענוותן כהלל ואל יהא קפדן כשמאי

   At first glance this statement seems to be nothing more than some moral guidance based on the stories to follow. In those stories Hillel's patience is contrasted (favorably) with the exacting and demanding personality of Shammai. Rav Kook zt"l  in his commentary to this series of stories demonstrates that there is a much deeper meaning to this suggyah.

    Rav Kook zt"l  was in his own lifetime a figure of heroic stature. He combined greatness in Talmudic scholarship and exceptional piety with the soul of a poet and visionary. His love for the land of Israel and his passion to the land rebuilt with an ingathering of the Diaspora Jews led him to collaborate with pioneering Labor Zionists despite their total lack of empathy for the religious values that Rav Kook held so dearly. Rav Kook's willingness to work with the Zionists led to his being the object of loathing by the anti-Zionist elements of the Orthodox world. Nonetheless Rav Kook held fast to policy of encouraging and cooperating with the Labor Zionists.

    I think that Rav Kook explains his attitude towards the non-religious Zionists in his comments on this passage in masechet Shabbat  which we studied yesterday.

    Rav Kook says that there are necessarily two types of religious leaders. There are those who strive to see the good in everything. There are also those who see their role as instructive. Specifically they take upon themselves the responsibility to point out the boundary between the proper and the improper.

    According to Rav Kook it is the most significant  task of a person is  to see the latent good in every situation which he or she encounters and bring this latent good to realization. The religious person believes that there is good in  everything and Rav Kook  emphasizes that in order to bring the latent good to fruition it is worth the struggle and aggravation of dealing with the ugliness and vulgarity which conceals this hidden good. Rav Kook's contemporaries and people who have studied his life were and are amazed at what he was willing to put up with in order to help rebuild the land of Israel. We are used to thinking of tzadikim ( and Rav Kook was certainly a tzadik) as being incapable of  living with and working alongside people who openly scorn the Torah. But Rav Kook says this is a warped view of the tzadik's  perspective. Rav Kook says that the more elevated the tzadik's world-view is, the broader his intellect is, the easier it is for him to see the hidden good in which needs to be redirected towards appropriate goals. Redeeming the hidden good is the desire of every person whose heart is pure.

    What is the role of the second personality type? What is the role for the person who has an exacting religious sensibility and a very fixed idea of what is right and what is wrong? Rav Kook says that  the  community has a need for this sort of leader in order to balance what we can call the "over-enthusiasm"  of the first type of leader. The desire to see the good in everything may lead a person to tolerate  what is plainly loathsome because of the mistaken belief that this corrupt behavior has at its heart something pure.

    The society needs both types of leaders. However, the Gemarah teaches us that when we choose a role-model we should choose a Hillel over a Shammai.   The reason for this is that humility and  tolerance never hurt anybody. On the other hand misplaced religious exactitude leads to fanaticism and the disruption of a community's harmony.

    This is how Rav Kook explains the Gemara's teaching that we should follow the example of Hillel and not the example of Shammai.  I believe that that this explanation of Rav Kook is his personal אני מאמין"."

Happy Shavuot to everyone.

Stuart Fischman

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June 4, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class on עין איה we continued Rav Kook's commentary on the famous stories about הלל ושמאי.

   The Gemarah tells about three people who wished to convert to Judaism. Each potential convert first approached שמאי to discuss converting Judaism by presenting him with what appears to be a ridiculous request. The first convert, asked שמאי , "How many Torahs do you profess?" Shammai replied that we have two Torahs, a written one and an oral one. The convert then said that he believes Shammai regarding the written Torah but not regarding the oral Torah. Shammai sent the convert away angrily. The next convert asked Shammai to teach him the Torah while standing on one leg. Shammai chased the convert away with his ruler. The third convert asked Shammai to convert him to Judaism with the understanding that he would be appointed High Priest. Shammai sent this convert away as well.

