Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rav Shvat's Shiur

Every culture has their own children's stories, which not only express their philosophy but also, in turn, influence the next generation, as well. On the one hand, Islamic stories stress how Allah runs the world, with man's free-will relatively limited, while western stories stress man's free will and initiative, but basically eliminate the role of G-d. The stories in the Tanach clearly intend to raise a generation who does not rely on miracles yet prays to Hashem to help man's efforts, initiatives, and free will. To celebrate Chanukah fully, we must recognize and thank Hashem also for the miracle of the oil, yet also for the military victory of Yehudah HaMaccabi and his brothers, who davened before every battle, in addition to developing military strategy of their own. Thus we will BH raise a generation which will revive the ideal Jew and ideal Jewish Nation of old.
Chanukah Same'ach,
Rav Ari Shvat

Click here for the audio link, or listen in the handy audio player supplied below.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Nobel Prize: Good for the Jews?

Rav Yonah Goodman
Director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary Education and Religion

Israeli Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute in Rechovot recently received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Stockholm. She has become the 176th Jew (comprising 22% of Nobel Prize winners throughout history) and the ninth Israeli to win the Nobel Prize. But is there any reason for us to get excited about this? Rav Yonah Goodman, Director of Religious Education, Orot College, offers an answer.

Recently, Israelis learned that this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is to be awarded to an Israeli scientist, Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute. The media devoted several days to the story, but why should we care? Does Yonath’s prize have any implication for the rest of us?
As it so happened, I was talking about the news with several secular teachers. They all insisted that they were very excited and that they planned on discussing the prize in class. One even declared, “The nations of the world have given us a tremendous honor,” and the students must hear about it.
However, when I asked an educator in a religious school if he was going to bring up the subject in his classroom, he seemed surprised at the question. He replied, “What? We need the non-Jews’ honor?! They should be the ones to determine if we’re worthy or not? After all, our honor is dependent on our spiritual stature and not on commissions comprised of various professors. Maybe you missed it, but on Simchat Torah, we danced with a Sefer Torah, not a chemistry book!”
Although I doubt that most religious teachers would agree with his statement, there is no question that the topic was covered with much more enthusiasm in the secular system (including its media) than in the religious sector, which mainly reacted with indifference to the story.
Indeed, I frequently wonder if the secular public’s enthusiasm for a given topic is sufficient cause for part of the religious public to condemn it. Nevertheless, I believe that there are many reasons why Professor Yonath’s achievement matters:
1. Is chemistry – and science, in general – truly unimportant? How can we successfully run a country if we do not have people who excel in every field? Should we resort to importing non-Jewish doctors, engineers, CEO’s, and officers?
2. HaKadosh Baruch Hu ordered us “to perfect the universe through the sovereignty of the Almighty” (from the Aleinu prayer) – and not only on the spiritual plane. Are we not obligated to contribute to the human effort to heal the sick (an endeavor which was advanced as a result of Yonath’s discoveries)? When Hashem commands us “and subdue it” (Breishit 1:28), we are not meant to wage war. Rather, our task is to overcome challenges and dangers – using a wide range of tools, including scientific ones.
3. Am Yisrael’s mission is to aspire for spiritual excellence and to spread Hashem’s Name throughout the world. We can only accomplish this goal if we are part of the world. Moreover, we must show that our spiritual ascendency goes hand in hand with the fact that we are a healthy nation which includes many different and assorted professionals who contribute to the country and the world. (See Orot 104.) Has our “Diaspora mindset” caused us to become estranged from the wonderful world which HaKadosh Baruch Hu created? (And we have not even mentioned our privilege and responsibility to recognize the wonders of Creation and use them to strengthen our faith. See Rambam – Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2.)
4. As an interim conclusion, we can say that this award presents us with an opportunity to debate our fundamental approach to secular studies. Are they a manifestation of a weakness or a primary objective? Note that we are not addressing other important questions, such as at what age and to what extent should secular subjects be studied (see Rav Kook’s Iggeret 170); in which framework should they be taught; and so on. We are only focusing here on the importance of clarifying the national-religious public’s attitude towards secular studies.
Another issue is our position on the aforementioned educator’s statement, “What? We need the non-Jews’ honor?!” Obviously, we must find favor in HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s eyes and do His Will wholeheartedly. This is our mission. Yet, HaKadosh Baruch Hu was the One who instructed us to be an ohr lagoyim (a light among the nations), and this light will only increase if we not only excel in our spiritual world but in every field of endeavor. Furthermore, our lifestyle can serve as evidence that these fields need not contradict one another and that they can even be combined. Hence, if the nations of the world recognize our abilities and honor our achievements, this is certainly a partial fulfillment of our duty.
Finally, we should note that Professor Yonath’s life story raises additional issues, which are not necessarily connected to chemistry or secular studies. In a number of interviews, Professor Yonath was asked about her childhood. And as it turns out – surprise, surprise – her parents never enrolled her in classes for gifted children, and she never attended science courses at the nearest university.
In fact, her parents could barely feed her. She grew up in a poor home. Her father died when she was only eleven, and young Yonath was forced to find a job. Yet, according to her, these difficult conditions were what taught her about exertion, perseverance, responsibility, and confronting challenges. These traits enabled her to dedicate decades of her life to her research, even though she faced numerous difficulties and setbacks (including the scorn and contempt of those who doubted her ability to succeed on her chosen path). Without her diligence and determination, she would not have achieved results which will likely benefit the health of millions of people worldwide.
Is there really nothing we can learn from this story? After all, we frequently deal with pedagogical problems in an overly specific manner. For instance, when a child gets discouraged and does not solve a math problem, he is told to keep trying. When a child claims that he cannot clean his room, his mother insists that he is indeed capable of completing the task. Yet, while we handle specific problems, Professor Yonath’s story reminds us that perseverance and determination are important educational goals. Without these traits, we will produce neither scientists nor Torah scholars.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Yosef's Well and the Lights of Chanukah

