1. An Earthly Order in the Land of Israel
2. When the Sun of the Torah Disappeared
3. Public and Private Action
An Earthly Order in the Land of Israel
The Talmud teaches (Taanit 9a): "R' Yose the son of R' Yehudah says: Three shepherds had arisen for Israel, namely: Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and for their sake three gifts were conferred [upon Israel], namely, the Well, the Pillar of Cloud and the Manna; the Well, for the merit of Miriam; the Pillar of Cloud for the merit of Aaron; the Manna for the merit of Moses.
"When Miriam died the well disappeared, as it is said, 'And Miriam died there,' and immediately follows [the verse], 'And there was no water for the congregation'; and it returned for the merit of the [latter] two.
"When Aaron died the clouds of glory disappeared, as it is written, 'And the Canaanite, the king of Arad heard.' What news did he hear? He heard that Aaron had died, and that the clouds of glory had disappeared ...
"The two [the Well and the Cloud] returned because of the merit of Moses, but when Moses died all of them disappeared, as it is said, 'And I cut off the three shepherds in one month.' "
Regarding the above teaching, the Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer ben Jehuda Halevi Edels) asks: If the gifts returned due to the merit of these righteous individuals, why did they disappear at all while they were alive? And he answers: In order to make it known that this gift was given for the merit of the shepherd that died. Therefore, it disappeared when he passed away and returned later for the merit of the remaining shepherd.
But there are still a number of questions that need to be answered. Firstly, why was each gift granted by virtue of a separate shepherd to begin with? Why not grant them all on account of one of them? Secondly, how is each shepherd related to the specific gift given because of him? But the most penetrating question is: Why did God leave Israel without these gifts? Why did He not invent a new shepherd whose virtue would cause these gifts to return?
Regarding the first question, we may answer that each specific gift is enhanced when it comes through a righteous person whose entire being revolves around the particular virtue. This reflects the idea that "one angel does not undertake two missions."
Regarding our second question - that of the relationship between Miriam and the Well, Aaron and the Cloud, Moses and the Manna - we may look to the words of the Maharal, Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague (Gevurot HaShem).
As far as Miriam's Well is concerned, the Maharal notes that many of our righteous ancestors found their partners by wells (Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel and Jacob, Zipporah and Moses), and he explains the special relation between women and wells.
The clouds of Glory that protected the Nation of Israel came through the merit of Aaron. Aaron the Priest loved peace and strove to resolve disputes between Jews. By virtue of the peace he brought between individuals, Aaron awakened an all-inclusive peace, the Clouds.
Moses, who occupied himself with Torah study and thus strengthened the spiritual fabric of the nation, merited the gift of Manna. Manna complimented Moses' endeavors, for it nourished and strengthened the physical bodies of the Nation of Israel.
Regarding the third question - Why did the Almighty leave Israel bereft of shepherds? - it is worth noting that these shepherds and the benefits they brought were taken away before the Israelites entered the Holy Land.
In the land of Israel, the Jewish people did not need the Well, for this land was blessed with rain and rivers, springs and ground water, both in the valley and the hill. The Clouds of Glory were likewise no longer necessary to protect them from desert heat, snakes, or scorpions, for the land was blessed with goodness, and it "flowed with milk and honey." The Manna, likewise, was no longer necessary, for the land abounded with produce, and Israel merited witnessing the fulfillment of the words "That you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil."
True, in the land of Israel we still needed leadership, but an earthly order of leadership sufficed. There was no need for overt miracles. Here, in the Land of Israel, miracles are hidden within nature, a nature replete with God's blessing.
When the Sun of the Torah Disappeared
At the outset of Israel's national rebirth, our nation was in need of supernatural strength until that time when it would be able to stand on its own and shape its own destiny with the help of natural leaders. These natural leaders would be heirs to their supernatural predecessors, yet they would lack their sun-like enormity - "The face of Moses was like the face of the sun; the face of Joshua, like the face of the moon." Good soldiers can find their way at night by the light of the moon; the best of them can even navigate their way according to the stars alone.
Our late mentor, the brilliant Rabbi Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira ("Rav Avrum"), of blessed memory, in one of the eulogies he delivered at the yeshiva, cited the Talmudic text (in Moed Katan) that says that when R' Huna died, stars could be seen in the afternoon sky. He explained that so long as R' Huna was alive, he was like the sun, and in his presence other Torah scholars were like stars, the light of which was indiscernible. With R' Huna's death, the great light of his Torah knowledge disappeared, and the light of other sages became visible in the darkness. How well this idea applies today, in the wake of Rav Avrum's death. The sun has disappeared from the afternoon sky.
The sun of the Torah, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, outlived all of the great luminaries who preceded him; he witnessed all the precious gifts we received during the state's first decades, as its soul took shape in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva. During these fruitful years, three great luminaries stood at the yeshiva's fore: our mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the only son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook and chief architect of Mercaz HaRav's unique path; Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, one of the last living students of Rabbi A.I. Kook, former rabbi of Kfar HaRoeh; and Rabbi Avraham Kahanah Shapira, one of the great scholars of Jerusalem and a relative of Rabbi Kook through his brother-in-law, Rabbi Ra'anan.
For the students at the yeshiva, the division was clear: Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was the luminary of faith who led, via the yeshiva, the entire religious-Zionist public, and through this public influenced the entire state. It was he who inspired us to recognize the lights of the state that shone forth in our time through God's abundant kindness, and it was he who faithfully watched over the state lest it depart from the holy path that befitted it. He led the war against missionary work and Christian influence in the land of Israel, and he later headed the struggle for the resettlement of newly liberated portions of the land of Israel, the integrity of the state and the rabbinate, the freedom of Russian Jewry, and more.