    All three converts then approached Hillel. Hillel, with his patience heard each convert's question, converted the three of them, and succeeded to teach them Torah. The story of the three converts end with their saying:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לא עמוד א

קפדנותו של שמאי בקשה לטורדנו מן העולם ענוותנותו של הלל קרבנו תחת כנפי השכינה

   The story of the three converts is taught in Jewish grade schools. Shammai is presented as an irritable old man; the opposite of the saintly, kind-hearted Hillel. The three converts (as the story is taught to children) were trying to bait Shammai with their questions. In this fashion the three converts were not all that different from the man who wagered that he could make Hillel lose his temper (we studied that story last week).

    Rav Kook teaches these stories and points out their profundity. Far from being a story about three pranksters, Rav Kook shows that their questions were serious and were treated seriously by both Shammai and Hillel.

    The first convert asked Shammai how many Torahs does he have. The point to this question was that this convert realized that the Jewish religion has a wealth of profound knowledge. The convert thought that we would either have a single holy book with the teachings for the entire nation, or we would have many holy books which people would study based on their level of intellectual attainment.

    Shammai said that we have a single book which unites us. In addition we have a system of interpretation which people study and by means of which insights are gained in accordance with each student's comprehension.

    Significantly, the convert replied that he believes Shammai regarding the written Torah, but he does not believe him regarding the oral Torah. Rav Kook points out that the convert did not use words "accept/ not accept." Why did the convert use the word "believe?" Rav Kook explains that this convert was not attracted to Judaism because of the Torah's profundity. Rather he was attracted to Judaism because of the personalities of the sages of the Torah.[1] This convert wished to embrace the Torah without the hard work of studying its myriad interpretations. Because Shammai saw that the convert did not wish to plumb the depths of the Torah with his own hard work, he dismissed him.

   In this fashion Rav Kook explains the questions posed by each of the three converts. Each question is based on a particular theological premise which truly is incompatible with Jewish belief. That is why Shammai rejected them. Hillel though was able to see through the questions and understand that each convert possessed a sincere thirst to understand and accept the Torah.

    This is a summary of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated. Stuart Fischman

[1]  I think that it is worth noting that the converts approached Shammai before Hillel. It may be, as Rav Kook seems to indicate, that Shammai's personality was the more charismatic.


June 11, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class we completed the series of stories about the meeting of the three converts with Hillel and Shammai. The third convert approached Shammai  and asked to be converted on the condition that he be made High Priest. Shammai dismissed the convert out of hand but Hillel accepted him, taught him  and the convert accepted the Torah whole-heartedly.

   The Gemarah says that the convert blessed Hillel:

בא לפני הלל אמר לו ענוותן הלל ינוחו לך ברכות על ראשך שהקרבתני תחת כנפי השכינה

Rav Kook explains the meaning behind this apparently nice but not very profound blessing.

   The blessing opens by addressing Hillel's character (ענוותן) and his intellect (ראשך). Hillel was remarkably patient and this was due to his humility. But combined with his humility he had an equally remarkable ability to see the potential for good in every situation. This ability to see what others fail to see is the result of a great mind. Hillel had a great heart and a great mind.

   The convert thanked Hillel for bringing him beneath כנפי השכינה. Existing beneath the wings of the Shechinah implies that the threat to the convert would come from above. What did the convert mean by that?

    Rav Kook says that there are two types of spiritual dangers. There is the danger of physical temptations. These temptations appeals to our baser natures. They can be said to attack from beneath us. The second type of danger is intellectual. We can be lured away from the Torah by heretical ideologies. The convert to Judaism demonstrates that he or she is willing to search for new ideas that can provide meaning and spiritual richness to life. The person who is receptive to new ideas can never be sure that despite having adopted the Torah she won't be attracted later on to a different religion. The danger of abandoning the Torah is an intellectual one, it would attract the mind. This is the danger that comes from above. That is why the convert thanked Hillel for sheltering him beneath כנפי השכינה which protects him from the threats to his soul.

   We then saw another Gemarah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף כג עמוד ב

אמר רב הונא הרגיל בנר הויין ליה בנים תלמידי חכמים הזהיר במזוזה זוכה לדירה נאה הזהיר בציצית זוכה לטלית נאה הזהיר בקידוש היום זוכה וממלא גרבי יין

At first glance this Gemarah seems to be discussing the reward for mitzvoth along the lines of מידה כנגד מידה. Rav Kook sees something more here.

