Our Sages established this principle: Love of Israel first

My meeting with Reform clergy was not for any purpose, it stemmed only from love of humanity.. I do not plan to run for the Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed ,

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
PR photo

Q: Is it true, Rabbi, that you are not interested in running for the position of Chief Rabbi?

A: From the start, I never thought I would need to answer the question, just as there is no need to answer the question of whether I intend to run for the presidency of Venezuela or North Korea.

However, when increasingly more people asked, and the baalei machloket (dispute mongers) began to operate, I needed to respond. By no means am I interested. First of all, to my understanding, I am involved in a more important role, namely, the writing of the ‘Peninei Halakha’ series of books, which contributes to the building of Torah for generations, both in the methodology of analyzing an issue deeply and as a whole from its root to its branches, and from the Torah’s original intention to the details of minhag (custom).

For example, with God’s help, I am working on the halakhot of taharat ha’mishpacha (laws of family purity), and after that, with God’s help, I will continue to the halakhot between Israel and non-Jews and the laws of non-Jews, and then there’s much more work to do in the halakhot of bein adam le-chavero ve-mishpachto (laws between man and his fellow man and family), etc. etc.

Moreover, a Chief Rabbi is required to answer numerous and varied questions on the spot, whereas it takes me a considerable amount of time to clarify each question, and I cannot respond in the time needed for such a leadership role.

Apart from these two important reasons, there is another one. In conjunction with the decline of the status of the Chief Rabbinate, the number of quarrels, disputes and wars over jobs, money and opinions have also increased. Consequently, in order to fulfill the role reasonably, diplomatic talent is essential, whereas I find it difficult to conceal my positions, which can lead to arguments. At present, the Chief Rabbinate requires a leader with a moderate temperament, and the ability to deal calmly with all kinds of people and political pressures from all directions.

Whom to Choose

Still, having been forced against my will into the maelstrom, I feel obliged to express my opinion publicly: we need to act resolutely against the election of a rabbi who tends to be a “baal machloket,” and all the more so, strongly oppose the election of a rabbi associated with a group of “baalei machloket“.

It is important to emphasize this because at first thought, members of the National-Religious public think the most important thing is that one of the Chief Rabbis be a graduate of the Zionist yeshivas, which in principle, are more virtuous. In practice, however, since the Haredi politicians control a majority of the electoral body, there is grave concern that they may be willing to “compromise” on a rabbi who indeed recites ‘Hallel’ on Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day - considered a sign of Religious Zionism, ed.) but in all other matters, will cooperate with them in defaming members of the National-Religious public and its rabbis, and insulting the good people who epitomize in their lives and actions the vision of the prophets and the Torah of Israel.

Indeed, it is possible that many of these good people could dedicate more of their time to Torah study, and perfecting their individual mitzvot. Still, a large number of them meticulously fulfill the great mitzvot in the Torah – loving humanity, dealing honestly in business, engaging in yishuvo shel olam (developing the world constructively), risking their lives in defense of the nation and the land and devoting themselves to its development, participating in the advancement of science and the economy, and from within their ranks, produce true and honest Talmidei Chachamim on whom, the future of the Torah world for generations depends.

Consequently, before everything else, it is important the Chief Rabbi-elect does not damage all of this. Therefore, it is proper to choose the Chief Rabbi by a benchmark of good virtues, integrity, and diplomatic skills of avoiding conflicts and insulting remarks towards groups and individuals from Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, and in the Diaspora.

In Favor of Meetings

Following my ‘Zoom’ encounter with the Reform clergywoman Delphine Horvilleur, there were those who attacked me: after all, all the Gedolei Torah forbade meeting with Conservative and Reform clergy! And that any rabbi who meets with them is poretz gader (one who transgresses a rabbinical decree)!

Soon, it became clear to the general public that this propaganda was based on a lie. Almost all of our rabbis had met with Conservative and Reform clergy. Then the critics showed that they, the honored rabbis, had met with them to bring them back on teshuva (repentance), or in order to rebuke them for not keeping the Torah, or, for lack of choice, for “sacred” purposes such as support in elections, funding, or asking for donations.

Whereas I did not preach to do teshuva, nor did I rebuke, nor did I ask for favors – so what did I meet for? Moreover, the critics argued, all the rabbis who had met with them, did so because they had no choice, out of various constraints, whereas I, what impelled me to do so – what was I thinking to meet aimlessly, without being forced to do so?!

Indeed, yes, I met simply in order to meet! Because ahavat ha’briot (love of humanity) has self-worth, in particular, between two Jews. A meeting that is not for the sake of pleasure, or due to coercion, is the pure expression of the connection between the people and communities. For thousands of years we have gone through so many events together, days of humiliation and greatness, building and destruction. All the torments our grandparents survived with endless heroism and suffering, so that our people could continue to exist, and be the beating heart of tikkun olam b’malchut Shadai (perfection of the world in the kingdom of God). And we, their children, shall not be connected to one another?! Not to dream about it together?! Only after fulfilling the absolute, self-worth value of ahavat ha’briot, can the desire to draw closer to Torah be expressed.

The Words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook

Countless times, we were privileged to hear from our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, the Mishnah: “Hillel used to say: be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind, and drawing them close to the Torah” (Avot 1:12).

He taught us that these are two interdependent matters.

