Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Month of Elul
To dedicate this lesson

Where Things Stand

1. New Heights 2. A Purely Religious Obligation 3. All Eyes on Jerusalem 4. A Yom Kippur Motif 5. The World Awaits 6. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Tishrey 5761
1. New Heights
2. A Purely Religious Obligation
3. All Eyes on Jerusalem
4. A Yom Kippur Motif
5. The World Awaits
6. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

We have ascended to new heights on the road to redemption. The moment has come when we’ve reached the heart of the controversy between ourselves and our Arab neighbors - the struggle for the Temple Mount, the home of our Holy Sanctuary.

By now it is apparent to everyone how correct our beloved teacher and Leader, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook (of blessed memory) was, when he said "that it is forbidden to surrender to pressure and forsake any portion whatsoever of Eretz Israel." Not surrendering portions of the Land of Israel is included under the halachic category of "surrendering one’s life rather than transgress." Such an obligation applies whenever a Jew is placed in a situation where his actions would cause him to publicly transgress the Torah. That is to say: in a situation where a Jew is being forced to do something in order to disprove his religious beliefs - and not merely because his persecutors wish to torment him or amuse themselves.

The Arabs are unwilling to accept any alternative offer - even very substantial ones - in order to relinquish their claim to the Land of Israel and the site of our Holy Temple. The Arabs’ sole intention is to deprive us of our Holy Sanctuary so that they can establish, on the Temple Mount, a non-Jewish and unholy place of worship. Against this backdrop, it has now become clear that that the struggle for Eretz Israel is a purely religious one; as such, it becomes incumbent on the Jew to forfeit his life for this mitzvah rather than submit or surrender to any threats of violence.

The mitzvah to "forfeit one’s life when one is being forced to transgress his religion" applies not only to any mitzvah but also to any activity that can be interpreted as denying one’s religious beliefs.(This is true even with something as innocuous as wearing particular shoelaces if doing so implies compliance with a particular non-Jewish religious belief!)
If this principle is true for any single mitzvah in the Torah, then certainly it is even more applicable when the mitzvah in question is settling the Land of Israel - a commandment considered equivalent to the entire Torah! If our dominion over Eretz Israel demands such a sacrifice, how much more so does the preservation of our dominion of Jerusalem and the seat of our Holy Temple demand the same sacrifice. Jerusalem is the very heart of the Jewish people, and the source of all the Torah and mitzvot. Anyone, God forbid, who is willing to transfer Jerusalem to foreign hands - even for the sake of "saving lives" - is creating the greatest public desecration of God’s name possible - a desecration of proportion unknown in our history.

The eyes of the world are lifted to Jerusalem and to the home of the Holy Sanctuary. Everyone feels a deep connection to our Holy City. This is understandable, since Jerusalem is the foundation of the world and the bedrock from which the world expanded. We are not opposed to the world’s desire to be connected to the source of Holiness and Sanctity; instead, we are opposed to their claim that they have an equal share in it. We reject the idea that all nations are equal and the idea that no one nation is singular and unique. To believe this denies the fact that there is one people, a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People"; we are a nation that stands as an intermediary between God, the Master of the Universe, and the nations of the world - a nation that effectively connects the world to its Master. The claim that all the world is equal echoes Korach’s statement denying the hierarchy within Jewish society: "The whole congregation is Holy... why do you [Moshe and Aharon] place yourselves above them?" This was Cain’s complaint against Abel after God accepted Abel’s offerings but not those of Cain.

We know that the Master of the Universe chose us from among the nations to be His treasured nation, to be a "Kingdom of Priests" and to be the intermediaries who help create the relationship between the nations of the world and God. There is no other method to approach God other than through those whom He Himself blessed with a higher affinity, those with the ability to elevate themselves to Holiness. Apparently, we have discovered that which defines Israel’s Divine uniqueness and the uniqueness of the Holy Sanctuary. This means that the time has come for the appearance of the treasured Divine uniqueness of Israel, that it will be proven to the whole world Israel’s value, her singularity and her appointed position that of being a "Kingdom of Priests" - that she is meant to be both the messenger of the Merciful One and the messenger of the world as a whole.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Kohen HaGadol, or High Priest, enters the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Holy Sanctuary; there, he performs the service of the incense and the sprinkling of sacrificial blood. The moments when the Kohen Gadol is inside the Holy of Holies establish the ultimate connection between God and the Jewish people. The High Priest enters the Holiest place [in this world] on the Holiest day of the year - Yom Kippur.

When the High Priest spoke God’s [Holiest] Name the priests and people who were standing outside would bow down and prostrate themselves and respond "Blessed is God’s Glory from whence it comes." Similarly, when the nations of the world will hear God’s Holy Name spoken by the Holy Jewish people they, the nations, will also bow down and prostrate themselves.

The world awaits the majestic appearance of the Jewish people. Israel also awaits the full return to their midst of God’s presence. The self-exposure of a portion of our people to so much that is unholy is an expression of their demand for a more substantial and loftier sanctity, a desire to reveal a "newness of soul." This framework of sanctity without the accompaniment of a Divine mantle no longer satiates their souls. Even righteous acts, the fulfillment of commandments, and religious studies without the awareness of the innermost sanctity that accompanies them - seem to be limiting, earthly, dry, and not having any of the substance of life sought.

There is a surge in the demand for greater and greater substance, a greater and greater urge that a new Divine light from the source of all being will encompass every act, every thought, every possible behavior. The world and Israel look forward to acquiring Divine spirituality, the Holy light of Prophecy. No longer will there be lowered standards, outside expectations, and valueless motivations, instead this will all disappear. The behavior that buries the soul will be removed to reveal the Divine light. "Your teacher will no longer envelope you in his wings, but you will gaze upon Him with your eyes." (Isaiah 30:20)
Through the revelation of the divine, lofty light, the true value of each mitzvah, of every place, of all that is holy - will become clear to all. Don’t let it be said that these exalted aspirations are beyond us, that we lack the fortitude to ascend to the lofty heights needed to attain them. We have no other choice; this is the only path. If the Master of the Universe places before us monumental challenges, this is surely a sign that we have the fortitude to overcome them.

The method for attaining victory over the other side is twofold. The first phase is to generate "confusion"; when the Jewish people lovingly perform mitzvoth, the other side is in great distress. This is the function of the extended blowing of the shofar. Confronted with Israel’s love of mitzvoth, the other side feels suffocated as if all its reproaches are stymied. It hears the repeated the sound of the shofar and understands that the final redemption has arrived.

The second phase is not only to silence the other side but to force it to extol our merits. This is done through the sacrificial "scapegoat" of Yom Kippur. When it is sent "outside" to it proper environment - Israel can reassume her rightful place. The same tactics that are used in the internal struggle are also used in the external one: The other side, the enemy, is exposed, overwhelmed and helpless, unable as it is to stop the redemption of Israel. It is this second phase that will enlighten our enemies to Israel’s magnificent and exalted status, prompting their hearts will turn from enmity to love.

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