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Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

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
Click here to learn about their inspiring stories and passion for Torah education and Israel. To find out more about dedication opportunities with WebYeshiva.org please contact office@webyeshiva.org.

April 23, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 1
Class description

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.

April 30, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 2
Class description

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


May 7, 2017 6:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 3
Class description

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

May 14, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 4
Class description

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.



May 21, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 5
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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:

  1. a) 180 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Romans occupied Israel.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

May 28, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 6
Class description

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

June 4, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 7
Class description

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 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 8
Class description

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


June 18, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 9
Class description

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.

June 25, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 10
Class description

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

July 2, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 11
Class description

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



July 9, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 12
Class description

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

July 16, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 13
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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

July 23, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 14
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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

July 30, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 15
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October 22, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 16
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Hello Everyone,

Welcome back to the new series of shiurim on Rav Kook’s עין איה. I wish to extend a special welcome to all the people who took the trouble to attend the shiur for the first time. I hope you found it stimulating and will continue to attend the class.

I think that in yesterday’s class we saw Rav Kook’s remarkable ability to take a passage from the Gemarah which seems to be nothing more than a banal platitude and show us its deeper meaning.

This is the passage which we studied:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לא עמוד א

אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפריה ורביה צפית לישועה פלפלת בחכמה הבנת דבר מתוך דבר ואפילו הכי אי יראת ה’ היא אוצרו אין אי לא לא משל לאדם שאמר לשלוחו העלה לי כור חיטין לעלייה הלך והעלה לו אמר לו עירבת לי בהן קב חומטון אמר לו לאו אמר לו מוטב אם לא העליתה

Rava taught that when a person is brought before the Heavenly tribunal he is asked the following questions: Did you conduct your business affairs honestly? Did you set aside fixed times to study Torah? Did you have children? Did you look forward to the redemption?   Did you study wisdom intently? Did you reason well? Did you possess fear of God?

This teaching of Rava’s has no apparent surprises. None of these questions are unexpected and Rava apparently could have made a longer list (“Did you give charity? Did you honor your parents?”). Rav Kook however saw these questions as forming a coherent, integrated structure.

Rav Kook zt”l starts by explaining that we are the judges of our behavior. Our souls are pure and just as our physical nervous system feels pain when it is harmed, one’s soul feels pain when it is harmed by sin. Pain is the signal that something is disturbing our immediate environment. Our souls are meant to convey feelings such as joy and faith. When the soul does not convey these positive feelings it is a sign that it has been darkened by sin. A person should be cognizant of the signals being sent by her soul and take corrective action to restore her soul to its proper state.

There are people who allow their desire for forbidden pleasures to guide their behaviour. Ultimately these people become numb to the warnings of their sin. However this state of affairs only lasts as long as their souls are trapped within their bodies. As soon as their souls are released they behold the light of Hashem’s Torah and they bemoan the time that wasted on earth indulging themselves instead of leading a life based on the Torah.  There are people who judge themselves and climb to ever higher levels of holiness. There are also people who are so sunk in the pursuit of pleasure that they cannot judge themselves. These are the people who, as Rava says, are brought to judgement. Hashem’s judgement is not vindictive. It is meant to allow a person to ultimately be in Hashem’s presence, but this can only occur after the person has returned to holiness. This return must be done gradually, in a step-by-step fashion. These steps are enumerated in the questions that Rava says a person is asked.

First: Did you conduct your business affairs honestly? This is the first step. Basic honesty is instinctive. Every person is fundamentally honest since we all were given pure souls   as we say in our prayers, א-להי נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא. This is the first of the questions which lead to a critical self-examination of one’s life.

Second: Did you set aside fixed times to study Torah? To lead a moral life a person needs to study Torah . The instinctive sense of right and wrong does not give us the guidance to know what to do in every situation.

It is true , Rav Kook concedes that by setting aside an hour a day to study Torah a person will not know what to do in every situation. However, the act of allocating a part of each day to Torah study imbues her with the awareness that she needs to judge her behaviour against the Torah’s expectations.

Third: Did you have children? Having children is the sign that a person is concerned with the future. A person’s concerns must extend his own needs but the welfare of the generations to come.

Fourth: Did you look forward to the redemption?   A person’s perspective of the world may be narrow and limited. He needs to envision a future which immeasurably more glorious than the present. Looking forward to the redemption means two things according to Rav Kook. First, it means that a person must truly anticipate the גאולה as something that may occur immediately. Second, it means that if a person sees an opportunity to hasten the redemption he must act. This may be seen in Rav Kook’s embrace of the Balfour Declaration as אתחלתא דגאולה and in all of his subsequent public life. Interestingly, Rav Kook notes that these two aspects of ציפית לגאולה are contradictory; anticipating is passive while seizing opportunities is active. Nevertheless, Rav Kook says that with sufficient thought a person can function on both levels.

Five and six: Did you study wisdom intently? Did you reason well? Belief in a redeem world may take a very shallow form. People may look forward to the Messianic Era as a time of “no work and all play.” To truly appreciate what the Messianic Era will bring requires intense study of what the needs of humanity are. And the concept of the Messiah is like any other concept. It must be analyzed and made clear. Its component concepts need to be clarified as well and only afterwards can a person arrive at new ideas with new concepts. A clear and correct grasp of the concepts which compose the Torah are necessary before we can enter the era described by Isaiah:

ישעיהו פרק יא

(ט) ….כִּי מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ דֵּעָה אֶת ה’ כַּמַּיִם לַיָּם מְכַסִּים:

Rava ends this discussion by saying that without יראת ה’ all of these insights are worthless. Rav Kook explains that insights and deep religious feelings are wonderful. But life is full of ups and downs. When life is good a person is optimistic and allows himself to be enthusiastic about grand ideals. But when life is difficult and the outlook is bleak a person can lose all of the hope that he previously had. The only constant in religious life is יראת ה’. In good times and in bad times the person who possesses יראת ה’ is steadfast in his faith.  יראת ה’ is the truest manifestation of faith. A person can have all sorts of concepts and ideas, but concepts and ideas can come and go as a person changes. יראת ה’ is the truest constant that a person’s can be built upon. In Rava’s parable יראת ה’ is the storehouse for all of the noble ideas that the Torah teaches.

This is one example of how Rav Kook transforms what is apparently superficial into a lesson of great insights. A clichéd list of platitudes is shown to be logical progression of ideals that lead us closer to Hashem.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischma

October 29, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 17
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Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur on עין איה we discussed the remarkable interpretation that Rav Kook zt@l gave to a passage in the Gemarah.

משנה מסכת שבת פרק ב

משנה ו

על שלש עבירות נשים מתות בשעת לידתן על שאינן זהירות בנדה ובחלה ובהדלקת הנר:

ר’ עובדיה מברטנורא מסכת שבת פרק ב משנה ו

בשעת לידתן – בשעת סכנה מזומן פורענותא:

ובחלה ובהדלקת הנר – לפי שצרכי הבית הן והיא מצויה בבית, תלויין בה:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף לב עמוד א

וגברי היכא מיבדקי אמר ריש לקיש בשעה שעוברים על הגשר גשר ותו לא אימא כעין גשר רב לא עבר במברא דיתיב ביה גוי אמר דילמא מיפקיד ליה דינא עליה ומתפיסנא בהדיה שמואל לא עבר אלא במברא דאית ביה גוי אמר שטנא בתרי אומי לא שליט

The Mishnah in masechet Shabbat says that if a woman dies חלילה in childbirth it is because she committed one of three sins. The idea behind this teaching is that when people are in perilous situations they may not be worthy of Hashem’s protection and so may be harmed or even die  לא עלינו.

The Gemarah goes on to ask, when do men face this sort of judgement and the Gemarah says they face this judgement when they cross bridges or in other similar circumstances.

At first glance this Gemarah seems to be teaching nothing more than the fact that Hashem’s protection, or in other words, השגחה פרטית needs to be earned. It does not come automatically. And indeed the subject of השגחה פרטית has been written about extensively going back to medieval times.

Rav Kook explores an entirely unexpected aspect of this Gemarah. Rav Kook explores the nature of bridges. One of the most famous sayings in the Chasidic literature is a saying of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:

ודע, שהאדם צריך לעבור על גשר צר מאד מאד, והכלל והעיקר שלא יתפחד כלל….

Rabbi Nachman compares the world to a bridge. Every person faces challenges and what each person needs to do is to cross that personal bridge which allowing herself to become scared.[1] I don’t know if Rabbi Nachman was thinking about the Gemarah in masechet Shabbat when he said that the challenges of the world to a very very narrow bridge but it is worth thinking about.

So how does Rav Kook explain this suggyah? Rav Kook says that human civilization is a combination of the natural and the man-made.  Bridges are necessary man-made structures which enable a person to proceed from place to another. The stability of a bridge depends on how well its builder adapted it to its surroundings.  If a builder takes no account of the environment in which he is building, if in his egoism he views himself as conquering nature instead of working with nature, his bridge will collapse.

Rav Kook says that we are always crossing bridges in our lives. When the Gemarah says that men are in jeopardy when they cross bridges, it means all sorts of bridges. Spiritual journeys  also involve crossing bridges. The ideal existence is not an existence in a state of undeveloped nature. Because bridges are perilous this does not mean that we should never try to cross rivers and gorges. We do need to go from place to place for our material needs and for our spiritual needs as well. What the Gemarah advises is that when we do weigh a journey across a bridge we need to examine if the bridge is in harmony with its environment.  Both sides of the bridge must be safely anchored. When this is the case the journey can be made safely. When we aim to ascend spiritually we need to be sure that our grasp of the Torah and its concepts is clear and accurate. When the foundations of our belief are sound we can build a bridge on those foundations that will carry us safely onward.

The Gemarah then tells us about a fascinating debate between Rav and Shmuel. Students of the Gemarah that Rav and Shmuel debate many issues both in Halacha and Aggadah. They debate the issue of crossing bridges as well. Rav would never cross a bridge when a non-Jew was sitting upon it. He feared that if Hashem will punish this non-Jew then he will be punished with him. Shmuel took the opposite approach. He would cross a bridge only if a non-Jew was sitting upon it. He reasoned that the שטן cannot attack two separate nations simultaneously.

What is the point that these two masters debated?

Rav Kook explains that they disagree over what form our cooperation with non-Jews  should take. As Rav sees things, as long as people stay on the path that nature dictates then things will turn out well. Problems arise when humans interfere in natural processes. Therefore Rav would examine a bridge before crossing it. The bridge is mankind’s way of overcoming nature’s obstacles.  Rav weighed the advantage of using the bridge (which is a metaphor for all human endeavors) against the risk that by trying to overcome nature he would fall into the moral abyss that many civilizations had fallen into as they tried to triumph over nature. After weighing the advantage against the risk and concluded that he could not join a non-Jew in an attempt to build something as basic but at the same time as daring as a bridge,

Shmuel saw matters differently. The Jewish people are members of humanity. We must work to make the world more habitable and that means we must join non-Jews in worthwhile projects which are meant to make our lives more comfortable. The risk of falling into a moral abyss is offset by the nobility of the joint effort. As long as all concerned are focused on the goal they will not deviate into sin. By working with non-Jews we can teach them about the morals of the Torah. The relationship as we build is mutually beneficial. That is why Shmuel would insist on having a non-Jew present as he crossed a bridge.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman

[1] Rabbi Nachman uses the word יתפחד as opposed to יפחד .

November 5, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 18
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Hello Everyone,

I think that I have said many times that what I see as being most wondrous in עין איה  is Rav Kook’s ability to uncover profound ideas is in the most unlikely passages in the Talmud. In yesterday’s shiur we saw another example of this remarkable talent.

The Talmud passage which we studied yesterday deals with a rather technical question; on what basis did the Sages determine that there are precisely 39 acts forbidden on Shabbat?