“The Mishnah does not say: ‘Love mankind in order to draw them close to the Torah’. That is fake love. Love of humanity has self-worth, and out of this, comes drawing close to the Torah. Who are the briot the Mishnah is talking about? Certainly those far away from Torah, for they are the ones we need to draw close, and it is a mitzvah to love them as well”(Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, Vayikra p. 30). “Ahavat ha’briot – has self-worth! It is absolute! It is true! It is natural! It is normal! It is Divine! – and out of this – draw them close to the Torah.”

“First of all, Jews need to get used to fulfilling the mitzvah ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. This is a mitzvah from the Torah! One has to get used to fulfilling it for a very long time. This mitzvah is the foundation of everything. Our Sages say that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is the entire Torah. The foundation of everything, the root of everything. Afterwards, it can be explained ‘how’ and ‘in what way’ (to draw close those far away from Torah).” “We must cleanse ourselves from the impurity of hatred, and from the impurity of the hatred of such Talmidei Chachamim, and such Roshei yeshivot (heads of yeshivas), who desecrate Hashem and profess in the name of the Torah, to bring into the world the hatred of mankind, God have mercy on us, God save us!” (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, ‘Midot’, pg. 35; Am Yisrael, pg. 212).

“There are some Jews who ‘clutch on to’ the verse from Tehilin (Psalms): ‘Hashem, You know I hate those who hate You,’ and there are educational approaches that emphasize this above all, as being a foundation in education. They place the value of sinat ha’briot (hatred of humanity) as a foundation, arguing this is how they protect themselves. Interesting, that we have never heard of a tzadik (righteous person) and a gadol be’Yisrael (eminent rabbi) designated as the “Sonei Yisrael” (Hater of Israel). On the other hand, we have heard of special individuals who have been nicknamed: “The Tzadik, Gaon, and Kadosh, Ohev Yisrael (Lover of Israel)” (From ‘HaTorah HaGoelet’, Vol.4, pg. 160).

A True Talmid Chacham Loves Humanity

Rabbi Kook further taught us: “Avraham Avinu is called ‘Avraham my friend’. He is entirely ‘ohev et ha’briot’. Only based on Avraham Avinu do we come to Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah comes to us from ‘Moshe received Torah from Sinai’, but our midot (virtues) are from Avraham Avinu. Moshe Rabbeinu is the grandson of Avraham Avinu: one is worthy of Torah only based on the pure virtues, sensitivity, and merit of Avraham Avinu. The more of a lamdan (scholar) a Talmid Chacham is, the more suitable he is to the definition of Talmid Chacham, who is termed ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ – the more he must be full of ahavat ha’briot“(Sichot Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, ‘Midot’, pg. 13).

If that is the case, we learn from the words of Rabbi Kook ztz”l that it is necessary to precede the value of ahavat ha’briot to the value of the Torah. Because the purpose of Torah is to bring blessing to an individual, therefore a person should always be a person first, reveal his character, and from this, rise in the guidance of Torah. Without this, the Torah is liable to turn into a sam ha’mavet (death potion) for him, making him a baal ayin ra (possessor of an ‘evil eye’, i.e., a grudging nature) and a baal machloket (pursuer of disputes). Hashem loves his creatures, while this one, in his wickedness and as if by power of the Torah, hates anyone who does not surrender to his opinion, which he, mistakenly, considers to be daat Torah (the opinion of the Torah).

Starting Every Year from Bereshit

Therefore, every year anew we start again from Bereshit (Genesis), and learn about Avraham Avinu, who opened his tent to all passers-by, regardless of race or religion. Our Sages said that that day was the third day after Avraham Avinu’s circumcision, and Hashem took the sun out of its sheath so as not to trouble him with wayfarers; Avraham Avinu was in great pain, and due to his illness, could have exempted himself from the mitzvah. Especially after he ascended spiritually in the mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision) and was sanctified in the holiness of Israel — why should he humble himself in hosting Gentile idol worshipers, who prostrate themselves to the dust of their feet?

However, precisely in the merit of the brit (covenant) which expresses segulat Yisrael (the virtue of Israel), he strengthened himself in his love of humanity and desire to sanctify Hashem, and ran to welcome and honor them with fine food. There and then, from out of their lowliness, it was revealed they were actually angels, and informed him of the birth of his son Yitzchak.

Love Work

Every year anew we learn about Yitzchak Avinu (Isaac), who continued in the ways of his father, and settled the land by sowing and digging wells, in order to add more food and water to the world, and preserve the lives of many. Every year anew we learn of Yaacov Avinu (Jacob), who despite Lavan’s deception, would faithfully shepherd his flock, on hot summer days, and frozen winter nights, because there is self-worth to work for the sake of yishuvo shel olam (developing the world constructively), and the revelation of blessing out of curse.

Thanks to this, he was rescued from Lavan the Aramaean who sought to kill him, as it is written: “If the God of my fathers – the God of Abraham and the Dread of Isaac – had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty handed! But God saw my plight and the work of my hands. He reprimanded you last night!” (Genesis 31:42).

Our Sages inferred a wonderful thing from this verse (Bereshit Rabbah 74:12): Work is cherished more than zechut avot (merits coming from ones ancestorst), because in the merit of Yaacov’s dedicated work – Hashem saved his life, and in the merit of his ancestors – saved his property. Ultimately, very existence is in the merit of diligence at work, and all other merits are beneficial for the improvement and expansion of life.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.



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