Tag Archives: Rav Kook

Unity in Diversity

This Dvar Torah was written in memory of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal HY’D.
 May their neshamas have an eternal Aliya.

One of the basic tenets of Western civilization is the idea that we should all strive to live with the ideal of “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation.” I would like to explore this ideal from a Torah perspective.

The Parsha starts with Hashem instructing Moshe to take a census of Bnei Yisrael. So on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Moshe and the Nesi’im of each Shevet counted every male over the age of 20 according to their shevet. After the census was taken, Hashem further instructed Moshe regarding the formation of the encampment of the Jews around the Ohel Moed. The twelve Shevatim were divided into groups of three on each side of the Ohel Moed. Each Shevet encamped by their respective flag.

This census was not a new concept as this already happened in Sefer Shemos. In our parsha, the Shevatim are counted in the same order except that Gad is counted before Reuven and Shimon. It seems that the reason for this change in order it meant to be an introduction to Hashem’s instructions to Moshe regarding Klal Yisrael’s encampment formation and their flags and they are therefore counted in Parshas Bamidbar in the order of their encampment.

It seems a little odd that this formation of the encampments only happened after the second counting of Klal Yisrael and a full year after we left Egypt. Why were we not set up in proper formations as soon as we left Mitzrayim together with everything else that happened at that time?

Harav Yaacov Kamenetzky Zt’l explains that in order for us to glean an understanding of the order of events, we first must fully understand what is it that we are talking about. What was the idea behind the formations and flags of the Shevatim?

Merriam Webster defines a flag as “a usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol [as of a nation), as a signaling device, or as a decoration.” The flag is a symbol of independence and uniqueness. The symbols and colors on a flag represent the unique qualities of its bearer. Each of the flags of the Shevatim had it unique colors corresponding to the stones of the Choshen as well as its unique symbol, for example, Yehuda had an illustration of a lion on his flag; Reuven had an illustration of a person, Ephraim had an illustration of an ox. These colors and symbols of the flag signified the unique direction and way that they led their lives.

In general, it seems that this behavior would tend to cause a people to become more distanced and divided from each other. However, each one of the Shevatim brought forward his unique strength to bring about k’vod Shamayim. This is similar to the ear which has a different function than the eye, there is no friction between them as they are both doing their unique jobs. Likewise, with the Shevatim each Shevet was doing their unique job, with a focus on the center point — the Mishkan, there is no reason at all to have friction.

The seforim explain that each of the Shevatim had their unique way of serving Hashem and even if it appeared they were doing the same thing at times, their intent was different. We find that the Midrash relates that there were 12 paths for each of the Shevatim going through the Yam Suf. Similarly, there were 12 different korbanos form each Shevet, each one had a different approach towards Torah and to remember yetis Mitzrayim.

This idea also has implications in regard to Halacha. The Magen Avraham (OC 68) quotes from the Ari z’l that one should not change his nusach of Tefila as there are 12 gateways in shamayim corresponding with the 12 Shevatim, and each shevet has their unique Nusach and approach to Avodas Hashem.

The building of the Mishkan created this central point which allowed us all to become diverse and use our unique strengths in the best way possible. Before the Mishkan was built there was no central nerve center which we were all focused on, therefore we had to put aside our uniquenesses and come together as one nation and one flag. The moment the Mishkan was built we were able to divide up our talents and focus on our strengths.

I would like to build on this Yesod a little based on the thought of Rav Kook Zt’l (Orot Pages 45-46, 70-72.) Many times people talk about Achdus and exclaim that we all have to be doing the same thing and if we are not like each other, then we are not together. This is incorrect. We can each have our unique views, but as long as we are all focused, not on the other, but on our spiritual nerve center, the Mishkan, which is the “heart” of Klal Yisrael, we will still have Achdus. The moment we lose focus on what we are doing and we focus only on what the others are doing, we lose the Achdus and become a melting pot.

It is not about a mere tolerance for how others are acting or practicing their Judaism, it is about a deeper understanding of how things are meant to be working.

There is a time to be unique, K’Ish Echad, but at the same time you need to be part of the tzibbur, B’Lev Echad.

We should strive to see our unique strengths and focus them to glorify the Torah each in our own way and merit the ultimate bracha of Hashra’as HaShechina!