Over the course of many years, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah infused us with an appreciation for the State of Israel, the incipient sprouting of the third and final redemption. Through his students he influenced an entire generation of young people, teaching them how to rebuild the nation from its ruined state. Thousands and tens of thousands of people began building yeshivas and settlements, shining the light of the Torah of redemption into every possible crevice. Such an illuminating way of life called for answers to all sorts of halachic questions that arose in both public and private matters.
It was Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli who stepped into this territory, stood up, and radiated forth. Rabbi Yisraeli concentrated on legal clarifications in light of the teachings of Rabbi Kook, clarifications that would benefit the nation in its transformation from exile and destruction to national rebirth and restoration. Together with Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, Rabbi Yisraeli was like a guiding light to the students and graduates of Mercaz HaRav.
The yeshiva's third pillar was Rabbi Avraham Shapira. His regular classes at the yeshiva and in his home were, more than anything else, what transformed the yeshiva's students into Torah personalities immersed in the sea of the Talmud and guided by sound reasoning. During the years of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah's leadership, Rav Avrum stood in the shadows and refrained from influencing on a personal level the students' Torah makeup. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, however, respected him greatly and would seek his advice in all matters relating to the direction of the Yeshiva and its students.
Rav Avrum had a natural and unadulterated love for the living Torah, a Torah bound to life in a healthy and honest manner. With his unmistakable Jerusalemite personality, he succeeded in infusing all those who heard him speak with this unique love. Rav Avrum was full of a joy for life and had a gentle, subtle humor that illuminated the faces and the hearts of all who heard him.
We merited a number of years of light as these three luminaries dwelled among us, and the yeshiva radiated forth in all directions. After the Yom Kippur War, a spiritual crisis beset Israel's political leadership, and those responsible for the protection of the nation made the situation worse through land concessions accompanied by the destruction of flourishing Jewish settlements. At precisely this trying hour, our beloved mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, passed away.
The weight of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah's burden fell upon the public like a terrible decree at the precise moment of our courageous leader's departure. At that time, Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Shapira stepped forward and assumed leadership in the struggle to prevent the concession of portions of the land of Israel, and they did this with a courage and might with which we were previously unfamiliar. They were joined by Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, of blessed memory.
The leaders of this group bore the burdens of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah with great courage and managed, with God's help, to shield our people and our land from great dangers. Rabbi Shapira was thereafter honored with the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel, and as such accepted national leadership in the realm of Jewish law, an arena he had previously not entered.
A number of years later, Rabbi Yisraeli passed away, and suddenly all of the responsibilities fell upon the shoulders of Rabbi Shapira. It was at this point that his greatness, which was evident in three remarkable qualities, received full expression. There was the quality of a yeshiva dean and scholar, the quality of a halachic authority capable of rendering decisions on a variety of difficult questions, and finally the quality of a national leader; Rabbi Shapira dealt fearlessly with the great dangers that arose in the wake Oslo Accords.
Public and Private Action
Rabbi Shapira founded a large organization of rabbis that, under his leadership, carried out an unremitting battle to defend our claim to the land of Israel. Time and time again, Rav Avrum explained and warned that any steps taken counter to the Torah have no past and will have no future. The commandments of the Torah constitute the best possible blueprint, socially, economically, politically, and in all other respects.
Both publicly and privately, he led a tireless battle to safeguard the integrity of the land of Israel and the nation of Israel. Nonetheless, Rav Avrum was ever careful not to allow a civil war break to out. He maintained a careful balance between respect for the Israeli Government, on the one hand, and struggle against injudicious, and sometimes outright evil government decisions, on the other. Throughout these struggles, Rabbi Shapira continued to deliver Torah classes at the Yeshiva, to provide answers to legal questions, and to lead a normal life. He evinced no frustration or depression even after the most painful tragedies.
He warned against mediocre rabbis who dared to render halachic decisions on matters relating to the Jewish people. There were those who disagreed with him and instructed people to act in a manner counter to his rulings, causing soldiers, among them yeshiva students, to take part in the destruction of settlements, a nearly unpardonable sin. He was, however, careful to remain within the boundaries of good taste, even towards those of whom he was openly critical. He likewise saw to it that his followers not overstep their bounds in this regard.
Rabbi Shapira was likewise careful to honor important Torah scholars who disagreed with him, despite the fact that he believed that their logic was flawed in a manner that endangered the Jewish people. Out of deference for their scholarship, he was careful to voice no repudiation whatsoever. It is difficult to imagine a leader with such Torah greatness and such extraordinary Jerusalemite clear-sightedness all in one, as was the case with Rav Avrum. In the darkest of hours, when spirits were as low as possible, he always found a way to lift spirits with some subtle humor, indicating an inner faith that that in the end, truth would triumph.
If we compare the three shepherds that led the Israelites in the desert with those who, in our day, stood at the head of Mercaz HaRav, the yeshiva that revitalized the nation's soul, we can say that the deaths of today's shepherds serve a purpose similar to those of the desert generation shepherds.
Mercaz HaRav continues to grow, both spiritually and quantitatively. It must now strive to intensify the various branches of light that stem from the brilliant radiance of our mentor, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook: the light of his only son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, and of his disciples and heirs, Rabbi Charlap, the Nazir, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, and Rabbi Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira, of blesses memory.
May the yeshiva grow, and may its light and goodness increase, and may we speedily merit God's complete salvation of his people and His land, and may the disgrace of our nation be erased from the land, Amen.
Translations of the Talmud in the above article were taken from or based upon Soncino's Judaic Classics Library on CD-ROM.