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף מט עמוד ב

הדור יתבי וקמיבעיא להו הא דתנן אבות מלאכות ארבעים חסר אחת כנגד מי

אמר להו רבי חנינא בר חמא כנגד עבודות המשכן

אמר להו רבי יונתן ברבי אלעזר כך אמר רבי שמעון ברבי יוסי בן לקוניא כנגד מלאכה מלאכתו ומלאכת שבתורה ארבעים חסר אחת

בעי רב יוסף ויבא הביתה לעשות מלאכתו ממנינא הוא או לא

אמר ליה אביי וליתי ספר תורה ולימני מי לא אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן לא זזו משם עד שהביאו ספר תורה ומנאום

אמר ליה כי קא מספקא לי משום דכתיב והמלאכה היתה דים ממנינא הוא והא כמאן דאמר לעשות צרכיו נכנס או דילמא ויבא הביתה לעשות מלאכתו ממנינא הוא והאי והמלאכה היתה דים הכי קאמר דשלים ליה


The idea that there are 39 categories of “work” on Shabbat is well established. The Gemarah quite often seeks to find a basis in the תנ”ך for Halachic rule such as this. Rav Kook takes this technical discussion and moves to a totally unexpected realm.

The Amoraim present two different sources for the rule of 39 types of work. Rabbi Chaninah says that it is based on analysis of the construction of the Mishkan in the desert. [1] The Sages arrived at the conclusion that there were 39 distinct tasks involved in building the Mishkan, therefore these 39 tasks may not be performed on Shabbat.

Rabbi Shimon presented a different view. He said that the word “[2]מלאכה” appears 39 times in the Torah. Therefore the Sages broke down “work” into 39 categories.

Rav Yosef then says that he has a question. There are two verses which contain a form of the word מלאכה/work:

בראשית פרק לט פסוק יא

וַיְהִי כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וַיָּבֹא הַבַּיְתָה לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלַאכְתּוֹ וְאֵין אִישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁי הַבַּיִת שָׁם בַּבָּיִת:

שמות פרק לו פסוק ז

וְהַמְּלָאכָה הָיְתָה דַיָּם לְכָל הַמְּלָאכָה לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתָהּ וְהוֹתֵר:

Which of these two verses were counted by the sages according to Rabbi Shimon? The Gemarah says that there is no answer to Rav Yosef’s question. It remains a תיקו.

What are we meant to learn to from this discussion?

Rav Kook says that this discussion is actually dealing with an entirely different subject altogether. The Gemarah is discussing not just the Shabbat that we celebrate once a week, but the idyllic Shabbat of the redeemed world- the יום שכולו שבת .

Shabbat can be seen as an ideal towards which we work, much as the Mishkan was an ideal place which the Jews worked to build in the desert. It is the nature of such ideal constructs that they have no relationship to the non-ideal world. The labor that was invested in building the Mishkan was certainly important, but once the Mishkan was finished that work could be ignored. Similarly the work which we engage in during the week is important but it has nothing to do with the holiness of Shabbat. In this sense Shabbat does not elevate the world just as the Mishkan did not elevate the work that went into building it. The Mishkan stood alone as a sacred space and Shabbat stands alone as sacred time.

There is another way to look at Shabbat. If I say ( as Rabbi Shimon does) that the 39 forbidden labors of Shabbat were derived from the 39 times that the word “work” appears in the Chumash, that means that Shabbat itself is built from those labors. Those labors are counted together to create the whole known as Shabbat. Shabbat can unite and elevate all that is done during the week.

These two ways of looking at Shabbat are two ways of contemplating the world of Redemption. Rav Kook is known for the universality of his outlook. He strove to teach that to the greatest extent possible we should practice an inclusive form of Judaism. He sorely believed that the ideal Jewish existence is an existence which includes not only scholars but artists and writers as well. This is why he gave such a moving speech at the opening of the Hebrew University and wrote a stirring letter to the founders of the Betzalel Academy of Art.

Rav Kook had great faith that all these talents can find their expression in ארץ ישראל. But Rav Kook was worried about the expressions of Jewish talent in the Exile. What will become of the works of Jewish composers, painters and writers? In the Messianic era what will become of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue?”  The music of Gershwin is brilliant but it was composed in a Gentile environment for their entertainment. Can it be redeemed?

Rav Kook was bothered by this question and he sees it in the question of Rav Yosef. There many instances of the word “work”/מלאכה in the Chumash. Rabbeinu Chananel in his commentary says that the word actually appears 61 times. Rav Yosef was apparently able to eliminate 21 instances of the word easily. He was also able to include 38 instances easily. Rav Yosef was only puzzled by two instances of the word “work.” One instance would be included and one would be excluded. What can we learn from the two verses containing the word “work?”

Let us look at the two verses again:

בראשית פרק לט פסוק יא

וַיְהִי כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וַיָּבֹא הַבַּיְתָה לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלַאכְתּוֹ וְאֵין אִישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁי הַבַּיִת שָׁם בַּבָּיִת:

שמות פרק לו פסוק ז

וְהַמְּלָאכָה הָיְתָה דַיָּם לְכָל הַמְּלָאכָה לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתָהּ וְהוֹתֵר:

The first verse deals with Joseph in Egypt. Joseph was sold  by his brothers into slavery. He was forced to put all of his great talents and energies at the disposal of his Egyptian master, Potiphar.

The second verse does indeed deal with the Mishkan. However it does not deal with the building of the Mishkan, rather it refers to the completion of the Mishkan.[3]

Why was Rav Yosef confounded by these two verses specifically? Rav Kook says that Rav Yosef’s doubt reflects his own question about how to view the Messianic era.

If the first verse is included in the laws of Shabbat this symbolizes the inclusion of all talents into the final great Shabbat epoch. Yosef was a great man, he is known as Yosef Hatzadik. He represents the entire Jewish nation. Not only Yosef will be redeemed (of course he will). What Rav Yosef is teaching is that not only what he did for his brothers will be acknowledged but even what he did for Potiphar will be acknowledged.

Bur Rav Yosef had doubts. Perhaps there are endeavors that are so foreign to Jewish ideals that they have no place in a redeemed world. Perhaps not everything can be elevated and sanctified. There is a point where we say “enough.” No more. That is what Rav Yosef suggested when he said that the 39th instance of the word “work” is the verse that contains the word “enough”:

וְהַמְּלָאכָה הָיְתָה דַיָּם לְכָל הַמְּלָאכָה לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתָהּ וְהוֹתֵר:

Rav Kook usually gives us an idea of what he feels is the conclusion of the Gemarah’s discussion.  Here however the Gemarah concludes by saying there is no answer to Rav Yosef’s question. It is left as a תיקו and Rav Kook himself writes that this is an interesting question without (apparently) answering it:

“…זאת היא שאלה מענינת מאד.”

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischman

[1] In ספר שמות  the commandment to build the Mishkan is juxtaposed with the commandment to observe Shabbat.

[2] In its various grammatical constructs.

[3] More precisely, it deals with the completion of the gathering of the materials needed to build the Mishkan.

November 12, 2017 6:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 19
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we studied another passage from עין איה which contained a remarkable insight from Rav Kook.

The shiur was based on this passage from masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נד עמוד ב

רב ורבי חנינא ורבי יוחנן ורב חביבא מתנו בכוליה דסדר מועד כל כי האי זוגא חלופי רבי יוחנן ומעייל רבי יונתן

This is apparently an innocuous, technical passage. Anyone who has studied Talmud, even at an elementary level,  has come across passages in the Gemarah which clarify the attribution of statements to the correct source. The significance of attributing statements to their author cannot be overstated. In determining the Halacha there are rules which instruct us to rule like one particular rabbi as opposed to another. We need to know which rabbi is the author of which opinion. Furthermore there is a famous idea in Masechet Avot:

משנה מסכת אבות פרק ו משנה ו

…והאומר דבר בשם אומרו הא למדת שכל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם שנאמר (אסתר ב’) ותאמר אסתר למלך בשם מרדכי:

So at first glance, the passage in masechet Shabbat is a reiteration of an accepted notion. The names Yochanan and Yonatan are similar and easily confused and some people quote Rabbi Yochanan while some people attribute the same statements to Rabbi Yonatan.

Rav Kook makes an interesting observation. If the scholars of the Gemarah were interested solely in accuracy of the transmission of the laws then they would not have recorded doubtful attributions at all. In our suggyah the Gemarah is referring to a quartet of rabbis who studied סדר מועד. Three of the four rabbis are known with certainty, the fourth rabbi is either Rabbi Yochanan or Rabbi Yonatan. Why is the Gemarah concerned with recording both options for the fourth rabbi?

Rav Kook explains that the Talmud’s insistence on correctly linking statements to their authors is not a merely academic exercise. There is a deeper motivation for this accuracy. Rav Kook says that knowing individual halachot is not the ultimate goal for a scholar of Halacha. The most profound lessons are learned when the student knows, accurately, the entire corpus of an earlier sage’s  teachings. Rabbi Yochanan ( to take the rabbi mentioned in our suggyah) is mentioned over 3000 times in the Talmud.[1] Rabbi Yochanan was certainly a master of Halacha. To know all of his rulings is a key to understanding Halacha. But there is another level to what Rabbi Yochanan can teach us. Rabbi Yochanan had a philosophy, a world view  to teach us. His philosophy can be discovered by mastering all of his teachings. Rav Kook sees the collected teachings of all of our sages as mosaics.[2] The picture displayed in a mosaic is the product of having all of the necessary tiles. When we mistakenly attribute the teaching of Resh Lakish[3] to Rabbi Yochanan we deprive ourselves of the  opportunity to discover the overarching philosophies of these two great teachers.

At one level it is enough to know a particular law; if something is not kosher and I refrain from eating it may not matter to me if I don’t know which Amorah ruled that this item may not be eaten. Rav Kook teaches that we need to strive to find the religious philosophy which guided a master to issue his rulings. The philosophy of Torah which guided Rabbi Akiva can be discovered by studying the entirety of his Halachic rulings.

After teaching us what he thinks is the highest aspiration for a student of the Talmud, Rav Kook takes this idea one step further. In our suggyah the Gemarah says that either Rabbi Yochanan or Rabbi Yonatan were members of a particular quartet of scholars. What value is there in a doubtful attribution? If I apply my metaphor of the mosaics, how can Rabbi Yochanan’s name complete the mosaic if the fourth member of the study group was Rabbi Yonatan?

Rav Kook says that this suggyah teaches us the value of doubtful knowledge. There is a  Gemarah in Rosh Hashanah[4]  that teaches us that  when the court makes a mistake in determining the calendar, the determination is valid. The holidays celebrated on those mistaken dates are sanctified.

Why is this so? Why does Hashem accept our mistakes? Rav Kook says that Hashem is aware of our human limitations. He knows that we are subjective beings and that our human nature guides our Halachic decisions. Our sincere effort is what Hashem asks of us. We are not cold calculators. Our decisions may be wrong, they may lack pure objectivity but Hashem imbues them with holiness.

We may not know if particular laws were taught by Rabbi Yochanan or Rabbi Yonatan. But as we study their respective teachings, as we analyze them and form our mosaic of their teachings, the Torah which we derive will only be enhanced by the inclusion of even doubtful citations.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman

[1] I checked on the Bar Ilan data base.

[2] This is my metaphor and I hope that it is a correct interpretation of Rav Kook’s teaching.

[3] Resh Lakish was Rabbi Yochanan’s student and study partner.

[4] Rosh Hashanah 25a

November 19, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 20
Class description

Hello Everyone,

On Sunday we studied one of the more difficult passages in masechet Shabbat and the עין איה.

Here is the suggyah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נה עמוד א

אמר רב אמי אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון אין מיתה בלא חטא דכתיב הנפש החטאת היא תמות בן לא ישא בעון האב ואב לא ישא בעון הבן צדקת הצדיק עליו תהיה ורשעת הרשע עליו תהיה וגו’ אין יסורין בלא עון דכתיב ופקדתי בשבט פשעם ובנגעים עונם

מיתיבי אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם מפני מה קנסת מיתה על אדם הראשון אמר להם מצוה קלה צויתיו ועבר עליה אמרו לו והלא משה ואהרן שקיימו כל התורה כולה ומתו אמר להם מקרה אחד לצדיק ולרשע לטוב וגו’

הוא דאמר כי האי תנא דתניא רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר אף משה ואהרן בחטאם מתו שנאמר יען לא האמנתם בי הא האמנתם בי עדיין לא הגיע זמנכם ליפטר מן העולם

Here are Rashi’s comments on the  suggyah:

בלא חטא – וחטאו של אדם גורם לו מיתה.

