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Beit Midrash Series Additional Lessons

Maran HaRav Shaul Yisraeli Z.T.L.

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This coming week will mark the 19th anniversary of the death of our mentor and teacher, Harav Shaul Yisraeli. We will therefore dedicate our thoughts on the parasha to remembering his characteristics and history.
Rav Yisraeli made aliya in 5694 (’34). In those days, some liked to quote the Rebbe of Munkatch, who "darshened" a famous pasuk from our parasha in the following way. "… and you shall not stray after your heart (Herzl, based on hertz = heart in Yiddish) and after your eyes (Kook, based on kook = look in Yiddish)" (Bamidbar 15:39). While that Rebbe warned against Zionism and the danger he perceived from our master, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, Rav Yisraeli had the z’chut to be a student of Rav Kook. The opponents of Zionism also claimed, in regard to our parasha, that the Zionists were like the ma’apilim, those who tried to go to the Land prematurely, before Hashem agreed to such a step (see ibid. 14:41-42). Rav Yisraeli understood that the greater danger was not the role model of the ma’apilim but that of the meraglim, the spies who incited the people to refuse to go to the Land. We believe the correct approach was that of the Gaon of Vilna, the approach that called for Jews all over to flock to Eretz Yisrael during the Jewish century of the 5600s, which ended in 1939, when indeed the gates to the Land from Europe were almost completely sealed.
Rav Yisraeli, who began his life in Israel as a talmid of Rav Kook, completed his period in yeshiva and went to make a desolate land blossom, both agriculturally and spiritually, as the rabbi of K’far Haro’eh, the first religious agricultural moshav, named after Rav Kook. From that seat, he "spread his halachic net" over the world of Israeli agriculture. He taught how the land could be worked efficiently in the 20th century while observing the land-linked mitzvot and those of Shabbat. His rulings dealt with broad issues with a great understanding of the intricacies of agriculture and of halacha. He helped fulfill the prophecy, "You, oh mountains of Israel, shall give your branches and bear your fruit for My nation, Israel, for they have drawn close" (Yechezkel 36:8).
When the State was established, Rav Yisraeli worked on enabling the state to be established as a Jewish State. He published many scholarly articles, proposing how to implement halacha in regard to different public institutions, from questions of politics, to ethics, to security. In 5725 he was invited to serve on the High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, at which time he became a major proponent of having "Mishpat Ivri" (the halachic rules of jurisprudence) take its proper place in the judicial system of the country.
When Rav Ehrenreich and I approached Rav Yisraeli with the idea to found Eretz Hemdah, he immediately foresaw the great need and opportunity in training a new generation of dayanim who could shoulder the responsibility of improving the Rabbinical Courts. He awaited the moment we could establish a network of batei din which could solve monetary disputes of all types in a modern economy.
Every year on his yahrtzeit, we hold a day of shiurim in his memory on some of the many Torah topics that were so close to his heart. We end with a prayer that we will soon witness an ever-increasing fulfillment of Yeshaya’s prophecy (1:26-27): "I will return your judges as in the beginning and your advisors as of old; then you will be called the city of justice, the trustworthy town. Zion will be redeemed with justice and its returnees with charity."
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