The Divine Masterplan and Our Role

In the attached letter, I will discuss some of the universal Torah insights which are found in the book, "Masterplan" by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a noted Torah scholar and educator who passed away last month in Jerusalem. About him and those like him, we say, "Zecher tzadik l'vracha" - The memory of the righteous serves as a blessing. 
Rabbi Carmell was a beloved Torah teacher who had a profound influence on my own life, and I had the privilege of becoming his student after I moved to Jerusalem. I met him when he was giving a class on the weekly Torah portion at Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim, a Torah academy which emphasizes the universal vision of the Torah and which has a program for English speakers. Rabbi Carmell acted like a father to me and was concerned about all my needs. I later learned that this was his way with all his students, as our tradition teaches that the disciples of a Torah teacher are called his children (Sifri and Rashi on Deut. 6:7).
Rabbi Carmell was a disciple of Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, a noted sage of Mussar - Torah teachings and insights regarding ethics, human nature, and character development. Rabbi Carmel had a major role in publishing a collection of Rabbi Dessler's profound and holistic teachings which drew on all branches of Torah wisdom, including insights from the Midrash, Zohar, and Chassidus. The title of this classical Hebrew work is Michtav Eliyahu. Rabbi Carmell translated parts of Michtav Eliyahu into English, and the English edition is titled, "Strive for Truth" (published by Feldheim). This edition has inspired many Jewish spiritual seekers from English-speaking countries.

Dear Friends,
"Masterplan" is a modern adaptation of the 19th century classic "Horeb" by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. In Horeb, Rabbi Hirsch explores the ethical and spiritual teachings which can be derived from the mitzvos - the Divine mandates which are found within the Torah. He also discusses how the mitzvos lead to a more caring and just society - one based on the Torah principles of love and justice. And over a hundred years before "the environment" became a major world issue, Rabbi Hirsch discusses in "Horeb" how a number of mitzvos relate to environmental concerns. "Horeb" has therefore been helpful to spiritual seekers who were striving to understand the universal goal of the Torah and its path of mitzvos. In "Masterplan," Rabbi Carmell presents many of Rabbi Hirsch's ideas in an abridged and simplified form. 
Rabbi Carmell explores how all of the mitzvos are actually "building blocks" in the Master Architect's plan for a caring and just society. In the following statement, he reminds us that this unique society is to serve as an example for all the nations:
" The idea is to establish a model society which the world will wish to emulate, thus bringing the benefits of a Torah life to as large a proportion of humanity as possible."
A major strength of this work is its attempt to confront a number of contemporary issues. For example, over a third of the book deals with the relationship of many mitzvos to the preservation and enrichment of the environment. Rabbi Carmell demonstrates that the Torah's definition of the environment is more holistic than the standard secular understanding of the term, for it includes not only land, plants and animals, but also "our bodies, our property, our words and our sexuality."
Rabbi Carmell also criticizes the modern system of factory farming, where animals are raised in crowded, unhealthy, confined cells with no room to move. In his chapter on the Torah's prohibition against cruel treatment of animals, he writes:
"It seems doubtful from all that has been said whether the Torah would sanction factory farming, which treats animals as machines, with apparent insensitivity to their natural needs and instincts. This is a matter for decision by halachic authorities (experts on Torah law)."
Traditional topics such as marriage and the family are certainly not neglected; nevertheless, Rabbi Carmell understands that some people have difficult life circumstances which prevent them from fulfilling the mitzvah to bring children into the world. He therefore makes a special effort to include single men and women, as well as couples without children, in the Divine plan for the universe. Rabbi Carmell reminds us that any home can become a center of Torah and of concern for the physical and spiritual welfare of others; moreover, biological children can be replaced by spiritual children. Rabbi Carmell stresses that there is a positive task for everyone if only one will take the trouble to look for it.
Within the universal vision of the Torah, the Land of Israel has a central role, and the following excerpt from "Masterplan" discusses the universal purpose of the Land:
"God gave the Torah to a nation, not to an individual or individuals. And that nation was to live in a specially selected land where they were to develop a Torah civilization, a just and caring society which would be the wonder of the world. In this land all aspects of the national life were to be transformed and sanctified by the commandments of the Torah...The land selected was strategically situated for propagating the message of this ideal state - at the juncture of three great continents and with a coastline to the sea to ensure that the message could spread still further afield. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Priests? No, not religious functionaries. They were to be agriculturists, businessmen, professionals, but the way they ran their state and their commerce was to be exemplary. They were to be 'priests' in the sense that they would represent the spirit of God in the world - in practice. And a 'holy nation.' Holy? Does that sound to you cold, withdrawn, other-worldly? This would be a great mistake. 'Holy' in the Torah sense means dedicated - dedicated to justice, integrity and giving."
Rabbi Carmell's brief definition of holiness in the above passage is based on the writings of Rabbi Hirsch. Rabbi Hirsch teaches that holiness can be attained when all the drives and energies of the human being are dedicated to fulfilling the Divine purpose - to serve and to give. Holiness results when a human being has full control over these drives and energies. These drives and energies, however, are not to be suppressed, explains Rabbi Hirsch; instead, they are to be consecrated to the service of our Creator through the discipline of the Divine law. Through this discipline, both the individual and the nation can become "holy." (Rabbi Hirsch's teachings on holiness can be found in chapter 14 of Horeb and in his commentary to Leviticus 19:1.)
Have a Good and Holy Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

 P.S. "Masterplan" can be obtained from Feldheim Publishers:  and a pocketsize edition was also published. 
I also highly recommend the English translation of "Horeb" published by The Soncino Press.


Hazon - Our Universal Vision