בשבט ובנגעים – היינו יסורים, וקאמר שאין באין אלא משום פקידת עון.

בעטיו של נחש – בעצתו של נחש שהשיא לחוה, ולא בחטא אחר, שלא חטאו, בעטיו – כמו עטא וטעם (דניאל ב).

At first glance it seems that Rav Ami is discussing in the suggyah the fate of individuals. Rav Ami says that an individual dies because of his or her sins. The Gemarah then cites a text in which the angels ask Hashem if death exists because of the sin of Adam and Eve, why then did Moses and Aaron have to die? Hashem replies to the angels with a verse from Kohelet which indicates that everyone faces the same end, regardless of their righteousness.

The Gemarah then answers on Rav Ami’s behalf that even Moses and Aaron sinned and therefore died.

Rav Kook explains that this suggyah is discussing humanity in general and not individuals. Let us look at Rav Ami’s statement:

אמר רב אמי אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון

Like in other texts, Rav Ami’s statement is structured as a couplet. Since it is structured as a couplet it is tempting not see every word as having significance. It would be easy to say that Rav Ami is discussing “why bad things happen to good people.” He discusses death and suffering ( which are the bad things) and says that they occur due to sin (either חטא or עון).

Rav Kook says that Rav Ami is discussing something much more subtle. He is discussing death as a reality in this world. Why is there death? Rav Kook emphasizes that Rav Ami is not coming to explain why sinners die. Rav Ami is coming to explain why death exists at all.

As Rav Kook sees it [1] humanity is on an evolutionary path spiritually. Every generation needs to build on what its predecessors have done. Eventually humanity will achieve a level of spiritual  perfection when they won’t sin even accidentally. Rav Ami did not use the word “חטא” as a sort of generic term for “sin.” חטא specifically means sin done without intention to do wrong. This level of perfection will eventually arrive. Until that time, each generation will need to move on to make room for a new generation which will make its own progress to perfection. This why there is a need for death. Death enables the evolutionary process. That is why there will be death until such time as there is no more חטא.

Suffering is something experienced by the individual. It is brought upon a person because of deliberate misdeeds which is the precise definition of עון. They are intended to make a person acknowledge that there is a God whose laws must be followed.

So Rav Ami, far from making a shallow observation about the world and its problems, was explaining to us why things are the way they are. Death is an integral part of human evolution. Suffering is the educational tool which Hashem uses to make us aware of His law.

The Gemarah offers a text to refute Rav Ami’s position. If death is needed for an evolutionary process to take place, why then did Moses and Aaron need to die? Certainly they achieved all that two humans could possibly attain. Death cannot be a necessity for an evolutionary process. Death is simply a part of human existence. Even when people perfect themselves as Moses and Aaron did, there is still an even higher level of perfection which they can reach. But that level of perfection cannot be realized on earth. Everyone, including Moses and Aaron, is bound by the limits of the physical world. The final level of perfection can only be realized in the world of spirit. That is why death is a part of our existence.

Rav Ami certainly does not agree with the text brought by the Gemarah. Rav Ami’s view is supported by a different Tannaitic text. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar does not simply say that Moses and Aaron died because of what happened at מי מריבה. Rather, he says something more nuanced:

אף משה ואהרן בחטאם מתו שנאמר יען לא האמנתם בי הא האמנתם בי עדיין לא הגיע זמנכם ליפטר מן העולם

What is meant by the words “לא הגיע זמנכם ליפטר מן העולם?” Even in the ideal situation we are not meant to spend an eternity on earth. There is a level of spiritual development that can only be realized in עולם הבא. This existence can in no way be understood as “death.”  While death is due to חטא and Moses and Aaron did sin, had they not sinned they still would eventually have departed from this earth for the more perfect existence which is עולם הבא.

This suggyah addresses the most challenging questions concerning what is called “the human condition.” Rav Kook’s interpretation provides a challenging perspective on Rav Ami’s statement and the Gemara’s subsequent analysis. It is a difficult text to understand. It is even more difficult to teach this text. Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman


[1] Perhaps I should say, “How Rav Ami sees it according to Rav Kook.”

November 26, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 21
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we studied one of the most controversial lines in the Gemarah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נו עמוד א

אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן כל האומר דוד חטא אינו אלא טועה

What does Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani mean? The story of David and Batsheva was certainly known to him. Nothing can be more clear than the words of Natan to David:

שמואל ב פרק יב

(ט) מַדּוּעַ בָּזִיתָ אֶת דְּבַר ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינַי אֵת אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי הִכִּיתָ בַחֶרֶב וְאֶת  אִשְׁתּוֹ לָקַחְתָּ לְּךָ לְאִשָּׁה וְאֹתוֹ הָרַגְתָּ בְּחֶרֶב בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן:

In Israel תנ”ך is taught in the schools and there is a debate about how it should be taught. Some people say that  תנ”ך needs to be taught “honestly” ( or as it is expressed in Hebrew, it should be taught “בגובה העיניים” ). This means that the flaws of the heroes and heroines of the תנ”ך need to be discussed in the class.  The people who endorse תנ”ך בגובה העיניים say that the Gemarah simply covers up with tendentious apologetics the sins committed by our ancestors.

This is not a new accusation against the Gemarah. In the 16th century the Maharal wrote a book titled “.באר הגולה” The book is a defense of the Rabbinic thought and literature in general and of the Talmud in particular. The chapters of the book are each called a “.באר” The fifth chapter is devoted to defending Aggadot which are attacked as being nonsensical. Among the Aggadic passages which the Maharal defends is our suggyah in masechet Shabbat.

The Maharal explains the suggyah as follows. Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani juxtaposes two pesukim. On the one hand there is the pasuk in which Natan condemns David’s behavior. But there is a second pasuk:

שמואל א פרק יח

(יד) וַיְהִי דָוִד לְכָל דְּרָכָו מַשְׂכִּיל וַה’ עִמּו:

This pasuk says that “Hashem is with David.” This is not a statement about Hashem’s relationship with David at the time that David served in the army of Sha’ul. On the contrary, Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani sees this pasuk as telling us about something permanent; Hashem was always with David. If this is so, it is impossible to say that David was an adulterer or murderer. If David had really committed these terrible crimes Hashem would have been with him. Therefore Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani needed to reconcile these two conflicting verses. His resolution of the apparent contradiction was:

שביקש לעשות ולא עשה…

This seems like a lame interpretation of the תנ”ך. The words of Natan are so accusatory how can Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani seriously maintain that “he didn’t really do it?”

The Maharal explains this passage as follows. The Maharal says that it is a mistake to focus on one pasuk and ignore the other. We cannot pay attention only to the words of Natan. The two words “וה’ עמו” are crucial to understand the entire narrative. David was chosen by Hashem. There was a Divine plan in which David figured prominently. Therefore Hashem could not and would not allow David to sin.  The verses which indicate that David sinned are referring to his intentions. David was indeed infatuated with Batsheva and would willingly have committed adultery with her. However, Hashem could not allow David to commit such a sin. The technicality of Uriah’s having written a conditional divorce for Batsheva was Hashem’s device to save David from his worst instincts in order to preserve him to fulfil his role in history.

Rav Kook presents a different perspective on David and this suggyah.[1] Rav Kook’s vision of a king is a person who has “larger than life” ambition. This is a necessity. A king needs to lead his people to glory, he needs to broaden both the physical and spiritual boundaries of his nation. Similar to Maharal , Rav Kook says that the words “וה’ עמו” tell us the truth about David’s spiritual state. The test of a king is his ability to channel his energies to positive goals. It was wrong of David to allow himself to desire Batsheva. The prophet Natan condemns David for the appearances of his behaviour. Hashem saved him from sinning, because Hashem does save special צדיקים:

משלי פרק ג

(כו) כִּי ה’ יִהְיֶה בְכִסְלֶךָ וְשָׁמַר רַגְלְךָ מִלָּכֶד:

We live in a period in which cynicism about our leaders seems to be the only way to appraise our political elites. The story of David and Batsheva does not seem to allow any interpretation which does not portray David in the darkest shades. Hashem’s own prophet doesn’t spare any words in attacking David for his actions. So how should we understand Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani’s justification for David’s behaviour? Is Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani serving as a publicity agent polishing the reputation of David for a gullible public? This is indeed how the  תנ”ך בגובה עיניים school sees the Gemara, and they see themselves as rescuing us from ignorance.

The Maharal and Rav Kook present the Gemarah in another light. Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani is teaching us that it is wrong to accentuate the negative and ignore the positive. In certain circles Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani’s explanation is understood to be a complete exoneration of David. The תנ”ך בגובה עיניים supporters attack those circles and it may be that their critique possesses a degree of validity.

It is important to note that neither Rav Kook nor Maharal say that David was blameless. Their interpretations of Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani are not defences of David ( which is accomplished by the Gemarah itself) as much as they are defences of the integrity of Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman

[1] I wish to emphasize that I find Rav Kook’s explanation difficult and I may not be presenting it accurately.

December 3, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 22
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we saw Rav Kook’s lesson taken from one of the most dramatic stories in the Talmud.

The story tells about the marriage of Rabbi Akiva to Rachel, the daughter of Kalba Savua. Before Rabbi Akiva became Rabbi Akiva he was simply Akiva, an unlettered and poor peasant. Rachel on the other hand was the daughter of one of the most prominent and wealthiest leaders of the Jewish community. When Akiva and Rachel were engaged to be married Kalba Savua was outraged. He disowned Rachel and vowed that she would never benefit from his property. Rachel and Akiva married despite the opposition of Kalba Savua. They were so poor that they slept on straw. Rachel would pick the straw out of her hair, and when Akiva saw this he told her that could he afford to, he would buy her an ornament called “Jerusalem of Gold.” One day Eliyahu appeared to the couple. He pretended to be a poor man begging for straw so that his wife who was in labor could lay down on something soft. Akiva then told Rachel, “You see, there is someone poorer than us.”

At that point Rachel said the words that may have changed Jewish history; she told her husband to go to a yeshiva. Akiva went off for twelve years of study at the academy of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua who were the greatest scholars of their time. During this time Rachel lived in abject poverty. After twelve years Rabbi Akiva returned home. As he approached his house he heard an evil neighbor mock Rachel. The evil neighbor told Rachel that her father was right. Akiva was totally unworthy of Rachel and his leaving for all these years just proves the point. Rachel answered that if she could, she would tell her husband to spend another twelve years in the yeshiva.

When Rabbi Akiva heard these words he turned around and went back to the yeshiva for another twelve years.

Finally  Rabbi Akiva returned home with 24,000 pairs of students. Rachel left her home to greet her husband, dressed in her rags. The evil neighbor mocked her again, saying that she will never gain admittance to Rabbi Akiva looking as she did. Rachel was confident that her husband will recognize her. As Rachel approached Rabbi Akiva his students tried to push her away but Rabbi Akiva told them to leave her be saying, “What is mine and yours is hers.”[1]

This story is in masechet Nedarim. In masechet Shabbat there is a discussion regarding the wearing of jewelry on Shabbat. The Halacha restricts the wearing of jewelry on Shabbat by women because there is a concern that they may remove their jewelry to show it to their friends and then carry the jewelry in the street.

In the course of this discussion the “Jerusalem of Gold” ornament is mentioned.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נט עמוד א- נט עמוד ב

לא בעיר של זהב מאי בעיר של זהב רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן ירושלים דדהבא כדעבד ליה רבי עקיבא לדביתהו

The Gemarah asks, “What is the Jerusalem of Gold ornament?” The Gemarah answers that it is the ornament that Rabbi Akiva purchased for his wife.

The plain reading of the suggyah indicates that the only concern is that women may carry their jewelry in the street. Rav Kook uncovers another level of meaning in this suggyah.

Rav Kook says that there is a need to find a balanced between asceticism and extravagance. The allure of luxury has led to much misery in families and even in entire countries.

The rabbis didn’t limit the wearing of jewelry on Shabbat because they opposed ornaments. The rabbis appreciated beauty. Rabbi Akiva bought a Jerusalem of Gold ornament for Rachel. But this ornament was not a mere piece of jewelry. It was a beautiful example of the jeweler’s art but it contained within it a deep meaning. It merged physical beauty with the spiritual beauty of Jerusalem. The blending of the physical with the spiritual is the beauty which the Torah appreciates.