    Humans have a natural and legitimate desire for basic pleasures of life; דירה נאה וטלית נאה. The problem is that some people make the mistake of thinking that leading a life devoted the values of the Torah is necessarily a life devoted to asceticism. They mistakenly think that they must make an either/or decision. They can either seek to live a life that they can enjoy or they must accept the yoke of the Torah with a life of never-ending grimness.

     Rav Kook says that these people are mistaken and that our Gemarah teaches that this view of Judaism is incorrect. The purpose of a Torah-centered life is to perform the mitzvoth. That much is obvious. Home, clothing and even wine are used to perform Hashem's will. However the Torah does not demand that observant Jews erase their appreciation of comforts. Our Gemarah shows that when a person uses what she or he is given by Hashem the right way, she or he will be given new opportunities to perform the mitzvoth in a fashion that will address the basic human need for comfort. The Torah  teaches us how to enjoy life without yielding to excess.

     Asceticism is not a Jewish ideal.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

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June 18, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Here is a summary of yesterday's shiur on the עין איה.

   There is a long running debate within the Jewish tradition over what is at the top of our system of values. Is it piety or is it scholarship? It may be that this debate is  unique to Judaism. I don't know if any other religion views erudition and a mastery of texts as the path to closeness to God. But in Judaism this is certainly the case. When Joshua assumed the leadership of the Jewish people, Hashem commanded him:

יהושע פרק א

(ח) לֹא יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכָל  הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ כִּי אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת דְּרָכֶךָ וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל:

    The debate over the place of Torah scholarship in the hierarchy of values acquired urgency with the rise of the Hassidic movement in the 18th century. This movement extolled the values of faith and prayer without giving primacy to scholarship.

   As a response to the growth of  Hasidism, Rav  Haim of Volozhin wrote a small but incredibly significant book titled נפש החיים. The fourth chapter of the book is devoted to explaining the primacy of Torah scholarship within the Jewish system of values. Rav Haim laments the decline in the level of serious Torah study in his time. He says that sincere but misguided people have substituted the study of ethical literature for the study of Talmud and Halacha which are the essential material which must engage everyone's time and attention.

    Rav Haim acknowledges that the Gemarah says that Torah knowledge which is not accompanied by piety is just about worthless. However, Rav Haim teaches, that piety can be acquired by a daily, brief period of reflection preceding the study of Talmud. The study of Talmud and Halacha in itself is the greatest spiritual exercise that a Jew can engage in and it brings a person as close as possible to Hashem.

    The Gemarah which Rav Haim of Volozhin quotes regarding the necessity of having piety as well as scholarship is this one:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לא עמוד א-עמוד ב

אמר רבה בר רב הונא כל אדם שיש בו תורה ואין בו  יראת שמים דומה לגזבר שמסרו לו מפתחות הפנימיות ומפתחות החיצונות לא מסרו לו בהי עייל

מכריז רבי ינאי חבל על דלית ליה דרתא ותרעא לדרתא עביד

Rav Kook zt"l also paid attention to this suggyah but he derived a different lesson from it. Rav Haim of Volozhin felt that the spiritual experience which is the lodestone for every religious person is the study of Talmud. Closeness to God occurs when a person is immersed in the study of  a text:

נפש החיים שער ד פרק ו

לזאת האמת שזו היא הדרך האמתי אשר בזה בחר הוא ית"ש. שבכל עת שיכון האדם עצמו ללמוד. ראוי לו להתיישב קודם שיתחיל. עכ"פ זמן מועט ביראת ה' טהורה בטהרת הלב. להתודות על חטאתו מעוקמא דלבא. כדי שתהא תורתו קדושה וטהורה. ויכוין להתדבק בלימודו בו בתורה בו בהקב"ה. היינו להתדבק בכל כחותיו לדבר ה' זו הלכה. ובזה הוא דבוק בו ית' ממש כביכול. כי הוא ית' ורצונו חד כמ"ש בזוהר. וכל דין והלכה מתורה הקדושה. הוא רצונו ית' שכן גזרה רצונו שיהא כך הדין כשר או פסול טמא וטהור אסור ומותר חייב וזכאי......