The Three Components of Tefilla According to Rav Kook

Berachos Daf 26

איתמר, רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר: תפלות אבות תקנום…  אברהם תקן תפלת שחרית, שנאמר: ״וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם״, ואין ״עמידה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ויעמד פינחס ויפלל״.

Abraham instituted the morning prayer, as it is stated “And Abraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood” (Genesis 19:27), and standing means nothing other than prayer, as this language is used to describe Pinehas’s prayer after the plague, as it is stated: “And Pinehas stood up and prayed and the plague ended” (Psalms 106:30). 

יצחק תקן תפלת מנחה, שנאמר ״ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב״, ואין ״שיחה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר ״תפלה לעני כי יעטף ולפני ה׳ ישפך שיחו״.

Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, as it is stated: “And Isaac went out to converse [lasuaḥ] in the field toward evening” (Genesis 24:63), and conversation means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated: “A prayer of the afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint [siḥo] before the Lord” (Psalms 102:1).

יעקב תקן תפלת ערבית, שנאמר: ״ויפגע במקום וילן שם״, ואין ״פגיעה״ אלא תפלה, שנאמר: ״ואתה אל תתפלל בעד העם הזה ואל תשא בעדם רנה ותפלה ואל תפגע בי״

Jacob instituted the evening prayer, as it is stated: “And he encountered [vayifga] the place and he slept there for the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11). The word encounter means nothing other than prayer, as it is stated when God spoke to Jeremiah: “And you, do not pray on behalf of this nation and do not raise on their behalf song and prayer, and do not encounter [tifga] Me for I do not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:16).

Berachos 26 – Sefaria

We see from the Gemara above that we learn the concept of Tefila from the Avos. It is interesting that although the conclusive proof is that the Avos indeed prayed to God, there are three different terms for their three different prayers. 


What are the different terminologies for?

Rav Kook explains that these 3 terminologies are reflective of 3 different components to our Tefilla. 

He explains that the key concept of prayer is the gathering together of all the spiritual elements within a person, that would otherwise be lost in our world of materialism. Prayer enroots these spiritual elements to create a strong connection to the Creator of the world. In the event that one is caught up in other things and is sinking in his Ruchnius, those deeply rooted spiritual elements will keep him afloat.  

As morning is when one is getting ready for a day of work and other activities, it is a crucial time to make sure your spiritual roots are intact ready for the day ahead. This is called Amida, to stand, as it is helping you to stand tall spiritually.. This is also reflective of Avraham, who as the founder of Monotheism, was able to withstand all the trials and tribulations that came his way. 

Sicha, this name for Tefilla shares its name with Sichim, the trees and flowers of the natural world. Sichim are called this as they sprout up and instill new emotional energies into a person. Mincha takes place towards evening, when a person is worn down from a long day and the soul can then thrive in its best habitat. Also, hiis natural spiritual energies kick in to help him thrive in his Avodas Hashem and add more and more to his “tree”. Rav Kook explains that this growth process is the root of Middas HaDin, which is what keeps nature going in its correct path. Yitzchak represents Middas HaDin, therefore it is appropriate that he should compose this Tefila about the natural aspect of our spiritual growth. 

There is also a higher element of Tefila, in which through that, a person can connect to Hashem in more advanced ways; perhaps even reaching the level of prophecy. This is referred to as Tefillat Leila.  This is also called Pegiya, as one is going off the chartered path of Nature, or Din and stumbling into new realms which are beyond the grasp of one’s simple intellect. This is reflective of Yaacov who had a vision with a ladder and angels going up and down after he found himself at Har HaMoriyah and is most appropriate for nighttime.

AvrahamAmidaShacharitWithstand all that comes before you
YitzchakSiachMinchaTake what you have and grow from it
YaacovVaYifgaArvitReach Higher

This may also explain the opinion that one is not obligated to say Arvit, as it is just a Reshus. Tefilla is to help foster a spiritual firewall to protect you from slipping into too much materialism. Per this explanation of Rav Kook, this is accomplished during Shacharit to plant the roots and in Mincha to sprout upwards and bear fruits. Arvit is a higher level, beyond our comprehension, of reaching beyond the treetops. For this, it is not a Chovah to reach so high, rather it is a Reshus.

Rationalism & Kiddush Hashem

Day 19 – Brachos 20

There is an interesting Gemara that has left me puzzled.