Nevertheless the rabbis forbade wearing even the Jerusalem of Gold ornament on Shabbat. The reason for this is that the pursuit of beauty needs to be controlled; it needs limits and must be reined in. Shabbat is the day which has an inherent beauty given by Hashem. Superficial physical beauty is distracting, we cannot allow it to distract us from the essence the Sabbath. That is why we do not wear jewelry on Shabbat.[2]

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman

[1] It almost goes without saying that Kalba Savua annulled his vow after Rabbi Akiva’s rise to fame.

[2] I want to emphasize that the shiur on Sunday is a shiur on the עין איה. It is not a shiur on Halacha. The Gemarah discusses a prohibition against wearing  jewelry on Shabbat. The accepted practice is to be lenient with regard to this prohibition. The basis for the leniency is the accepted Ashkenazic ruling that our cities do not have רשות הרבים  .

December 10, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 23
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Hello Everyone,

This past Sunday we discussed two perspectives on one of the paradoxical halachot of Chanukah.

The central mitzvah of Chanukah is the lighting of the Chanukah candles. The purpose of the candles is to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and this publicizing  of the mitzvah is known in Hebrew as פרסום הנס.

Candles of course are subject to being blown out unexpectedly. The Gemarah says there is a dispute if one is obligated to light the candles again should they be extinguished before their having remained lit for the required half-hour. The halacha is that כבתה אין זקוק לה- if the Chanukah do not to be re-lit should they be extinguished prematurely.

This ruling is difficult to understand. If the purpose of lighting the Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle, how has this been accomplished if the lights are blown put after two minutes? Why shouldn’t one need to re-light the candles so that they remain lit for the necessary half hour?

We saw two explanations for this halacha. One explanation came from the Chassidic work בני יששכר and the other explanation came from Rav Kook zt”l.

The בני יששכר[1]  wrote that the Chanukah lights symbolize the difference between the Torah and secular wisdom. The value of secular wisdom lies in its providing the correct answer to various questions. For every question the only valuable answer is the correct and useful answer. If a person studies and experiments for many years but reaches an incorrect conclusion he has wasted his time. Secular knowledge is pragmatic and the pursuit of secular knowledge is utilitarian in nature.

The pursuit of Torah knowledge is based on an entirely different system of values. Hashem gave us a mitzvah to study the Torah. We say every day a blessing      “ברוך אתה ה’… לעסוק בדברי תורה.”  Hashem wants us to be involved in the study of Torah.  We know that the Gemarah records all the opinions of the Sages, we study opinions which were  accepted as being “Halachic” but we also study the opinions which were not incorporated into the Halacha. The opinions of Beit Shammai form the Torah along with the opinions of Beit Hillel. All of the opinions are holy.

This sort of knowledge is not pragmatic. If Hashem was interested in our acquiring “useful knowledge” the Torah would be narrowed down to the קיצור שלחן ערוך. But the study of Torah is an exercise in holiness. Even when we study and arrive at incorrect conclusions we have fulfilled the mitzvah of studying Torah.

This is why we don’t need to re-light the Chanukah candles if they are blown out before the minimum time. If the candles were lit for a purely practical reason (such as פרסום הנס) then we would be required to re-light them. But the candles represent the non-pragmatic Torah and by not lighting them anew we demonstrate that the study of Torah is totally unlike the study of secular of knowledge.

Rav Kook zt”l saw a different idea in the Chanukah candles. The discussion of the Chanukah lights appears in a discussion of the Shabbat candles. The Gemarah distinguishes between oils and wicks which burn cleanly and those that do not. The latter types may not be used on Shabbat but they may be used for Chanukah. The reason that they may be used on Chanukah is that should the Chanukah lights not remain lit for the required time they need not be re-lit. The question is, as we said already is, why not?

Rav Kook  זצ”ל wrote that the miracle of Chanukah occurred at a time when Judaism was under attack by a foreign culture. The Jews had absorbed to a certain extent the values of Hellenism.  Even the victorious חשמונאים were influenced to a certain extent by an alien brand of nationalism.[2] The Chanukah lights represent the Torah according to Rav Kook, as they do for the בני יששכר but Rav Kook sees in the Chanukah lights a different sort of Torah. The lights of Chanukah which do not burn cleanly and which we may ignore should they go out early represent the “hybridized” Torah which is a mixture of eternal values with the secular cultures of the day. Throughout the duration of our exile we have been and will continue to be exposed to foreign ideologies. Some Jews will be attracted to those ideas and led away from the Torah. In order to meet the needs of the Jews who are attracted to foreign concepts and beliefs there is a legitimate need for a literature which expounds the Torah’s values using the terms of alien cultures. This was done first[3] by Philo of Alexandria. It was done by the great medieval thinkers such as Rav Sadiah Gaon and the Rambam. This sort of writing was done after the Emancipation by Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l in Germany.

This literature is valuable because it meets the needs of the time in which it is written. However it lacks the eternal quality of “pure” Torah. Since this literature is written to address a particular ideology (be it Aristotelian or German thought) once that ideology has lost its currency the Torah literature written to accommodate it loses its value as well. There will always be a mitzvah to study the opinions of בית שמאי which are not accepted להלכה but there is no longer any need to study the Rambam’s discussions of Aristotle’s physics.

This explains why we may ignore the Chanukah lights if they go out too early. The Chanukah lights represent that Torah-based literature which was composed as a response to the transient secular philosophies of their time.

Happy Chanukah, Stuart Fischman


Dinov (Yiddish: דינאָוו‎, Hebrew: דינוב‎) is the name of a Hasidic dynasty, descended from Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov (c. 1783 – 1841), also called “theBnei Yisaschar” after his popular work: בני יששכר [Bene Yiśaśkhar]. Dinov is the Yiddish name of Dynów, a town in southern Poland, in the historic region ofGalicia.[1]

[2] Rav Kook mentions in connection with this the failure of the חשמונאים to hand the leadership of the nation over to the descendants of דוד המלך.  See what the Ramban writes about this failure in his commentary to פרשת ויחי.

[3] As far as I know

December 17, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 24
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed two conflicting views of the Messianic era. Here is the Gemara from masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף סג עמוד א

משנה לא יצא האיש לא בסייף ולא בקשת ולא בתריס ולא באלה ולא ברומח ואם יצא חייב חטאת רבי אליעזר אומר תכשיטין הן לו וחכמים אומרים אינן אלא לגנאי שנאמר וכתתו חרבותם לאתים וחניתותיהם למזמרות ולא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה

גמרא מאי באלה קולפא

רבי אליעזר אומר תכשיטין הן לו תניא אמרו לו לרבי אליעזר וכי מאחר דתכשיטין הן לו מפני מה הן בטלין לימות המשיח אמר להן לפי שאינן צריכין שנאמר לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ותהוי לנוי בעלמא אמר אביי מידי דהוה אשרגא בטיהרא ופליגא דשמואל דאמר שמואל אין בין העולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שיעבוד גליות בלבד שנאמר כי לא יחדל אביון מקרב הארץ

In this suggyah we have a מחלוקת within another מחלוקת. The first מחלוקת is a מחלוקת regarding a detail of Hilchot Shabbat. On Shabbat it is forbidden to carry items from the home to the street, from the street into the home and to pick up items in the street and carry them. It is however permitted to wear clothing and ornaments. In this Mishnah Rabbi Eliezer debates the Sages if weapons are ornaments. The Sages say that weapons are not ornaments; they are objects to be viewed with scorn. Rabbi Eliezer says that they are ornaments. The Sages ask Rabbi Eliezer, if arms are ornaments then why will there be no more weapons in the Messianic era? Why won’t they still fill their role as ornaments? Rabbi Eliezer replies that there won’t be weapons in that time because they won’t be needed anymore.

The Gemarah then points out that the anticipation of a universally peaceful world is in opposition to the view of Shmuel. Shmuel said about the Messianic era:

אין בין העולם הזה לימות המשיח אלא שיעבוד גליות בלבד

So within the debate over weapons we encounter if weapons will be eliminated once the Messiah arrives.

Rav Kook explains the suggyah as follows.

Boldness and bravery are admirable character traits. They must, however, be channelled and applied properly.  Therefore Rabbi Eliezer says that arms which are the outward manifestations of these traits are ornaments. The Sages object to this idea. They say that for the greatest majority of human history weapons have been used to bring suffering and destruction to the world. This is a simple fact of history which cannot be denied. It follows that far from being ornaments, weapons are looked upon with disdain and scorn.

Rabbi Eliezer concedes that in the Messianic era there will be no more need for weapons, and they will no longer be ornaments. What precisely will we experience in the Messianic era and why will weapons be totally obsolete?

Rav Kook says that contrast and difference are what make life dynamic and they drive change. A world where everyone thinks alike would be stagnant and most definitely undesirable. Nations ( which apparently according to Rav Kook are political entities inhabited by people with shared opinions) may find themselves in ideological opposition with other nations, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, disagreements can lead to progress. But, as long as nations disagree with each other there is a need for something to prevent the disagreements from becoming violent. That is why there is a need for arms. The threat of reprisal in case of violent attack upon a nation is what maintains the peace. In such an existence weapons may be viewed as ornaments. Even when they are not used their presence serves a valuable purpose.

The Messianic era will be an era of peace. However it will not be an era of bland agreement. Nations will still disagree with each other even after the Messiah comes. However what will be different is that people will understand that disagreements can be tolerated and even welcomed. There will be an understanding that differences of opinion should be respected and not settled by force.  In this era weapons will be reminders of a less glorious past, a past when the threat of violence was required to keep the peace. That is why even Rabbi Eliezer agrees that in Messiah’s time weapons will no longer be ornaments.

How does Shmuel see the Messianic era? Shmuel bases his concept on this verse from the Torah:

דברים פרק טו פסוק יא

כִּי לֹא יֶחְדַּל אֶבְיוֹן מִקֶּרֶב הָאָרֶץ עַל כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר פָּתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לְאָחִיךָ לַעֲנִיֶּךָ וּלְאֶבְיֹנְךָ בְּאַרְצֶךָ:

Shmuel learns from this פסוק  that poverty will always be with us. This being the case the most that we can anticipate from the Messianic era is the political freedom of the Jewish people without a fundamental change in society.

Rav Kook explains that the poverty that will persist after the coming of the Messiah is not the sort of poverty which causes suffering and is a punishment for one’s misdeeds.  Rather it is a sort of “want” which generates feelings of pity and love which are necessary in a society. Society in the Messianic era according to Shmuel will not be different from our society. There will still be a wide variety of temperaments and personalities. Societies at both the national and international levels will be vibrant and rife with differences. This being the case there will be, even in this blessed time, a necessity for weapons to fulfill their task as the ornaments whose presence maintain honest disagreements from degenerating into violence.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Happy Chanukah.

Stuart Fischman

P.S.- If you have not already done so, please make your contribution to the WebYeshiva’s fundraising drive. Thank-you

December 24, 2017 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 25
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Hello Everyone,

In this shiur we studied how Rav Kook understood an idea found in the Gemarah which became one of the central tenets of Chassidic thought. Specifically, how Rav Kook understood the statement “. צדיק גוזר והקב”ה מקיים”

The idea appears (and is expressed somewhat differently in each location) in three suggyaot. It appears once in masechet Moe’ed Katan and twice in masechet Shabbat. In Chassidut, this idea was taken as an expression of the unique position that the tzaddik occupies in this world. This is  how the Maor vaShemesh explains this idea in his commentary to the Torah:

“ובאמת בשכל האנושי אין להבין זאת, שהצדיק יוכל לבטל גזירות המקום ב”ה, רק שרצונו יתברך גזר כן, שהצדיק הדבוק בו יתברך שמו – יהיה לו כח וממשלה לבטל גזירות רעות, ולגזור גזירות טובות.”

The Maor vaShemesh says that the ability of the tzaddik to issue decrees which Hashem will carry out is not something which  we can comprehend. But despite its incomprehensibility it is true- Hashem carries out the decrees of the tzaddik.