   Rav Kook was himself one of the most famed  students of the Volozhin Yeshiva founded by Rav Haim. He was an undisputed master of  the Talmudic corpus and he wrote volumes of response dealing with all areas of Jewish law. Nevertheless he did not share Rav Haim's opinion of the religious experience that can be had by study. Rav Kook wrote in עין איה  that there is a contrast between the study of texts which he described as קרים ויבשים  with the yearning for an emotional experience רגש הלב המתפעל והנרעש בקול רעש גדול.[1] Rav Kook wrote that what we can learn from Rabbah bar Rav Huna's metaphor that a religious Jew needs to deliberately cultivate two aspects of his or her personality. A person needs to cultivate his intellect because scholarship in Torah is an essential mitzvah. But the person also needs to cultivate the emotional side his personality as well. Without emotion the Torah knowledge which a person accumulates remains superficial. It will not affect the personality to change the person into someone who has been elevated by the Torah.

    This is the meaning of Rabbah's metaphor. A person who studies Torah without piety[2] is like the caretaker of a fabulous treasure who has been given the keys to the inner treasure room but has not been given the keys to the outer door. This person will never be able to use the treasure.

    A person who studied Torah and perhaps even has achieved mastery of the Torah has knowledge. However the purpose of studying Torah is to become a moral person. Knowledge which is not preceded by fear of Heaven will never help a person reach that lofty goal.

     This is a summary of the class. Thanks to everyone who attended. Stuart Fischman


[1] עין איה, מסכת שבת, סימן  קסט

[2]  Rabbah bar Rav Hunah spoke of "fear of Heaven" in his metaphor. Rav Haim of Volozhin felt that fear of Heaven can be acquired with a daily period of brief meditation. Rav Kook sees "fear of Heaven" as an all-encompassing sense of Hashem's presence in the world and this can only be acquired by constant work.


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June 25, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    Yesterday we studied one of the most challenging passages in the עין איה. Rav Kook explains a Gemarah in Shabbat which is actually a verse from מגילת קהלת.

    It says in קהלת:

קהלת פרק ג

(יד) יָדַעְתִּי כִּי כָּל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱלֹהִים הוּא יִהְיֶה לְעוֹלָם עָלָיו אֵין לְהוֹסִיף וּמִמֶּנּוּ אֵין לִגְרֹעַ       וְהָאֱ-לֹהִים עָשָׂה שֶׁיִּרְאוּ מִלְּפָנָיו:

The Gemarah quotes this verse in the context of the discussion of the relative merits of piety and scholarship:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לא עמוד ב

אמר רב יהודה לא ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו אלא כדי שייראו מלפניו שנאמר והא-להים עשה שיראו מלפניו

It is well known that there are two mitzvoth which exist simultaneously, the mitzvah of love for Hashem and the mitzvah to be in awe of Hashem. This is how the Rambam describes these complimentary mitzvoth:

והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו ויראתו, בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים ויראה מהן חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול כמו שאמר דוד צמאה נפשי לא-להים לא-ל חי, וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו ויפחד ויודע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה עומדת בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות, כמו שאמר דוד כי אראה שמיך מעשה אצבעותיך מה אנוש כי תזכרנו, ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה רבון העולמים כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם, כמו שאמרו חכמים בענין אהבה שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם.

   Between the two mitzvoth it is accepted that love for Hashem is the highest religious experience that a person can aspire to. This being the case, why did Rav Yehudah, and even King Solomon say that Hashem created the world so that we should fear Him? Why wasn't the world created so that we should love Him?

    Rav Kook provides a very insightful answer to this question.

