Parshas Ki Tavo – Jewish Soldiers

From: Mitch Morgenstern <>
Date: Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 9:54 AM
To: Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Subject: Update

Rabbi Goldberg:

I hope everything is well.  I like your weekly Chumash Shiur.  I listened to your Shiur from Tuesday on Ki Teitzei.   I used your Torah as a springboard,  went through the Rishonim myself, expanded for myself your approach, added to it, and spoke on Shabbos in two places.

I went through the Meshcech Chocma who added greatly.  I find the Meshech Chocma refreshing and the few times I have seen the Meshech Cochma, it seems  that his Torah is very Litvish, very practical.  To me he is part of the Rov’s world, part of Rabbi Kook is his approach. I admit I have seen only a few of his Divrei Torah.  My daughter got me a Cooperman Meshech Chochma  this past June (she was in Michlala this past year, unfortunately did not get me a signed copy) and without Cooperman, it is almost impossible for me to learn the Meshcech Chochma.

I also ended my speech with reading directly from the Abarbanal who beautifully recapped  your approach.

I spoke at Shalosh Suedes and told over your IDF Golani story along with another story I heard.  The crowd is more Yeshvish and I am the only one who will bring up Israel, the IDF, Rav Kook so I thank you for your approach and your stories.  It is not that they do not agree with me, but they do not hear these stories, will never hear a Torah Vort from Rav Kook, how to look positively at the State of Israel and the IDF.

I wish that the BRS classes would be broadcast live and that they be recorded as audio classes.

Wishing you continued success.

From: Mitch Morgenstern
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2015 9:44 PM
To: Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Subject: Update

Rabbi Goldberg:

I know you will be giving a Shiur tomorrow on Ki Tavo, however, I wanted to add something from your Shiur last week.

The attached Medresh Tanchumah translates “M’Kol Dvar Ra” as there should not be an “Lazunus” – frivolity,  so that you do not come to guilt.

The Medresh is not like any of the other explanations.

I think the Medresh is saying that when you go into the army, a soldier may feel that everything is permitted.  Halacha is that certain things are permitted in times of war,  and since a soldier is in a  situation of Pikuach Nefesh, he will have a laxity in his attitude, Mitzvos, and actions.

The Medresh Tanchuma is saying that a soldier should not have this sense of Lazunus, translated more as laxity.   The YU Kollel Torah M’Tzion had a program where two Kollel members, Rabbis’ Liss and Berman, spoke about why they served in the IDF.  Rabbi Liss was a Yeshiva Hakotel student and Yeshiva Hakotel goes to the army (as I recall) after Purim as a Chevra.  These guys go in with a sense of purpose, with seriousness, and a sense of  responsibility to the entire Jewish nation.  These Bochrim do not go in with Lazunus.

The Medresh Tanchuma is saying be like these Hesder boys, who go in for the right reasons.    Rabbi Liss and Rabbi Berman were riveting and after there speeches, all one can say is Boruch Hashem  we have boys like this.   I sit in one of Rabbi Liss’s classes and I looked at him totally different after his talk.  I  am not on his level.

Rabbi Liss has terrible asthma and during basic training had a serious attack.  He was told that he could get a desk job, yet he refused, and completed basic training.  They made him a tank driver which is not as hard.  When he left after his 14 months in the Hesder program, he had a sense that was deserting his friends who serve for three years.    Rabbi Berman was equally compelling.

Rabbi Liss said they had 20 minutes for Mincha, which only took 10 minutes.  They spent the extra 10 minutes learning



Parshas Noah

The below is Martin from LA’s comment on this weeks Torah potion, Parshas Noah.   In red are my comments.  Martin from LA is a student of Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.   As as result I consider myself a student of the Chief Rabbi and have been inspired by the Chief Rabbi’s Torah.   Martin from LA is my cousin, my friend, and my co-marathoner.   At least he is still running and I am not.  

 Noah’s Failure

The Torah readings continue with the introduction to Noah and the flood story. Virtually every culture has a similar story. That Noah and the flood are mythical is irrelevant. The myriad lessons contained therein are of import.

I only take issue with you in this entire piece that Noah and the flood are mythical.  The Torah cannot make up stories of our history, especially after reading the first Rashi in the Chumash.  The problem then is separating myth from fact.  I believe the entire story happened.   My kids completely agree with you.

Noah is a perplexing character. He is described in the Torah, at the beginning of the eponymous Sedra, Noach, as a righteous man, faultless and walking with God!

He, alone in the Hebrew Bible has such appellations! Abraham and Moses, for example, do not come close.

But, despite such praise, the man that was supposed to save the world and rebuild it anew, in the end couldn’t even save himself as he wallowed in a drunken stupor and was an embarrassment to his children, and according to one opinion, sexually assaulted by his so Ham. And unlike Adam and Eve previously, who were ashamed of their nakedness, he was not even aware of his nudity.

How could this be? The man seemed to be the paradigm of religiosity, obeying every jot and tittle of God’s commands to him.

The Sages, in their Midrashic analysis of the flood parable, give Noah short shrift indeed. He is heavily criticized for not doing more to try to encourage a depraved humanity to repent and perhaps prevent the oncoming deluge. In fact he did nothing, but just busied himself meticulously following the minutiae of the ark’s blueprints.

Never understood the criticism.  No one would have listened.  Maybe Noah felt that the proper way is to live a religious  life by example.  Abraham’s defense of Sodom on its surface appears to be misplaced mercy for a society that choose brutality with their riches over a just society.  Abraham should have said, I will go and teach them.  I was only satisfied in Abraham’s defense when I answered the question of misplaced mercy,  that of course, Abraham was not saying let Sodom be spared any judgment.  He told God or understood God, that God will punish them for their evil ways, just not to destroy them.  If you do not say this,  then Abrohom is a fool.  I have not found a source for this, but this has to be the understanding.

 The Sages were particularly disturbed by his unwillingness to leave the ark after the floodwaters had subsided. Despite being certain that the land was now dry he only finally debarked because God instructed him. The Sages excoriated him for this. He was to be performing the most vital role in human history, the reconstructing of a shattered world and he dallied in the comfort and safety of his home not prepared to take the risks necessary for his daunting task until God approved his exit.

Abraham did not sit back in quiet obedience when God told him of the impending destruction of Sodom.

The Kotzker criticized Abraham that when God told him that his children will  go through a bitter slavery, Abraham did not protest and scream GVALT, my kids will be exiled for 400 years and will have to go to slavery!   They will have a holocaust!

Likewise, Moses did not await God’s permission to act on the injustices he saw in Egypt.

The Sages, who claimed that they would have torn down the walls of the ark and taken themselves out, were teaching us in this Midrash that to build a better society, you do not await permission.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, (amongst others) even before the storm clouds of Europe began to darken warned European Jewry of the approaching destruction and begged them to leave and go to help build what was to become the State of Israel, a process that had begun 50 years or so previously. He was mostly ignored.

Some simply comfortable in their current surroundings, others claiming, that just like Noah before them, were exemplary in the observance of the God’s commandments, that a Jewish State can only be built with God’s permission.

The result was catastrophic.

You are correct.

No disease has been cured, no technology invented for the benefit of society, no hungry child fed, no poor have been clothed and no State has been built  by those that prefer to sit in an ark studying and even devising more minutiae than taking the courage to create a better world.

We need a balance.  We need Torah scholars and we need builders.  We need them in sync, each understanding their roles.  We need Torah and the scholars to provide this radiant glow that positively affects everything it shines on.  A foundation stone for a Jewish society to be built based on the Torah, just values, charity, and Torah knowledge.

This is my theme of Kotzk and when I write the definitive book on Kotzk, I will touch upon this very subject.  On the surface, the Kotzker seems to have withdrawn from this world for 19 years, when in reality he was a major  leader and leading the Jewish world.

“Devising more minutiae”.

Both Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, the Meshak Chocmah and Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Kook would agree with you.

 Shabbat Shalom

 The Haftora.

The Hebrew bible consists of 3 sections. The Torah, which Orthodoxy believes is the revealed word of God. Followed by the Prophets, that section from Joshua, through Judges, Kings, and the various 15 Prophets, and finally Writings, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Esther and a bunch of others that you may or may not of heard of. The Haftora is a short reading taken from the 2nd section, that either has a connection to the Torah reading or the season, and is read at the conclusion of the Torah reading. How it came to be, nobody knows. There have been many speculative guesses, and the most well-known and promoted ad nauseum in the Orthodox world, may be the silliest. That is, the Greeks (and later the Romans), banned the public reading of Torah, but we fooled ’em by substituting another section of the Bible.) Personally, I prefer the argument that the Haftora reading was a polemic against sectarians who rejected anything other than the Torah itself as being part of the Jewish cannon.

Regardless of it’s genesis, it’s very ancient, at least 2000 years old, and is universal in practice throughout all denominations(There are occasional differences on the choice of Haftora)




Rav Kookשִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד

“I have placed the Lord before me constantly” – Psalms 16:8

Last week I received the new biography on the life of Rav Avrohom Yitzchak Kook by Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, titled, “Rav Kook – Mystic in a Time of Revolution”.  It was very exciting for me.  I heard my first lecture on the life of Rav kook in February given at the Boca Raton Synagogue by Rabbi Yosef Kassorla.  It was a 1.5 hour lecture and it barely scratched the surface of the life of Rav Kook.