In the Chassidic reading of these suggyaot we are taught that the decrees of the tzaddik are not always in a concert with Hashem’s plan. Hashem’s original plan for certain people can be changed when the tzaddik intervenes and acts as he sees fit to do.

Rav Kook understands the these suggyaot differently. Here is the first suggyah from masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נט עמוד ב

…. ותו דרבי חנינא לא סגי דלא מליך דכי הוה קא ניחא נפשיה דרבי אמר חנינא ברבי חמא יתיב בראש וכתיב בהו בצדיקים ותגזר אמר ויקם לך וגו’

The Gemarah asks how did Rav know that Rabbi Chaninah was the head of the yeshiva in Israe. The Gemarah answers that it was inevitable that Rabbi Chaninah would ascend to that position because Rabbi Yehudah said on his death-bed that Rabbi Chaninah will be the head of the yeshiva.

A Chasid such as the Maor vaShemesh would explain that Hashem acceded to the request of Rabbi Yehudah. Rav Kook’s explanation is almost totally opposed to the Chasidic view of the tzaddik. Rav Kook says it is not that the tzaddik expresses a wish that Hashem fulfils. The contrary is true. The tzaddik is one who has achieved a profound grasp of Hashem’s will. The tzaddik expresses the will of Hashem. Rabbi Chaninah was worthy in Hashem’s view of being the Rosh Yeshivah; all that Rabbi Yehudah did was to express Hashem’s will.

This is what the Gemarah says a little later in masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נט עמוד ב

ותו דרבי חנינא לא סגי דלא מליך דכי הוה קא ניחא נפשיה דרבי אמר חנינא ברבי חמא יתיב בראש וכתיב בהו בצדיקים ותגזר אמר ויקם לך וגו’

For a Chasid this Gemarah says it all; the tzaddkik can overturn a Divine decree. Rav Kook again gives a different expalanation of the this Talmudic idea.

Rav Kook says that the decrees of Hashem which govern earthly events were created by Hashem to regulate ordinary life. Ordinary people lead lives of “fluctuating morality.” Most people are usually moral and suffer from occasional moral lapses. Hashem’s decrees are made with the hope that they will lead people to refrain from sinning. But tzadikim are not like most people. Tzadikim are totally righteous. Hashem’s decrees[1] aren’t needed by tzadikim. The tzadik does not overturn Hashem’s decrees according to Rav Kook. Rather, the tzadik elevates everyone who lives in his surroundings. In the environment of the tzadik there is no need for a heavenly decree to ensure that people don’t sin.

Chasidism sees the tzadik as an intermediary who could speak to Hashem on behalf of those in need. Rav Kook saw the tzadik as a person who lived a life totally aligned with Hashem’s  will. The tzadik, according to Rav Kook brought people closer to the will of Hashem.

[1] Which Rav Kook seems to identify with the laws of nature.

January 7, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 26
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Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur on עין איה we studied Rav Kook’s interpretation of the story of David  and M’fiboshet.[1]

Briefly put, דוד המלך sought out a descendant of יהונתן in order to show kindness to his late friend. דוד hears from a servant of Shaul’s family named Tzivah who tells him that יהונתן left a lame son named מפיבשת who lives in a place called לו דבר. David sends for מפיבשת and invites him to live in his home. He also appoints Tzivah to oversee the lands owned by מפיבשת.

Later on David was forced to flee Jerusalem because of the rebellion launched by Avshalom. During his escape from Jerusalem he meets Tzivah who came to greet David. Tzivah brought to David much-needed supplies of food. When David asked Tzivah as to M’fisboshet’s whereabouts Tzivah replied that M’fiboshet remained in Jerusalem planning the return of the kingship to the family of Sha’ul.  Upon hearing this David awards all of M’fiboshet’s lands to Tzivah.

David defeated Avshalom and returned to Jerusalem triumphantly. M’fisboshet goes out to greet David, but he did not dress asd if he was going to greet a king. On the contrary he appeared to be in mourning. David asked M’fiboshet why didn’t he join him  when he fled Jerusalem. M’fiboshet explained that his servant tricked him and left him alone. Being lame in both legs M’fiboshet could simply ride out to join David on his own. The fact is that my servant slandered me to the king, but you the king, are as wise as angel  and will do what is just. David replied that M’fiboshet should say no more; M’fiboshet’s estates will be split between M’fiboshet and Tzivah. M’fiboshet replied that he can take all of the property; I am happy that you have returned safely.

The Gemarah says that Rav and Shmuel debated the propriety of David’s response to M’fisboshet’s behaviour. Rav said that David was guilty of accepting lashon hara from Tzivah. Tzivah had already slandered M’fisboshet once[2], why did David believe him when he said that M’fiboshet  was plotting against him?

Shmuel says that David did not accept lashon hara. Rather, when David saw that M’fisboshet appeared like a mourner when he came to greet him this was evidence that Tzivah told the truth. As the Gemarah says, “. דברים הניכרים חזה ביה”

The Gemrah says that David’s ruling that M’fisboshet must split his estate with Tzivah had the most drastic consequences.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נו עמוד ב

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שאמר דוד למפיבשת אתה וציבא תחלקו את השדה יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו רחבעם וירבעם יחלקו את המלוכה אמר רב יהודה אמר רב אילמלי לא קיבל דוד לשון הרע לא נחלקה מלכות בית דוד ולא עבדו ישראל עבודה זרה ולא גלינו מארצנו

Why did the ruling against M’fisboshet lead to the split of the kingdom?

Rav Kook explains that by listening to lashon hara a person’s world-view is changed. People who listen to lashon hara become suspicious, they see plots in the most trivial incidents. When a king listens to lashon hara it undermines the justice in his realm. When Tzivah told David that M’fisboshet was living in Lo Davar he was intimating that M’fiboshet was occupied with political intrigues. David was correct to think that Tzivah may be telling the truth; that is why David invited M’fiboshet into his home. David wanted to see M’fiboshet for himself.  It turned out that Tzivah lied about M’fisboshet. M’fiboshet had no designs on retaking the throne. Therefore David was wrong to believe Tzivah when he said that M’fiboshet deliberately abandoned David when he stayed in Jeusalem durig the revolt of Avshalom.

Rav Kook goes on to explain that in David’s case the willingness to listen to lashon hara was a necessity. In general, listening to lashon hara leads to a tendency to see the bad in everything. But in the case of David he needed to incorporate into his being every character trait, even the bad ones. He needed to incorporate them and elevate them. He needed to take the jaded perspective of the person who listens to lashon hara and convert it into an outlook on life which sees the good in everything. David may have believed the lashon hara about M’fiboshet but he went on to see the world only with kindness.

Shmuel says that David did not accept lashon hara. Rav Kook says that only people who are insecure, who lack confidence in their self-worth, believe it when told that others speak  lashon hara about them. David would not hae believed Tzivah’s tale that M’fiboshet was plotting against him had he not seen M’fiboshet dresses a mourner.

When David saw M’fiboshet he believed that he was indeed plotting against him. The reason for his plotting is that M’fiboshet , like his grandfather Sha’ul , did not accept or understand David’s concept of kingship.

Shmuel says that M’fiboshet was angry with David for not restoring him to all his lands. His anger with David led to anger with Hashem for restoring David to his kingship:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נו עמוד ב

ויאמר לו המלך למה תדבר עוד דבריך אמרתי אתה וציבא תחלקו את השדה ויאמר מפיבשת אל המלך גם את הכל יקח אחרי אשר בא אדני המלך בשלום אל ביתו אמר לו אני אמרתי מתי תבא בשלום ואתה עושה לי כך לא עליך יש לי תרעומות אלא על מי שהביאך בשלום

The Gemarah says that when M’fiboshet said this, a heavenly voice came and condemned him:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נו עמוד ב

היינו דכתיב ובן יהונתן מריב בעל וכי מריב בעל שמו והלא מפיבשת שמו אלא מתוך שעשה מריבה עם בעליו יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו נצא בר נצא נצא הא דאמרן בר נצא דכתיב ויבא שאול עד עיר עמלק וירב בנחל

Sha’ul found fault with Hashem’s command to exterminate the Amalek. He saw it as a command lacking morality. The בת קול said that M’fiboshet is a quarreller descended from a quarreller.

What does this mean? Sha’ul was an unusually moral and righteous person. Rav Kook says that people like this simply cannot see the threat in evil. They themselves are so far removed from evil and they cannot comprehend that allowing evil to exist jeopardizes future generations. Sh’aul therefore could not understand why Hashem commanded that Amalek be destroyed. As Rav Kook expresses it, Sha’ul could not understand that a king needs to take the future into account, even if it is at the expense of the present. Sha’ul made his decision regarding the destruction of Amalek based on considerations of the present and what is moral now:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף כב עמוד ב

וירב בנחל אמר רבי מני על עסקי נחל בשעה שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא לשאול לך והכית את עמלק אמר ומה נפש אחת אמרה תורה הבא עגלה ערופה כל הנפשות הללו על אחת כמה וכמה ואם אדם חטא בהמה מה חטאה ואם גדולים חטאו קטנים מה חטאו

Ultimately Sha’ul who questioned Hashem’s morality committed a horrible crime when he ordered the death of כהני נוב. The Gemarah continues and says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף כב עמוד ב

יצאה בת קול ואמרה לו אל תהי צדיק הרבה ובשעה שאמר לו שאול לדואג סב אתה ופגע בכהנים יצאה בת קול ואמרה לו אל תרשע הרבה

David was guided by Hashem’s will. Sometimes Hashem’s decisions are inscrutable, but David accepted that Hashem’s decisions are wise and take the future into account. That is why David’s rule was unjust in M’fisboshet’s eyes and he did harbor an unspoken resentment towards David.

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

Stuart Fischman

[1] The story of דוד ומפיבשת is told in שמואל ב, פרקים ט, טז, יט.

[2] The words “lo davar” in Hebrew mean “nothing.” Chazal say that  when Tzivah told David that M’fisboshet lives in Lo Davar he was implying that M’fisboshet was lacking any Torah wisdom. This was not true.

January 14, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 27
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur on עין איה we studied one of the most widely discussed suggyaot in the Gemarah.

This what the Gemarah says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף עה עמוד א

אמר רבי שמעון בן פזי אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי משום בר קפרא כל היודע לחשב בתקופות ומזלות ואינו חושב עליו הכתוב אומר ואת פעל ה’ לא יביטו ומעשה ידיו לא ראו

אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יוחנן מנין שמצוה על האדם לחשב תקופות ומזלות שנאמר ושמרתם ועשיתם כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים איזו חכמה ובינה שהיא לעיני העמים הוי אומר זה חישוב תקופות ומזלות

The first statement ( said in the name of בר קפרא) says that whoever is capable of performing astronomical calculations is  being obdurate in his refusal to appreciate the wonders of Hashem’s creation. The second statement (in the name of Rabbi Yochanan) goes further and says that there is a mitzvah to perform these calculations and Rabbi Yochanan gives an intriguing source for this mitzvah:

דברים פרק ד פסוק ו

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה:

The simple meaning of the pasuk is summed up by Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch in his commentary.  The nations of the world will admire us as being a “wise and intelligent”[1] nation when we observe and fulfill the Torah.[2] Rav Hirsch says that other nations excel by developing their particular sciences and arts. What is unique to the Jews is that we can perfect the science and art[3] of life. Our observance of the Torah will lead us to build a society which the nations of the world will admire.

This commentary of Rav Shimshon rephael Hiorsch seems to me in my humble opinion to be what the pasuk means. Why then did Rabbi Yochanan say that this pasuk refers specifically to the execution of astronomical calculations?

The ר”ן in his commentary to the suggyah in masechet Shabbat provides an explanation.  The statements of Bar Kappara and Rabbi Yochanan come at the end of the suggyah. The suggyah opens with an attack on those who seek knowledge from pagans and sectarians:[4]

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף עה עמוד א

והלומד דבר אחד מן המגוש חייב מיתה והיודע לחשב תקופות ומזלות ואינו חושב אסור לספר הימנו ….דאמר רב זוטרא בר טוביה אמר רב הלומד דבר אחד מן המגוש חייב מיתה

Pagans see the celestial bodies as being able to influence events on earth. Astronomical calculations that demonstrate the predictability of the motion of the planets show that far from being autonomous beings, the planets are subject to a set of rules that govern their behavior.