   Love is dependent upon the lover knowing the object of her or his love. To quote Rav Kook:" .כי האהבה היא נערכת לפי הידיעה  ביקרת האהוב "  But humans are finite beings and we cannot ever know Hashem. The Rambam puts this fact very clearly in הלכות יסודי התורה:

רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב

 ...והכל אינן יודעין הבורא כמו שהוא יודע עצמו.

    It is a fact that though we aspire all our lives to achieve a greater clarity of awareness of Hashem and a greater love for Hashem, we can never reach a perfect love for Hashem.

    This is not the case by awe before Hashem.  As the Rambam explains, our awe from Hashem is based on our awareness of our feeble existence and the infinity and greatness of Hashem. This is something that a human can fathom. We absolutely can achieve awe before Hashem.

   This is the idea that שלמה המלך was teaching when he wrote that

 " וְהָאֱ-לֹהִים עָשָׂה שֶׁיִּרְאוּ מִלְּפָנָיו:

As a goal we need to strive for love of Hashem. However this love cannot be the purpose of creation since it simply cannot be realized. On the other hand we can reach awe and for that reason the world was created so that we reach that goal.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman




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July 2, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's class on עין איה  we studied Rav Kook's interpretation of a story about דוד המלך.

    In ספר תהלים  we read:

תהלים פרק לט

(ה) הוֹדִיעֵנִי ה' קִצִּי וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה הִיא אֵדְעָה מֶה חָדֵל אָנִי:

What was King David asking for in this request? The Gemarah explains that דוד המלך  posed several questions to Hashem:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף ל עמוד א

דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב מאי דכתיב הודיעני ה' קצי ומדת ימי מה היא אדעה מה חדל אני

 אמר דוד לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם הודיעני ה' קצי אמר לו גזרה היא מלפני שאין מודיעין קצו של בשר ודם ומדת ימי מה היא גזרה היא מלפני שאין מודיעין מדת ימיו של אדם ואדעה מה חדל אני אמר לו בשבת תמות אמות באחד בשבת אמר לו כבר הגיע מלכות שלמה בנך ואין מלכות נוגעת בחברתה אפילו כמלא נימא אמות בערב שבת אמר לו כי טוב יום בחצריך מאלף טוב לי יום אחד שאתה יושב ועוסק בתורה מאלף עולות שעתיד שלמה בנך להקריב לפני על גבי המזבח

רש"י מסכת שבת דף ל עמוד א

קיצי – העתידות לבוא עלי.

מדת ימי – כמה ימי חיי.

מה חדל אני – באיזה יום אני חדל ובטל מן העולם.

אמות באחד בשבת – שיוכלו להתעסק בי ובהספדי.

כי טוב יום בחצריך – כלומר: כבר אמרת לפני: טוב יום שאתה עומד בחצרי ועוסק בתורה, מאלף עולות שעתיד בנך שלמה להעלות, כדכתיב (מלכים א' ג) אלף עולות יעלה שלמה וגו'.

   What is the meaning of this story? Rav Kook explained each of the King David's questions.

    The first question asked by דוד המלך was how long does he have to live. Hashem replied that He never answers this question. The reason for this is clear. For many people the only thing that inhibits them from leading lives of absolute debauchery  is their fear of death. Since the ignorance of our life spans is so essential to the maintenance of minimal morality Hashem withholds this knowledge from everyone, even from a צדיק like דוד המלך.

    Next,דוד המלך asked what is his purpose in life. Hashem replied that this knowledge is also not shared with us. The reason for this is that if people would know the purpose of their existence they would focus only that one objective. This would not be desirable because we are meant to have multiple interests in order to help the world to develop.

    Finally דוד המלך asked on what day of the week he will die. What he meant by this question is explained by Rav Kook as follows. People have two areas of influence. They influence their families and immediate close friends. Then people have a broader on influence on a greater number of people as the members of the close circle of intimates influence other people. When  דוד המלך asked " אֵדְעָה מֶה חָדֵל אָנִי" Hashem was willing to answer him, his influence will cease ("חדל" ) on Shabbat. This meant that his influence on his close friends and family will cease on Shabbat. Shabbat is the national day of rest and it is fitting that דוד המלך would go to his rest on that day. However, this did not refer to his influence on the nation. The influence of דוד המלך on the Jewish people will never be lost. That is why we say דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים.