One of the books used by Rabbi Yosef Kassorla was Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky’s recently published biography on Rav Kook. Last month Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky spoke at a JUF function at Anshe Sholem and I was privileged to hear Rabbi Mirsky directly.  I was able to purchase the book and it arrived in the mail last week, signed by Rabbi Mirsky.

I have read nothing about Rabbi Kook until now.  I did meet Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchak Levine at Shoshana Parker’s wedding in Philadelphia.  Rabbi Levine who was Rov in Lower Marion, PA is a grandson Rabbi Aryeh Levine (A Tzaddik in our Time).  Rabbi Levine told me that he was the first boy named after the passing of Rabbi Kook in 1935.

Rabbi Kassorla’s Shiur portrayed the great life of Rabbi Kook.  He told a story about Rabbi Kook that gave me context for another story.

Last month, I was at Bnei Ruvain and had a few seconds waiting for the Chazzen to begin the repetition of the Amidah due to my quick pace of praying.  I opened up a Sefer titled “Stories of Chassidim”, put out by the Kehot publishing house, to a random page and read the first story.  The story was about the Koshnitzer Magid (1733 – 1814) and he was in the city of Apta.  The Koshnitzer Magid was asked to speak and responded, “I will not speak because I spoke last year and no one was inspired,  so why should I speak again?”  Comes along a farmer and says to the Koshitzer Magid, “Last year you spoke about the need for   שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד .   Since I heard your speech last year I constantly think about Hashem”.  The Koshnitzer Magid said, “my speech was successful and I will speak this year”.

This is a nice story but normally would mean nothing to me.  What does it mean to live with God.  I certainly do not.

However, thanks to Rabbi Kassrola, I understand what it means to live with שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד.

Rabbi Kassorla told the following story about Rabbi Kook.  Rabbi Kook arrives in Volzhin in 1884.  The Dean of Volzhin, the Netziv, is smitten with Rav Kook and senses something special about Rav Kook.  The Netziv said that if the entire purpose of Volzhen was to have Rabbi Kook study here, it would have been well worth it.  The other Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik said, “beware of the pious lad from Grieva.”  Page 16 and 17 of Rabbi Mirsky’s book tells the story.  Why was Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik wary of Rav Kook?  Rav Kook looked and acted like a Chasid.  Rav Kook had a beard and prayed like a Chassid, and wore Tefilim all day.  Most students at Volzhin were clean shaven and, to Rabbi Soloveichik, a thoroughgoing Mitnagid and a genius of abstract, elegant textual analysis, “pious” – (fervor in prayer and action) was not a compliment.

Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik:

Reb Chaim Brisker - Photos | Facebook

The Netziv:

Volozhin in the 1880’s was an elite Yeshiva with the best Jewish minds congregating to study with its great Torah giants.  Many great Jewish leaders came out of Volozhin, including some great secular thinkers.   As Rabbi Mirsky said on page 16 in his book, “Haskalah and its literature were in the air at Volozhin, in the dormitories, and at time inside the folio of Talmud over which the students pored day and night.  Indeed, a fellow student named Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864-1953) noticed that Kook would during his Talmud study, repeatedly look dawn at some paper on a shelf of his study stand.  Thinking that Kook was stealing glances at Maskilic literature or newspaper, Bengis reported his fears to Berlin, who told him to leave Kook alone, saying , “he’s a tzaddik.”  Unable to restrain himself, the student  eventually caught a glimpse of Kook’s mysterious papers, “And what did I find?  As Rabbi Kassorla put it, the papers contained the words   שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד.

Rabbi Kassorla went on and told another story of Rav Kook, which highlights, what it means to live שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד.

Rav Kook married the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim.   Rabbi  Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim (1843—1905), also known by his acronym ADeReT, was a Lithuanian rabbi in the 19th century.    In 1875, he was invited to serve the rabbinate of the town of Panevėžys (Poneviezh). In 1893, he was appointed as the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, where he served until 1899. He then immigrated to Jerusalem. In 1901, he was appointed as assistant to the aging Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who was the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi Perushim community in Jerusalem.  He published many brilliant original arguments in Torah jurisprudence.  Refer to blog post dated May 6, 2022 titled The Aleppo Codex, where I mention the Aderas towards the end of the blog post.

Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim.jpg

As was the custom of the times, right after marriage Rav Kook moved into his in-laws house to be supported by his in-laws so he can concentrate of Torah study, Lo Haya, V’Lo Nivrah.  This was never going to happen.     The Aderet was extremely poverty stricken and there was no way the Aderat would be able to support this son-in-law and his daughter.  What does someone who lives a life of שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד do.  Rav Kook accepts a Rabbinical post in Zeimel to support both himself and his father-in-law.  This was Rav Kook, שִׁוִּיתִי יְהֹוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד and this is why he became a great leader in Israel despite his studies being interrupted at age 21 to accept communal responsibility.

Excerpts from the book