חידושי הר”ן (מיוחס לו) מסכת שבת דף עה עמוד א

והיודע לחשוב בתקופות ומזלות וכו’. פי’ רבי’ יהונתן ז”ל לפי שהוא חכמה מפוארה ומכיר גדולות קונו שתקנם כרצונו ואין בהם כח לשנות מה שגזר עליהם ולא להיטיב ולהרע אלא ברצון הבור’ שדן בהם בריותיו כחפצו ויכיר טעות המשתחוים לשמש ולירח שטועים בהם ואומרים שמריעים ומטיבים וידע להשיב את אפיקורוס ואת המגוש ע”כ:

When a person knows how to make these calculations he can refute pagans and so demonstrate the wisdom of the Torah.[5]

I mentioned that this suggyah is much discussed. The reason for this is that it is often bandied about when people debate the place of secular studies in a Jewish curriculum. On the one hand it is clear that to perform the calculations described by Bar Kappara and Rabbi Yochanan a person needs a thorough education in mathematics, physics and astronomy. Since neither Bar Kappara nor rabbi Yochanan would ever condone ביטול תורה it would seem that there is a place for these subjects in a yeshiva’s program of study. The debate about this suggyah in the context of the larger debate regarding the proper course of study for a yeshiva is interesting, but this was not the object of yesterday’s shiur.

The actual subject of yesterday’s shiur was Rav Kook’s explanation of the suggyah. Why is it so important to perform astronomical calculations? Rav Kook explains that there are two types of people. Some people find inspiration by observing the wonders of creation. Other people find inspiration within themselves. Each person must cultivate spirituality based on their particular tendency. That is why the Gemarah first says that the study of astronomy is essential for “.היודע ” Those people who have a gift for studying nature must develop that gift since that is their path to come to an appreciation of Hashem. Their souls are nourished by the knowledge that they acquire. Should these people ignore the study of nature their souls will simply wither away.

The study of nature is not essential for those people who can find Hashem through introspection. Their spiritual growth is “outward”- first they look into themselves and this leads them  to see Hashem in the world. For the first group the study of nature leads them to develop their own internal spirituality.

People, Rav Kook says, can find Hashem in different ways and the same is true for nations. The nations of the world are “outwardly” directed. They first study nature, they discover its laws and its beauty. The Jews as a people are “inwardly” directed. We develop our spirituality and through our realization of Hashem’s grandeur we come to appreciate his creation.

However if the Jewish people will never explore the natural sciences our spiritual insights will never shed light on the world as a whole. That is why Rabbi Yochanan says it is absolutely a mitzvah to study astronomy and the sciences.[6] It is only by seeing the world through the light of the Torah that we can bring this wisdom to humanity.

This is a summary of the shiur.  Thanks to everyone who participated in it.

Stuart Fischman

[1] The translation is my own.

[2] See footnote number 1.

[3] In the Hebrew translation from the original German the phrase used in the commentary is “.המדע והאמנות החיים”

[4] The Gemarah has a short discussion regarding the precise definition of “.מגוש”

[5] A profound knowledge of astronomy was a necessity in the times of the Sanhedrin. When the calendar was based on the testimony of witnesses the judges of the Sanhedrin had to know when  the new moon could be anticipated and where it would appear in the evening sky. With this knowledge they could examine the witnesses who came to the court to say that they saw the new moon. Astronomical data and calculations form the bulk of the Rambam’s .הלכות קידוש החודש

[6] Rav Kook specifically writes “. חישוב תקופות ומזלות וכל הדומה לו”

January 21, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 28
Class description

Hello Everyone,

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

One of the great questions that we deal with as Jews is how we should relate to the cultures that surround us. Should we ignore them and try to exist within a cocoon? Or perhaps, should we try to co-exist with them and somehow learn from them while maintaining our identity as a separate people?

Rav Kook  found an answer to this question in a surprising suggyah.  In Shabbat pages 67a-b the Gemarah discusses magic and incantations.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף סז עמוד א

משנה יוצאין בביצת החרגול ובשן שועל ובמסמר מן הצלוב משום רפואה דברי רבי מאיר וחכמים אוסרין אף בחול משום דרכי האמורי

גמרא יוצאין בביצת החרגול דעבדי לשיחלא ובשן של שועל דעבדי לשינתא דחייא למאן דניים דמיתא למאן דלא ניים ובמסמר מן הצלוב דעבדי לזרפא

משום רפואה דברי רבי מאיר אביי ורבא דאמרי תרוייהו כל דבר שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי

In this suggyah we see two ideas. First, there is a prohibition against adopting the habits and customs of the non-Jews. This is the prohibition of דרכי אמורי  which Rashi says we learn from this pasuk:

ויקרא פרק יח פסוק ג

מַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:

But the suggyah also has the ruling of Abayei and Rava that when the there is some sort of therapeutic value to a custom then it is not forbidden as .דרכי אמורי

Rav Kook explains that every nation has its own unique system of values and ideas that work for it. Values and ideas are not always “transferable.” What works for one nation may not work for a different culture and may actually be harmful. This is particularly true for us, the Jewish people. Our system of values and morals is based on the Torah. We may not allow our system of values and morals to absorb the values of other cultures.

However this is not to say that we must be absolutely isolated from other cultures. Some cultural innovations are, as noted above, best left to the nation that discovered them. Bu there are discoveries that have a universal application. These discoveries can and should be shared by all humanity. Such discoveries can be made by even the most depraved cultures. Such is the case of medical therapies. The prohibition against following non-Jewish habits is called .דרכי אמורי The אמורי   are one of the seven nations who lived in the Land of Israel whom we were ordered to battle. When our ancestors failed to drive them out of the land, they worshipped the gods of the אמורי:

שופטים פרק ו

(י) וָאֹמְרָה לָכֶם אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם לֹא תִירְאוּ אֶת אֱלֹהֵי הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יוֹשְׁבִים בְּאַרְצָם וְלֹא שְׁמַעְתֶּם בְּקוֹלִי:

Nevertheless, if a practice of the אמורי should prove to have some sort of medical value we may adopt it.  We need to examine all developments critically, but we need to take care not to reject those developments which can help us. This is what Abayei and Rava teach us when they say:


אביי ורבא דאמרי תרוייהו כל דבר שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי

This is a summary of yesterday’s class. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischman


January 28, 2018 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 29
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied Rav Kook’s explantion for the final episode in parshat Beshalach.

Parshat Beshalach is a series of miraculous events. It opens with the splitting of the sea, it continues to the miraculous restoration of the water at Marah, the arrival of the manna from the sky, and the striking of the stone causing it to yield water. In all of these episodes Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to act and a miracle was the result.

At the end of the parsha Amalek attacked us. From everything that we had seen until now we would expect Hashem to have  instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to save the people. It was Moshe Rabbeinu after all who stood up to the great Pharoah, certainly Moshe Rabbeinu could lead the Jews into battle against Amalek.

But that is not what happened. Instead of leading the Jews into battle, Moshe Rabbeinu instructed Yehoshuah to lead the battle. Moshe Rabbeinu informed Yehoshuah that he, Moshe, will go to the top of a nearby hill with his staff (presumably to pray for a vioctory).

Why didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu lead the battle against Amalek? As we approached the Land of Israel it was Moshe Rabbeinu who led the battles against the two kings, Sichon and Og. Why wouldn’t Moshe Rabbeinu fight Amalek?

Rav Kook gives the following answer. Amalek is the nation which is our greatest enemy. They are the descendants of Esav and have inherited his hatred for his brother Ya’akov and so for us who are his descendants. Ultimately Amalek will be destroyed. Moshe Rabbeinu understood all of this. But he understood something else as well. Moshe Rabbeinu understood that we need an opponent such as Amalek. To quote Rav Kook:

“…כי עוד לא נטהרו ישראל לגמרי עד שלא יהי’ צורך לעולם בכח המנגיד”

I think that Rav Kook is teaching us something about our development as a nation.  We need to have a national identity based purely on a positive appreciation for the Torah. In other words, we need to have an identity based on our perception of what we are and what we can be. This sort of identity evolves with time. Until such time that “נטהרו ישראל לגמרי” our identity is based on how we see ourselves compared to others. That is the role that Amalek plays in our development as a nation. Amalek attacked us so shortly after our deliverance from Egypt that we were not yet a nation. This being the case we could begin to form an identity by seeing our moral opposites. If we were not yet able to define ourselves by what we are, we could begin to acquire an identity by seeing what do not want to be. That is why we actually needed Amalek.

Had Moshe Rabbeinu led the battle against Amalek the victory would have been miraculous and total, and such a total victory would have been premature. That is why Moshe Rabbeinu left the battle to Yehoshuah. Significantly, the Torah does not say that Amalek was defeated, Amalek was only “weakened” .(“ויחלש”)   The final victory will occur when we are ready as a nation to see ourselves for what we are.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur.

Stuart Fischman


February 4, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 30
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday we saw how Rav Kook explored Halachic discussions in the Talmud and found within them spiritual lessons.

This is what the Gemarah says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף סט עמוד ב

אמר רב הונא היה מהלך (בדרך או) במדבר ואינו יודע אימתי שבת מונה ששה ימים ומשמר יום אחד חייא בר רב אומר משמר יום אחד ומונה ששה במאי קמיפלגי מר סבר כברייתו של עולם ומר סבר כאדם הראשון

A person is lost in the desert. She does not remember what day of the week it is so she does not know when to celebrate Shabbat. What should she do?  The Gemarah says that there are two opinions. Rav Huna says that she should count six days starting with the day that she realized that she no longer knows the day of the week. On the seventh day of her count she should mark Shabbat.  Hiyyah bar Rav says that she should celebrate Shabbat on the day that she first realizes that she does not know the day of the week and then count six weekdays and celebrate Shabbat again. What is the basis for each opinion? The Gemarah says that Rav Huna compares  the lost woman’s case to the first Shabbat. Hashem created the world in six days and on the seventh day He created Shabbat. Shabbat should follow six weekdays. Hiyyah bar Rav compares the woman to Adam. Adam was created on Friday and the first complete day of his life was Shabbat. Shabbat should precede one’s work-week.

What is the lesson that we can learn from this suggyah? Rav Kook shows us that besides being a teaching in practical Halacha, the discussion of a person lost in the desert is a lesson on the search for holiness.

Holiness is bound up with the mundane. It is the holy which illuminates the mundane, elevates it and gives it worth. However, in the way of the world in which we live holiness is what follows the mundane. Shabbat comes at the end of the week. The fact that the holy comes at the end of the week is a great promise for the world. The community as such, as an entity, can never sink into the mundane. As long as the community exists, even when it is overwhelmed with concern for material existence, it will encounter holiness.

This guarantee of ultimately encountering is not shared by individuals. When a person breaks away from a community there is no promise that he will find holiness. Whether a person is seeking holiness  through introspection or through personal achievement there is no promise that he will lose himself in the mundane. Sinking into the mundane a person may never discover holiness.

The person who lives as part of a community will encounter holiness at the end of his or her journey. The person who travels alone has no such guarantee. Perhaps he or she should wait for holiness just as we wait for Shabbat. Perhaps it would be better to engage in holiness immediately and then engage in the mundane.

The lesson of the suggyah according to Rav Kook is that we can live lives of holiness, but we need to live with the community. The solitary search for holiness, the rejection of the community because of a perceived lack of interest in sanctity, may not succeed. Monastic communities are not present in Judaism. The great figures in Judaism, the Rambam, Rashi and others  all flourished as leaders of communities. It goes without saying that these figures stood head and shoulders above their neighbors, but perhaps we can say that their neighbors elevated them.

This is a summary of yesterday’s shiur.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischman

February 11, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 31
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In  yesterday’s shiur on עין איה we saw how Rav Kook finds meaning in apparently trivial details in stories of the Talmud.

