(Photo: Rachel Porat)
Rav Chanan Porat: For the Honor of Heaven
BY RABBI JUDAH MISCHEL
Rav Chanan Porat zt”l was a unique ish eshkolot, or ‘renaissance man’, a Torah scholar and poet, paratrooper and educator, in love with the nation, Torah and Land of Israel. A founder of Gush Emunim, he was also a pioneer, builder and eventually a Member of Knesset. Rav Chanan was often sought out for his comments on current events, for he spoke with passion and wit, and was never shy about sharing his opinions.
Rav Chanan’s daughter, Tirtza, describes how one afternoon, he was sitting with a sefer open in front of him, pen in hand, writing his weekly Torah column while fielding non-stop calls on two different phone lines. At one point, the producer of a popular prime-time Israeli television show called to ask Rav Chanan if he would appear on the program.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle, Rav Chanan paused for a moment, furrowed his brow in contemplation and calmly asked the producer, “Do you think that my participation will give nachat ruach to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, pleasure to the Holy One? Will it be marbeh k’vod Shamayim, will it increase the Divine honor?”
Taken aback, the television producer was unable to answer definitively, and offered a hesitant “I’m not sure…”
“Well, if that is the case, then I will have to pass. Thank you.”
In a life that touched practically every aspect of Jewish life in Israel this past half-century, Rav Chanan was at the forefront of efforts to build and create a thriving Jewish society in our homeland. He would often speak of the need for faith and purpose, and cite the tragic failing of the meraglim, the spies sent from the wilderness to report on the Land, an episode that led to generations of exile.
According to Ramban, while the end of the story is disastrous, the meraglim had holy intentions. In the wilderness, the people were escorted and sustained by the well of Miriam, led by a pillar of fire and surrounded by clouds of glory. Their sojourn in the desert was one of constant miracles and revealed Divine providence. Why, they considered, should they enter the Land of Israel only to be forced to engage its inhabitants in battle, build cities and deal with the complex material needs of a worldly society? Why should they enter a situation in which they had to put aside spiritual pursuits to work the land and cultivate fields, when they were enjoying a life of attachment to G-d and being nourished by Manna that fell from Heaven?
The meraglim hoped to keep us in the ideal spiritual environment of the wilderness, nestled in a womb-like experience where we wouldn’t be busied with ‘lowly’ worldly affairs that could interfere with our connection to Hashem. What they failed to take into account was actually the most important factor: ratzon Hashem, the Divine will. By allowing ourselves to be persuaded by the spies, we rebelled against Hashem’s will.
When we are so certain in our belief of the righteousness of our cause, we can become filled with kavod atzmi, self-importance. This is a subtle act of rebellion, for kavod belongs only to Hashem. When grasping kavod for ourselves, Hashem’s kavod is diminished in the world, so to speak.
After Moshe’s plea for forgiveness, Hashem says, “I have forgiven them in accordance with your word. However, as surely as I live, v’yemalei k’vod Hashem et kol ha-aretz, the glory of G-d fills all of the earth… all the people haro’im et k’vodi, who while seeing My glory and the signs that I performed in Egypt and in the desert have tested Me these ten times and not listened to My voice… they will not see the Land that I swore to their fathers” (Bamidbar 14:20–23).
Hashem’s glory and presence, His kavod, fills the earth; there is no place devoid of Hashem. The ratzon Hashem is that we should reveal this omnipresent glory throughout “all the earth” by creating a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling for Hashem in the ‘lower’, physical world. Our mundane, physical day-to-day acts are themselves a revelation of Hashem on earth.
While holy and well-intended, the mistake of the meraglim teaches us how clear we must be regarding our higher purpose: to bring nachat ruach to Hashem and be marbeh k’vod Shamayim. Like Rav Porat, may we have the courage to “pass” on any offer that is not aligned with Hashem’s desire to dwell here, in our world and within ourselves.
Rabbi Judah Mischel is Executive Director of Camp HASC, Mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuvah.