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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

The Stoppage of Zchut Avot

From when did zchut avot (the merit due to the patriarchs) cease? [The gemara cites four opinions among Amoraim, regarding four periods in the First Temple period (the times of Hoshea ben Be’eri, of Chazael, of Eliyahu, and of Chizkiyahu). Each has a pasuk implying that the zchut avot was only up to that point and not beyond. Rav Kook understands the gemara in a manner apparently different from the simple reading of the source, but one that solves problems arising from the gemara.]
Various RabbisAv 17 5777
137
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Ein Ayah: The elevated portion of the patriarchs’ souls penetrates into Israel’s divinely-given strength until the last generation. This element of their souls gives the whole nation its merit to still exist and enables them to merit their status. Upon these unique characteristics and strengths the nation needs to build itself as a great nation, making it fit to have the name of Hashem called upon it. Included in this is everything the nation needs, in regard to both its material and its spiritual survival as an important nation among the other nations and a unique nation that stands as Hashem’s nation and a holy people.
The aptitude for sanctity is passed down from the patriarchs from generation to generation forever. This gives life and strength to every individual in Israel and eternal hope for the nation. That is why we [still, after all the time periods of the apparent cessation of the zchut avot] say in tefilla, "and He remembers the goodness of the patriarchs and brings redemption to their descendants." What did change and can change is that the sins of the whole and the individual can cause the great light to disappear for periods of time so that it is not revealed in the life of the nation. This causes the nation to fall until a later time at which anguish atones for sins and the divine light shines again due to repentance and good deeds. The power of the divine name’s sanctity, which is connected to the nation as a whole, then resurrects the hidden sanctity passed down from the forefathers, to the full degree that a great, living, and holy nation requires.
Z’chut avot brings a broad moral power, which encompasses all of the best attributes, which cause the nation to operate based on kindness, justice, and charity. Since the nation lives based on a broad moral foundation, it is able to build in unity a proper social structure. There is a strong mixture of a general spirit and a practical social order, which, as a unit, are uniquely able to foster the sanctity of the individual Jew. This is because it is possible for them to draw strength from the source of divine sanctity that exceeds the level of human morality and social justice, which are subjectively tied to the values of the time. In contrast, when the nation draws from a divine source, they are greatly elevated, as we see is true of Israel even when they exist alone, not including any impact on the world around them. Actually, when the sanctity abounds, its bright light extends beyond the nation, as the House of David is capable of doing, as the pasuk says about Mashiach, "He shall adjudicate between nations and shall rebuke many nations." These elements depend on z’chut avot, and their influence is continued by the power of the patriarchs.
However, sin causes interruption of zchut avot, until it is resumed at the correct time. The gemara tells us of four interruptions, for different moral failings. The first general fall in the moral level took place at the time of Hoshea. Failings in the social order took place at the time of Chazael, King of Aram. The internal failures of individuals took place at the time of Eliyahu, making it necessary to break from the normal halachot of korbanot at Mt. Carmel. There was a continuation of the positive state in Judea; however, that too weakened at the time of Chizkiyahu.
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