Here is the passage that we studied:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף עז עמוד ב

רבי זירא אשכח לרב יהודה דהוה קאי אפיתחא דבי חמוה וחזייה דהוה בדיחא דעתיה ואי בעי מיניה כל חללי עלמא הוה אמר ליה אמר ליה מאי טעמא עיזי מסגן ברישא והדר אימרי אמר ליה כברייתו של עולם דברישא חשוכא והדר נהורא מאי טעמא הני מכסיין והני מגליין הני דמכסינן מינייהו מכסיין והני דלא מכסינן מינייהו מגליין מאי טעמא גמלא זוטר גנובתיה משום דאכל כיסי

Here is the Soncino[1] translation of this story:

  1. Zera met Rab Judah standing by the door of his father-in-law’s house and saw that he was in a cheerful mood, and if he would ask him all the secrets of the universe he would disclose [them] to him. He [accordingly] asked him: Why do goats march at the head [of the flock], and then sheep? — Said he to him: It is as the world’s creation, darkness preceding and then light.21 Why are the latter covered, while the former are uncovered?22 — Those with whose [material] we cover ourselves are themselves covered, whilst those wherewith we do not cover ourselves are uncovered. Why is a camel’s tail short? — Because it eats thorns.23

There are so many odd things in this story that we don’t even know where to begin? If Rav Yehudah could any question about the secrets of the universe why did Rabbi Zera ask about the tail of the camel? Why does the Talmud tell us that Rav Yehudah was standing  by the door to his father-in-law’s home?

The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim and in other writings as well says that we must realize that both the prophets and the sages spoke in riddles and parables. If we don’t understand the riddle, if the story seems fantastical or even nonsensical that is due to our failure to understand the story. Rav Kook had a special ability to demonstrate the wisdom in a story as odd as the one we saw yesterday.

Rav Kook explains the story as follows. Rav Yehudah had gained enormous wisdom in the Torah. It was as if he was wedded to the Torah. The wisdom that he gained brought him great joy. Why does the story emphasize that Rav Yehudah was standing by his father-in-law’s doorway? Because in this allegory, the father-in-law is, to quote Rav Kook:

האב המקורי לכל השפע הרוחני המשתלשל  ויורד עד מעמקי העולם המעשי

It may be that Rav Kook wrote this thinking about the famous passage from Proverbs-אשת חיל. Many commentators say that אשת חיל  is a parable about the Torah. If someone is wedded to the Torah, if the Torah is a bride then Hashem is, figuratively the father-in-law. Rav Yehudah was positioned to perceive even greater wonders than what he had already perceived.

The story says that Rav Yehudah was prepared to answer any question put to him about the  universe. He was ready to answer questions- but he would not speak on his own. He would answer questions because he had the understanding necessary to explain everything. But he would no longer speak about mundane thing on his own because his interests were of a purely spiritual nature.

So what was Rabbi Zera really asking? He certainly was not interested in sheep and camels. Rav Kook explains his question as follows.  Our ancestors were shepherds. This is true of the patriarchs as well as Moshe Rabbeinu and King David in his youth. Shepherds have time to think. The great thinkers all begin their studies with unformed thoughts and over time they clarify their thoughts and eventually develop into mature teachers of wisdom. But this maturation takes time. Rabbi Zera asked Rav Yehuda who had achieved great heights in the knowledge of Torah what is the role of the goats which precede the sheep? What is the value of the early stages of study? Why can’t we immediately grasp the most profound aspects of the Torah?

Rav Yehuda replied that development as a scholar necessarily takes time. The early thoughts are the foundations of the concepts to come. In the Creation the dark preceded the creation of light. In scholarship early ideas lead to later ideas. The dark goats must come before the white sheep.

This is the lesson of the story of Rav Yehuda and Rav Zera. This is how Rav Kook saw the lesson hidden in the riddle.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

Stuart Fischman

[1] https://halakhah.com/shabbath/shabbath_77.html#PARTb

February 18, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 32
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Rav Kook zt”l is justifiably famous for his tolerance and remarkable open-mindedness. He believed that with our return to Eretz Yisrael we need as a people to renew our lives. Judaism should no longer be practiced as an oppressed and defensive religion. Judaism must embrace the arts, the sciences and practical areas of knowledge.

But we saw yesterday that there were limits to Rav Kook’s tolerance. He expresses his limits in his comments to these passages from masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פב עמוד א

משנה אמר רבי עקיבא מניין לעבודה זרה שמטמאה במשא כנדה שנאמר תזרם כמו דוה צא תאמר לו מה נדה מטמאה במשא אף עבודה זרה מטמאה במשא

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פב עמוד ב

אמר רבה תזרם דאמר קרא נכרינהו מינך כזר צא תאמר לו הכנס אל תאמר לו

Rabbi Akiva taught that idols create טומאה-impurity. Impurity is an expression of spiritual revulsion. The greatest revulsion is felt when a feeling of genuine love is allowed to be corrupted. Though he does not cite this, I feel very strongly that Rav Kook may have been thinking of the Biblical story of Amnon and Tamar when he wrote this observation. Amnon became infatuated with his half-sister , Tamar. He tricks her into bringing him his breakfast. When she enters his bedroom he rapes her. Then he casts her out . The story of his casting her out is told with these words:

(טו) וַיִּשְׂנָאֶהָ אַמְנוֹן שִׂנְאָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד כִּי גְדוֹלָה הַשִּׂנְאָה אֲשֶׁר שְׂנֵאָהּ מֵאַהֲבָה אֲשֶׁר אֲהֵבָהּ וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ אַמְנוֹן קוּמִי לֵכִי:

His revulsion for Tamar after the horrible rape was greater than the love that he felt for her. Rav Kook says that the revulsion is so powerful because it is actually an expression of self-loathing. The person is revolted by his own behaviour and this is multiplied over and over as it is transferred to the object of the original attraction.

Rav Kook was an incredibly tolerant person. He strove to find the positive in every person and in every ideology. His tolerance led his critics to accuse him of naiveté. I do not believe that he was naïve; rather he believed that everything has a kernel of good that needs to be revealed.

Religious beliefs all begin in the soul which has a spark of the Divine. However a person may allow the religious drive which is holy in its source to be misdirected. The religious drive may degenerate into a life of paganism and idolatry .This corruption of the holy transforms the sacred into the foul and impure. This is the טומאת עבודה זרה to which Rabbi Akiva refers.

Rabba takes a pasuk from ישעיהו to teach a lesson about idolaters:

וְטִמֵּאתֶם אֶת צִפּוּי פְּסִילֵי כַסְפֶּךָ וְאֶת אֲפֻדַּת מַסֵּכַת זְהָבֶךָ תִּזְרֵם כְּמוֹ דָוָה צֵא תֹּאמַר לוֹ:

Idol worshippers need to be scattered and not allowed to return. This is a shockingly harsh teaching for Rav Kook who famously embraced the most secular of the pioneer  settlers in Israel. Rav Kook drew his line at idolatry. When a Jew declares that his loyalty lies with another religion; when a Jew treats Judaism as his enemy, he must be cast out. Rav Kook, the most warm-hearted of people writes, “The heart must not be softened to have mercy and compassion, to be seduced, by the closeness to the original thought.” Rav Kook acknowledges that religious sentiments begin with holiness but the act of apostasy creates an unbridgeable gap.[1]

At the Redemption all of the idolatrous ideas will be made pure and redeemed:

(ז) וַהֲסִרֹתִי דָמָיו מִפִּיו וְשִׁקֻּצָיו מִבֵּין שִׁנָּיו וְנִשְׁאַר גַּם הוּא לֵאלֹהֵינוּ וְהָיָה כְּאַלֻּף בִּיהוּדָה וְעֶקְרוֹן כִּיבוּסִי:

But until that time we must view idolatry with the contempt that it deserves.

After discussing Avoda Zara and its impurity the Gemara goes on to discuss an obscure law relating to impurity:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פג עמוד ב

משנה מנין לספינה שהיא טהורה שנאמר דרך אניה בלב ים

גמרא פשיטא אניה בלב ים היא הא קא משמע לן כים מה ים טהור אף ספינה טהורה ….

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם אל ימנע אדם את עצמו מבית המדרש ואפילו שעה אחת שהרי כמה שנים נשנית משנה זו בבית המדרש ולא נתגלה טעמה עד שבא רבי חנינא בן עקביא ופירשה

What is the connection between these two halachot? Why does a Mishnah which discusses the (non-)impurity of boats follow a Mishnah which discusses the impurity of idols?

Rav Kook says that both suggyaot refer to the holiness of a person’s ideas. Idolatry is the perversion of the natural drive to find God. Having discussed the worst of all sins the Gemarah goes on to discuss purity. Water is a metaphor for purity. Pure ideas are said to metaphorically come from the ברכה העליונה- the Heavenly pool. Boats are a sort of intermediary between the earth which is full of distractions and the pure water.  Rabbi Chaninah ben Akavya explained that even though thoughts based on water, pure thoughts, cannot become impure, thoughts taken from mundane experience are at risk. This is the metaphor of the “Jordan River boats.” These boats are loaded on the ground and then lowered into the river. These boats can become impure. When our thoughts of the Divine derive from concepts taken from everyday experience we must be very careful. Our senses our finite and limited. We cannot allow those shortcomings to influence our contemplation of Hashem.

This is the Gemara’s concluding lesson. Rabbi Chananuah ben Akavya who never missed a day in the Beit Midrash was blessed with the insight to explain the halacha of the “Jordan River boat.” Only a person whose thoughts are totally derived from the Torah can understand the absolute distinction between ideas based solely on the Torah and ideas which are based on a mixture of the holy and the mundane.

This is another surprise. We expect “Chareidi” rabbis to teach that the mix of secular and holy is detrimental. But Rav Kook embraced modernity. He gave a moving speech at the dedication of the Hebrew University. Nevertheless the greatest source of inspiration can only be found among those whose inspiration is in the Beit Midrash.

This is a summary of yesterday’s shiur.

Thanks to everyone who attended, and a special welcome back to Bracha Schutz after her surgery.

Stuart Fischman

[1] This is true until the apostate does teshuvah.

February 25, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 33
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In Sunday’s shiur we studied one of the most puzzling passages in  masechet Shabbat.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פח עמוד א

ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם אמר רב אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא אמר רבא אף על פי כן הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר

Rav Avdimi says that we received the Torah under compulsion from a Divine threat. Hashem said that we had the choice of accepting the Torah or dying beneath Mount Sinai . Rav Acha then said that if we accept Rav Avdimi’s view then we, the Jewish people can claim “umdana” when we are judged by Hashem. “Umdana” can be translated as “disavowal.”  When a party is forced into an agreement the compelled party can disavow any claim of having violated the agreement by pointing that he or she did not enter the agreement freely and willingly. Can we accept that we have no free-will relationship with Hashem? Rava says that it may be that this once was the case but things changed with the miracle of Purim. In Megillat Ester it says “קימו וקבלו” –we upheld what had already accepted. On Purim we freely entered into a relationship with God.

Other commentators take this suggyah more or less literally. They see it as an explanation of our relationship with Hashem. At Mount Sinai we were exposed to an experience that was so spiritually overwhelming that it was impossible to say  no to Hashem. The experience of Purim was that of the “hidden miracle”- Hashem directed human history so that we were saved from Haman’s decree. There was nothing in the miracle of Purim reminiscent of the splitting of the Red Sea. After the miracle of Purim which was a miracle on a human scale we accepted the Torah out of our human sense of gratitude to Hashem.

Rav Kook zt”l explains the suggyah differently. According to Rav Kook the lesson that the suggyah has to do more with the role of choice in the human experience.

Rav Kook says that we commonly say that a person is defined by his or her choices. Rav Kook says that there is something more fundamental to a person and that is the person’s “essence.”[1] Rav Kook uses the words “התוכן המהותי” and  “תכונה עצמית”to convey the idea that I translate as “essence.” A person’s free-will choices are the expression of his or her moral stature, but people are not free to choose. We do not choose to choose. There is something within us that is more basic than our choosing and that is our “essence.”

If we had chosen to accept freely then the Torah would only have been incorporated into the level of our being where choices are made. It would not have been incorporated into our ”essence.”  Furthermore, had we freely accepted the Torah then by sinning we would negate that acceptance.

But we were compelled to accept the Torah. We were not compelled by a threat of obliteration. We were compelled to accept the Torah because the Torah is part of our essence. The Torah is the fabric of the entire Creation. The Jewish people are not separate from Creation. The Torah had to be accepted by us since the acceptance of the Torah is necessary for the existence of the world.