Rav Papa asked Abaye why did miracles happens so often in previous generations and we do not see too many miracles in our generation, which seems more learned in Torah? 

Abaye responded that previous generations were Moser Nefesh Al Kidush Hashem, they were wholly dedicated to the sanctification of God’s name, and our generation is not.

Abaya then proceeds to give an example of an incident of Mesiras Nefesh of the previous generations. 

Rav Adda bar Ahava saw a non-Jewish woman who was wearing a garment made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen [karbalta] in the marketplace. Since he thought that she was Jewish, he stood and ripped it from her. It was then divulged that she was a non-Jew and he was taken to court due to the shame that he caused her, and they assessed the payment for the shame that he caused her at four hundred zuz. Ultimately, Rav Adda said to her: What is your name? She replied: Matun. In a play on words, he said to her: Matun, her name, plus matun, the Aramaic word for two hundred, is worth four hundred zuz.

This incident leaves more questions than answers.

Firstly, how is this related to the concept of Kiddush Hashem? In fact, it seems the opposite is true, it seems like a Chilul Hashem?

Moreover, we have seen throughout our galus, million of Jews go to their death for the sanctification of God’s name. What does it mean that our generation no longer dedicates themselves for Kiddush Hashem?

Rav Kook explains this Gemara at length in Ein Ayeh. He explains that Mesirut Nesfesh al Kiddush Hashem, does not necessarily mean that they died in sanctification of God’s name. Rather, that the previous generations had a higher level of Shleimut, wholesomeness. They understood things beyond what the sechel can grasp, it was almost at a subconscious level, they saw the absolute truth of the matter and immediately acted upon it, before the thought entered the sechel and they started to rationalize their actions. They were able to daven to Hashem without Cheshbonos, just with a form of pure Emes. This is what Abaye called Kiddush Hashem – the ability to think about something through the lens of Emes and the perspective of Hashem, without rationalization. To this tefilla, Hashem can change nature and perform a miracle. 

This was the sort of Mesiras Nefesh which Rav Adda bar Ahava displayed, he saw something and acted immediately, even before he was able to discern if the woman was actually Jewish.

While we are no match for the generation of Abaya and Rava, we can learn from this that once we start rationalizing things, we lose half the truth. Let us approach Torah with Emes and achieve Shlemut and constant closeness to Hashem. 

Learning Malchus from Melucha

Day 18 – Berachos 19 

תָּא שְׁמַע דְּאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בַּר צָדוֹק: מְדַלְּגִין הָיִינוּ עַל גַּבֵּי אֲרוֹנוֹת שֶׁל מֵתִים, לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְלֹא לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּלְבַד אָמְרוּ אֶלָּא אֲפִילּוּ לִקְרַאת מַלְכֵי אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁאִם יִזְכֶּה, יַבְחִין בֵּין מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַלְכֵי אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם.

Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok the priest said: I and my fellow priests would jump over coffins of the deceased in order to hurry towards kings of Israel to greet them. And they did not say this only towards kings of Israel, but they said this even towards kings of the nations of the world, so that if one will be privileged to witness the redemption of Israel, he will distinguish between kings of Israel and the kings of the nations of the world.

This Gemara stuck out for me, as today we saw dozens of heads of state come visit Yerushalayim.

First of all, we see the importance the Tannaim put on going to see a king to the extent that even a Kohen can step over graves to hurry to see the king.  

(The Ishbitzer (Emor) explains that the reason Kohanim become tamei from a meis is because they get annoyed at Hashem that there was death in the world. Here, they are not thinking about the dead guy, all they are thinking about is the king. Therefore, there is no Tumah.)

I always understood the reason why the Gemara instructs us to see the king, is to understand how royal malchus works. From this, we will know how we should treat HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the King of Kings. 

Here, however, the Gemara mentions a different reason, albeit cryptic. If one is privileged to see the redemption he will be able to distinguish between kings of Israel and the kings of the nations of the world. 

Rav Kook (Ein Ayeh Brachos 290) explains, that the reason we need to see the kings of the world is to understand their culture and their contributions to the development of the world. As Jews, we need to gather all this together, to bring about a Tikkun Olam and do our job of continuing the process of creation in this world. Once we have this down clearly, we can then apply it when Moshiach comes to establish the ultimate ideal of Malchus in this world.