“We will Always be Brothers”
An Interview with Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel
BY RABBI NETANEL ELYASHIV
Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, Rosh Yeshiva of the post-army yeshiva program at Bnei-David in Eli, has long been one of the most prominent voices in Israel’s Religious Zionist community. With the publication of a new English translation of his popular Siman Labanim, a collection of lectures on the weekly parasha, English speakers can now access Rav Kashtiel’s uplifting writings. Rabbi Netanel Elyashiv spoke with Rav Kashtiel about his approach to studying the parasha.
Rabbi Netanel Elyashiv: Parashat hashavua is a very broad and diverse field. How would you describe your personal approach to teaching the parasha?
Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel: Parasha study is an opportunity to learn in depth about our emunah, mussar, and our national identity. My approach to teaching is also shaped by my personal inner feelings. I try to convey to students the very same things that touch me when I study, the things that give me strength.
RNE: Some try to connect the study of the parasha to current affairs, to find in the weekly portion of the Torah references to the weekly portion of the news.
REK: My approach is that studying the parasha is our chance to distance ourselves a bit from day-to-day life, to raise our view higher and reconnect with the eternal values of the Torah. I try to teach things that are not controversial, things that all of Klal Yisrael can relate to. When people gather together on Shabbat, we should be looking for common ground and core values. That’s why I chose the title Siman Labanim. There are many children, with diverse ways, but we all come from the same fathers and mothers. The parasha and its teachings should unify us and allow us to deepen our common roots.
RNE: I suppose you also believe that shul should be designated as a “safe place,” and that the Rav should not engage in controversial topics. But some would argue that this makes the Torah irrelevant to people’s lives.
REK: I indeed feel very much that way. I am not only a teacher, I’m also the Rav of a congregation, and I believe the shul should be a place where everybody can feel that they belong. The lessons of the Torah will be relevant to people’s lives when the Rav places the emphasis on Torah and mussar, the most important principles and values of our faith, things that are so truthful and uplifting that nobody would contend them. There are many things that everybody agrees upon, but they also demand much work. Everyone in shul agrees that shmirat halashon and tefillah are important, yet everyone can acknowledge that we have much to improve in these fields.
RNE: You have witnessed firsthand the growth of the mechina pre-army yeshiva movement. What, in your view, is the most important innovation of this movement regarding Torah study?
REK: In the classic yeshiva world there was a clear distinction between the study of emunah or hashkafa, which can be very academic, and the study of mussar, which is clearly intended to affect one’s life. Due to the intensity of the mechinot, in which students know that their time is very limited (one or two years followed by full army service) and due to the type of students that attend these programs, the approach to emunah is different. The students’ goal is to incorporate everything they study into their lives, to find the practical meaning of every lesson. It is a very special connection between the high ideals of emunah and the practical demands of mussar. The study has an almost immediate effect.
RNE: We are beginning to study Bereishit again, which repeatedly focuses on brotherhood. The relations between brothers in Bereishit are mostly unsuccessful, like the relationship between brothers in Israel this past year.
REK: There is a unique quality to brotherhood that even a husband and wife do not possess. It is not a matter of choice, but rather a fact. You cannot threaten a sibling by saying “we are no longer brothers!”, for it is simply false. There is no option of canceling your connection. In the same way, Hashem chose our people, promising us that whatever happens, we will always be His nation.This was the secret of Yosef, the most important person in Bereishit. He was the first to fully understand the essence of brotherhood. Yosef taught true brotherhood: you can sell me into slavery, you can harm me greatly, yet we will always be brothers. That is how Yosef became the savior of Klal Yisrael.