The necessity of the Torah is what would enable us to disavow its acceptance. If the Torah is our essence then it is not an expression of our free will.

It is at this point that Rav Kook ( it seems to me) makes a huge break with our usual thoughts about free will. The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah writes beautifully  about free will:

רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק ה

הלכה א

רשות לכל אדם נתונה אם רצה להטות עצמו לדרך טובה ולהיות צדיק הרשות בידו, ואם רצה להטות עצמו לדרך רעה ולהיות רשע הרשות בידו, הוא שכתוב בתורה הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב ורע, כלומר הן מין זה של אדם היה יחיד בעולם ואין מין שני דומה לו בזה הענין שיהא הוא מעצמו בדעתו ובמחשבתו יודע הטוב והרע ועושה כל מה שהוא חפץ ואין מי שיעכב בידו מלעשות הטוב או הרע וכיון שכן הוא פן ישלח ידו.

הלכה ב

אל יעבור במחשבתך דבר זה שאומרים טפשי אומה”ע ורוב גולמי בני ישראל שהקב”ה גוזר על האדם מתחלת ברייתו להיות צדיק או רשע, אין הדבר כן אלא כל אדם ראוי לו להיות צדיק כמשה רבינו או רשע כירבעם או חכם או סכל או רחמן או אכזרי או כילי או שוע וכן שאר כל הדעות, ואין לו מי שיכפהו ולא גוזר עליו ולא מי שמושכו לאחד משני הדרכים אלא הוא מעצמו ומדעתו נוטה לאי זו דרך שירצה, הוא שירמיהו אמר מפי עליון לא תצא הרעות והטוב, כלומר אין הבורא גוזר על האדם להיות טוב ולא להיות רע, וכיון שכן הוא נמצא זה החוטא הוא הפסיד את עצמו, ולפיכך ראוי לו לבכות ולקונן על חטאיו ועל מה שעשה לנפשו וגמלה רעה, הוא שכתוב אחריו מה יתאונן אדם חי וגו’, וחזר ואמר הואיל ורשותנו בידינו ומדעתנו עשינו כל הרעות ראוי לנו לחזור בתשובה ולעזוב רשענו שהרשות עתה בידינו הוא שכתוב אחריו נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה ונשובה וגו’.

Rav Kook is almost dismissive regarding free-will. In his view, in the ideal state the holiness of our essential holiness would shine through. It would eclipse our free will. Free will only became a significant factor in the Jewish people after years and centuries of moral decline. Rav Kook ( amazingly , it seems to me) says that this decline was part of Hashem’s inscrutable plan. Hashem wanted the Jews to accept the Torah freely. The Torah was accepted twice, once as a necessary expression of our essence and once freely.

This is I think  an accurate summary of Rav Kook’s explanation of the suggyah.

Happy Purim to everyone,

Stuart Fischman

[1] I do not understand existentialist philosophy. I am aware that Heidegger used the words “sein” and “dasein” and perhaps there is a conceptual link between those terms and Rav Kook’s terms. If someone wishes to expand on this notion I would appreciate hearing about it

March 4, 2018 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat: Lesson 34
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur on the Ein Aya we studied a suggyah in masechet Shabbat which discusses the sin of the Golden Calf. The suggyah is based on a pasuk from Shir haShirim, so first we will see the pasuk with Rashi and then we will see the suggyah.

שיר השירים פרק א

(ט) לְסֻסָתִי בְּרִכְבֵי פַרְעֹה דִּמִּיתִיךְ רַעְיָתִי:

(י) נָאווּ לְחָיַיִךְ בַּתֹּרִים צַוָּארֵךְ בַּחֲרוּזִים:

(יא) תּוֹרֵי זָהָב נַעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ עִם נְקֻדּוֹת הַכָּסֶף:

(יב) עַד שֶׁהַמֶּלֶךְ בִּמְסִבּוֹ נִרְדִּי[1] נָתַן רֵיחוֹ:

(יג) צְרוֹר הַמֹּר דּוֹדִי לִי בֵּין שָׁדַי יָלִין:

(יד) אֶשְׁכֹּל הַכֹּפֶר דּוֹדִי לִי בְּכַרְמֵי עֵין גֶּדִי:

רש”י שיר השירים פרק א

(א) /הקדמה -/ אחת דבר אלהים שתים זו שמעתי, מקרא אחד יוצא לכמה טעמים וסוף דבר אין לך מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו ומשמע ואף על פי שדברו הנביאים דבריהם בדוגמא צריך ליישב הדוגמא על אופניה ועל סדרה כמו שהמקראות סדורים זה אחר זה וראיתי לספר הזה כמה מדרשי אגדה יש סודרים כל הספר הזה במדרש אחד, ויש מפוזרים בכמה מדרשי אגדה מקראות לבדם ואינם מתיישבים על לשון המקרא וסדר המקראות, ואמרתי בלבי לתפוש משמעות המקרא ליישב ביאורם על סדרם והמדרשות מרבותינו אקבעם מדרש ומדרש איש איש במקומו: ואומר אני שראה שלמה ברוח הקדש שעתידין ישראל לגלות גולה אחר גולה חורבן אחר חורבן ולהתאונן בגלות זה על כבודם הראשון ולזכור חבה ראשונה אשר היו סגולה לו מכל העמים לאמר אלכה ואשובה אל אישי הראשון כי טוב לי אז מעתה ויזכרו את חסדיו ואת מעלם אשר מעלו ואת הטובות אשר אמר לתת להם באחרית הימים ויסד ספר הזה ברוח הקדש בלשון אשה צרורה אלמנות חיות משתוקקת על בעלה מתרפקת על דודה מזכרת אהבת נעורים אליו ומודה על פשעה אף דודה צר לו בצרתה ומזכיר חסדי נעוריה ונוי יופיה וכשרון פעליה בהם נקשר עמה באהבה עזה להודיעם כי לא מלבו ענה ולא שילוחיה שילוחין כי עוד היא אשתו והוא אישה והוא עתיד לשוב אליה:



רש”י שיר השירים פרק א

(ט) לססתי ברכבי פרעה דמיתיך רעיתי – למ”ד זו כמו למ”ד (שם /ירמיהו/ י) לקול תתו המון מים וכמו למ”ד לריח שמניך לקביצת סוסים הרבה שאספתי מחנותי לצאת לקראתך ברכבי פרעה להושיעך כמו שנאמר (חבקוק ג) דרכת בים סוסיך סוסים הרבה שם דמיתיך רעיתי שתקתיך מצעקתך שנ’ (שמות יד) ואתם תחרישון זאת ראיתי בספרי אגדה, דבר אחר דמיתיך רעיתי שם הראיתי לכל שרעיתי את:

לססתי – קביצת סוסי ובלשון לע”ז קבליי”שא:

דמיתיך – אר”ישמאי בלע”ז כמו (שופטים כ) אותי דימו להרוג כי שם קשטתיך בקישוטים נאים:

(י) נאוו לחייך בתורים – שורות נזמי אזן ומצחת זהב:

צוארך בחרוזים – ענקי זהב ומרגליות חרוזות בפתילי זהב של ביזת הים:

(יא) תורי זהב נעשה לך – נמלכנו אני ובית דיני לפני בא פרעה שאשיאנו ואחזק את לבו לרדוף אחריך עם כל שבח גנזי אוצרותיו כדי שנעשה לך תורי קשוטי הזהב:

עם נקדות הכסף – שהיה בידך כבר שהוצאת ממצרים שגדולה היתה ביזת הים מביזת מצרים:

נקדות – כלי כסף מנוקדים ומצויירים בחברבורות וגוונים:

(יב) עד שהמלך במסבו – משיבה כנסת ישראל ואומרת כל זה אמת טובה גמלתני ואני גמלתיך רעה כי בעוד המלך על השלחן מסבת חופתו:

נרדי נתן ריחו – חילוף להבאיש בעוד שהשכינה בסיני קלקלתי בעגל ולשון חבה כתב הכתוב נתן ריחו ולא כתב הבאיש או הסריח לפי שדבר הכתוב בלשון נקיה, [עיין (ברש”י במסכת שבת פרק ר”ע) דהטעם דלא כתב הבאיש או הסריח משום חיבה אכן לפירוש התוס’ שם שפי’ וה”ק מ”ש נתן ולא עזוב זהו משום חיבה, אכן מה שלא כתב הבאיש או הסריח זהו בלאו הכי משום לשון נקיה]:

(יג) צרור המר דודי לי – דודי נעשה לי כמי שיש לו צרור המור בחיקו ואמר לו הרי לך צרור זה שיתן ריח טוב מן הראשון שאבדת כך הקדוש ב”ה נתרצה לישראל על מעשה העגל ומצא להם כפרה על עונם ואמר התנדבו למשכן ויבא זהב המשכן ויכפר על זהב העגל:

בין שדי ילין – אף לפי שמעלתי בו אמר לשכון שם:

בין שדי – בין שני בדי הארון:

(יד) אשכול הכופר – יש בושם ששמו כופר כמו (שיר /השירים/ ד) כפרים עם נרדים ועשוי כעין אשכלית /אשכלות/:

בכרמי עין גדי – שם מקום ושם הוא מצוי וראיתי באגדה שאותן כרמים עושין פירות ארבעה או חמשה פעמים בשנה ודוגמא היא לכמה כפרות ומחילות שמחל להן הקדוש ברוך הוא על כמה נסיונות שנסוהו במדבר:

Shir haShirim is a metaphorical poem. In Rashi’s interpretation the entire book is a series of dialogues and monologues between and by Hashem and the Jewish people. The particular verse analysed in our suggyah is verse 12:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פח עמוד ב

אמר עולא עלובה כלה מזנה בתוך חופתה

אמר רב מרי ברה דבת שמואל מאי קרא עד שהמלך במסבו נרדי וגו’

Ula said that it is a disgrace when the bride commits adultery at the wedding. He said this to describe allegorically the sin of the Golden Calf. Rav Mari said that despite the grievous nature of the sin, Hashem forgave us. His proof is the verse in Shir haShirim. In that verse the bride ( who represents the Jewish people) says that her perfume gave its fragrance. Rav Mari points out that after the sin of the Golden Calf it would have been fair to say that the bride gave off a bad odor. The fact that the verse refers to the perfume of the bride shows that Hashem forgave the bride.

Rav Kook in Ein Aya explains the sin of the Golden Calf and why, despite its seriousness, that it was forgiven.

Rav Kook says that the inclination to idolatry is part of a person’s basest instincts. It is always present. When people reach heights of spirituality this inclination is suppressed. It is relegated to the most remote areas of consciousness but it is nevertheless present. Therefore it is a disgrace as Ula said, that at the moment of greatest spiritual attainment we allowed this lurking inclination to build an idol to burst out.

But Hashem forgave us. Why was the sin forgiven? How could it be rationalized or minimalized? Rav Kook explains that the sin of the Golden Calf was not a display of a yearning to worship idols. It did not mean that the Jews turned to paganism. Rather, the sin of the Golden Calf was born out of a confused feeling of religious exuberance. The revelation of Mount Sinai should have been followed by a long period of reflection. This reflection would have allowed our ancestors to fully grasp all that we had learned about Hashem. After we had fully grasped the lesson of the revelation we would have been able to instruct the rest of humanity about Hashem’s presence in the world.

But our ancestors allowed their emotions to get the better of them. Perhaps it was due to the absence of Moshe Rabbeinu. But whatever the cause they could not control their desire to tell the world about the revelation of Mount Sinai. And since they themselves had not yet fully understood all that they had experienced they could only express themselves with actions and symbols. The latent yearning for idolatry had its opportunity to express itself. Hence the creating of a Golden Calf.

The making of the Golden Calf was an expression of religious immaturity but not of any desire to worship an idol. It was not any sign of a fundamental flaw in our nature. Therefore, despite its seriousness, Hashem could still describe the perfume of the bride.

This was our final shiur in Ein Aya. Our shiurim in the coming two weeks will be about Pesach.

After the Pesach break we will resume with a new series of shiurim. If there is a particular book that someone would like to have us study please let me know.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiurim.

Stuart Fischman

[1] אבן עזרא שיר השירים פרק א

נרדי – בושם כמין כרכום:

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.