   When דוד המלך heard that he will die on Shabbat he was distressed and asked that he die on Sunday. The reason for this request was that דוד המלך understood that his death would cause distress to the Jewish people and he did not want to ruin their Shabbat.

   Hashem appreciated this concern but He had to refuse. The reason is that Hashem manages human history with very complicated and delicate considerations. The course of human history, according to Rav Kook, is a series of revolutions followed  by periods of quiet and further revolutions.  The reign of דוד המלך was certainly a period of great change for the Jewish people, but in his old age the pace of change had certainly slowed down. It was now for the time to a new era in Jewish history, the time of שלמה המלך. In Hashem's management of history the onset of King Solomon's reign could not be put off by even one day.

    דוד המלך replied to Hashem that if it is so important for Solomon's reign to begin, then perhaps David should die one day earlier, on Friday. This would spare the Jew's mourning David's death on Shabbat and Solomon's ascension to the throne would not be postponed. Hashem replied to David that He has a greater appreciation for David's study of Torah than He does for the sacrifices that Solomon will bring. Here Hashem explained to David how He balances the needs of the community and the role of the individual. David's life is precious; every day that he studies Torah is valuable. Therefore David's death cannot be made even one day earlier. But the community has needs as determined by Hashem. The time for Solomon to rule has arrived and therefore David's life cannot be extended by a single day either.

    This is a summary of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


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July 9, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Yesterday we studied what sounds like a very peculiar passage from masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לה עמוד א

אמר רבי חייא הרוצה לראות בארה של מרים יעלה לראש הכרמל ויצפה ויראה כמין כברה בים וזו היא בארה של מרים

 אמר רב מעין המיטלטל טהור וזהו בארה של מרים

   The Well of Miriam was the stone which miraculously supplied our ancestors with water as we made the journey from Egypt to Israel. The well stopped yielding water upon Miriam's death, and it resumed giving water when Moshe Rabbeinu struck it which is known as the חטא מי מריבה. What then does Rabbi Chiyyah mean when he gives us these peculiar directions to get a glimpse of Miriam's Well? Why is it in the sea and why does it resemble a strainer?

   Rav Kook zt"l explains this passage as follows. Our religious heritage is what we inherited from the generation that received the Torah. This heritage has an intellectual component which is the Torah but it also has an emotional component. The latter is what we have inherited from Miriam. Emotions are ephemeral, what inspires us today is usually forgotten about after a few days. The emotional attachment to the Torah which we inherited from Miriam is not ephemeral. It is permanent and present in every Jew no matter how far remove he or she may be from the Torah.

    We saw this emotion on Mount Carmel. When the Jewish people had sunk to the lowest level of idolatry אליהו  הנביא brought the Jewish people back to Hashem when he staged the dramatic duel with the prophets of Ba'al.  By defeating the prophets of Ba'al the people exclaimed ה' הוא האלוקים. This return to Hashem was not grounded in the people's intellects. This return was due to the awakening of a powerful emotion, the emotion which links every Jew to Hashem.

   This sort of emotion bears a superficial resemblance to every other human emotion. But when we examine it we see that it possesses a timeless quality which other emotions lack. The link of the Jews to the Torah is always present.

   This is how Rav Kook explains Rabbi Chiyyah's metaphor. We cannot build on emotions because they are so transients. That is why Rabbi Chiyyah compares Miriam's Well to a sieve, emotions leave us as easily as they come. But our emotional tie to the Torah is different; the tie to the Torah is eternal. That is why Rabbi Chiyyah says Miriam's Well is analogous to a sieve that sits in the sea. It always has water. Rabbi Chiyyah realizes that this emotion resembles other emotions. That is why Rabbi Chiyyah admonishes us to gaze carefully at Miriam's Well. Rabbi Chiyyah chooses his verbs carefully:

אמר רבי חייא הרוצה לראות בארה של מרים יעלה לראש הכרמל ויצפה.....

And that is why Rabbi Chiyyah sends us to the top of Mount Carmel in order to see Miriam's Well. Miriam's Well, the eternal link between even the most alienated Jew and the Torah was most clearly seen when the Jews returned to Hashem on that mountain top.

   Thanks to everyone who attended the class. Stuart Fischman



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July 16, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   In yesterday's shiur on עין איה we studied Rav Kook's explanation of the סוגיאות that deal with חורבן וגלות.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לג עמוד א

בעון שפיכות דמים בית המקדש חרב ושכינה מסתלקת מישראל שנאמר ולא תחניפו וגו' ולא תטמא את הארץ אשר אתם ישבים בה אשר אני שכן בתוכה הא אתם מטמאים אותה אינכם יושבים בה ואיני שוכן בתוכה

 בעון גלוי עריות ועבודת כוכבים והשמטת שמיטין ויובלות גלות בא לעולם ומגלין אותן ובאין אחרים ויושבין במקומן שנאמר כי את כל התועבות האל עשו אנשי הארץ וגו' וכתיב ותטמא הארץ ואפקד עונה עליה וגו' וכתיב ולא תקיא הארץ אתכם בטמאכם אותה ובעבודת כוכבים כתיב ונתתי את פגריכם וגו' וכתיב והשמותי את מקדשיכם וגו' ואתכם אזרה בגוים

 בשמיטין וביובלות כתיב אז תרצה הארץ את שבתתיה כל ימי השמה ואתם בארץ אויביכם וגו' וכתיב כל ימי השמה תשבת

   When we look at this Gemarah, we are inclined to view it as containing a list of terrible sins which, to no one's surprise, lead to the destruction of the Temple and our exile from Israel. Rav Kook explains how one sin leads to another and why they necessarily end with גלות.

    The temple is meant by Hashem to serve as a beacon to all the nations of the world. We, the Chosen People, have the task of building in Israel a society that will inspire everyone who has heard of us to come and serve Hashem. Certain terrible sins lead to Hashem's abandonment of us and to the destruction of the Temple. One such sin is murder. When a society fails to appreciate  the significance of human life, it is no longer worthy of Hashem's presence. The בית המקדש no longer serves any purpose and the Jewish people are not deserving of having the land of Israel.

   The Gemarah goes on to say that sexual immorality, idolatry and failure to observe the mitzvoth of שמיטה ויובל lead to exile and seeing the land occupied by a foreign people.

   Rav kook explains this tragic sequence. Rav Kook says  that the foundation of the Jewish people is the family unit. The family unit is something holy which requires respect and honor. When people are immoral they destroying holds us together. What follows the dismantling of Jewish society is the search for an alternative system of belief, in other words the people will turn to idolatry.

    Rav Kook goes on to say that there can never be a perfect society. No society is made of only saintly people. Every society needs a system in place to reorganize the society along the lines of its ideals. In the Torah's system this reorganization takes place during שמיטה ויובל. The cessation of agricultural labor and the termination of debts provides all the people to examine themselves and their lives in order to return to the Torah. Should the people  fail to take advantage of שמיטה ויובל then they are doomed to be exiled. It is only exile which seizes the people's attention so that they can return to Hashem and to be worthy of living in Israel.

   This is a summary of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who attended. Stuart Fischman

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July 23, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

  Yesterday we studied Rav Kook's explanation of a passage from masechet Shabbat which I think has great meaning for today's Jewish communities living outside of Israel.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לג עמוד ב

ואמאי קרו ליה ראש המדברים בכל מקום דיתבי רבי יהודה ורבי יוסי ורבי שמעון ויתיב יהודה בן גרים גבייהו פתח רבי יהודה ואמר כמה נאים מעשיהן של אומה זו תקנו שווקים תקנו גשרים תקנו מרחצאות רבי יוסי שתק נענה רבי שמעון בן יוחאי ואמר כל מה שתקנו לא תקנו אלא לצורך עצמן תקנו שווקין להושיב בהן זונות מרחצאות לעדן בהן עצמן גשרים ליטול מהן מכס הלך יהודה בן גרים וסיפר דבריהם ונשמעו למלכות אמרו יהודה שעילה יתעלה יוסי ששתק יגלה לציפורי שמעון שגינה יהרג

   In this story we are told about a discussion between three of the greatest Tannaim; Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. They were discussing the Roman government. Rabbi Yehudah praised the Roman government for the civic improvements that it made. The Romans built markets, bathhouses and bridges. Rabbi Yose was silent during the conversation. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai condemned the Roman government. He said that all the improvements made by the Romans were made for their own pleasure and profit.

   The Romans heard about the conversation and responded as one would expect. They promoted Rabbi Yehuda, they exiled Rabbi Yose and they sentenced Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to death.

   Rabbi Yehudah's contemporaries were so taken with his views that they awarded him the title of ראש המדברים בכל מקום.

   When I was much younger this passage from the Gemara was very relevant. I am referring to the period during the 1970's when there was movement among American Jewry to act on behalf of the Jews trapped in the Soviet Union. The "old guard" among the American rabbinate was opposed to loud ( and the occasionally violent) demonstrations held outside of Soviet diplomatic institutions. They advocated quiet diplomacy which they maintained was obtaining quiet though not dramatic results. Then there was a younger generation of rabbis who said that what was needed was bold action to obtain the freedom of Soviet Jews.

    Looking back on the times I don't know who was right. What I can say is that aside from the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l I don't know of any Jewish leader who foretold the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union which led to the freedom of Soviet Jewry. What I do recall were the debates about how Jews should deal with powerful governments. Should we try to accommodate them and hope for some flexibility in return or should we act boldly and condemn evil whenever we encounter it? People saw in this Tannaitic debate about how to deal with the evil and oppressive Roman government an indication of how to deal with the Russians. Young people saw Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as a fearless leader willing to fight a lonely fight for the truth and they saw in Rabbi Yehudah the model of a rabbi of the old school.

    עין איה was not yet published in the 1970's but if it would have been known, perhaps it would have changed the debate about how to deal with the Soviet Union. Rav Kook says that Rabbi Yehudha's approach was the correct one. Rabbi Yehudah had the wisdom to realize how Hashem is guiding our history. For reasons known only to Him, Hashem allowed the Romans to rule over Israel. Rav Kook quotes the bitter words of Rabbi Yose ben Kisma from masechet Avdah Zarah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף יח עמוד א

תנו רבנן כשחלה רבי יוסי בן קיסמא הלך רבי חנינא בן תרדיון לבקרו אמר לו חנינא אחי (אחי) אי אתה יודע שאומה זו מן השמים המליכוה שהחריבה את ביתו ושרפה את היכלו והרגה את חסידיו ואבדה את טוביו ועדיין היא קיימת

   Rav Kook does not bring this up but the fact that is in the background of these suggyaot is that the Jews fought two wars against the Romans and were crushed each time. These defeats brought horrific destruction upon the Jews. Rabbi Yehudah was the leader who realized that in such times we must seek out whatever good there is and make maximum use of it. Rabbi Yehudah had no illusions about the Romans. But it was a fact that the Romans were ruling over the Jews and therefore the Jews must learn to live with the Romans.  Reaching an accord with the Romans, however evil they undoubtedly were, was the only way that the Jews could continue to survive. Rav Kook says that the Romans promoted Rabbi Yehudah was not a sign of Rabbi Yehudah being rewarded for being a "collaborator." On the contrary, Rav Kook says that his promotion was ".מחשבת המלכות ע"פ עצת ה'"  When his contemporaries honored Rabbi Yehudah as ראש המדברים בכל מקום this was an acknowledgement that ".הלכה כמותו נגד חבריו" Rabbi Yehudah's attitude was that we must maximize the area for possible cooperation with the Romans and consequently the areas of friction will be minimized.

    This accommodating approach was not the ideal of the youth movements of the 1970's and I wonder how we would have responded to the calm words of Rav Kook zt"l.

   Next Sunday will be our final shiur in this series and I hope to study  with you what Rav Kook wrote about Rav Shimon bar Yochai.

   Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman

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July 30, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
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