We like to think that the story of Chanukah chronicles the good guys against the bad: the righteous Jews against the evil Greeks. While in some ways that's true, it's also s a gross oversimplification. In many ways, the story of Chanukah tells the tragic tale of Jew vs. Jew; secularist against religionist; those who remained faithful to Torah and halachah against a powerful group that had abandoned the traditional Jewish way of life. Examined in this light, Chanukah takes on a greater sense of urgency as we watch the two major camps in Israel – the religious and the secular – grow increasingly farther apart from each other. (Watching the competing protests over the character and nature of Yerushalayim on one hand, and the growing tension over the question of following orders in the army, it's easy to see how history could repeat itself, God forbid.)
While the essence of the miracle of Chanukah focuses on the war against the Greeks and the miracle of the oil in the Beit Hamikdash, Chazal left us clues to remind us about the underlying conflict that precipitated the terrible war.
When we examine the very brief mention of Chanukah found in the Gemara (Shabbat 21b – 22b), we encounter an interesting anomaly. (I've numbered the different subjects to make my point clear.)
אמר רב כהנא, דרש רב נתן בר מניומי משמיה דרבי תנחום נר של חנוכה שהניחה למעלה מעשרים אמה - פסולה, כסוכה וכמבוי. ואמר רב כהנא, דרש רב נתן בר מניומי משמיה דרב תנחום: מאי דכתיב +בראשית לז+ והבור רק אין בו מים. ממשמע שנאמר והבור רק איני יודע שאין בו מים? אלא מה תלמוד לומר אין בו מים - מים אין בו, אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו. אמר רבה: נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה בטפח הסמוכה לפתח. והיכא מנח ליה? רב אחא בריה דרבא אמר: מימין, רב שמואל מדפתי אמר: משמאל. והילכתא - משמאל, כדי שתהא נר חנוכה משמאל ומזוזה מימין.
1. Said Rav Kahana: Rav Natan bar Minyomi taught in the name of Rabbi Tanchum: A Chanukah lamp placed above the height of twenty amot is invalid. 2. And said Rav Kahana: Rav Natan bar Minyomi taught in the name of Rabbi Tanchum: What is the meaning of the verse: "And the well was empty, it contained no water"? Since it says "the well was empty" did I not know that it contained no water? Rather, what does "it contained no water" teach? [The well] had no water, but it contained snakes and scorpions. 3. Said Rabbah, it is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah lamp in the tefach adjacent to the doorway. And where should he place it? Rav Acha the son of Ravva said: to the right. Rav Shmuel from Difti said: to the left. And the halachah is to the left, so that the Chanukah lamp is on the left, and the mezuzah on the right.
Sandwiched between two short passages relating to specific halachot of lighting ((1) the height and (3) placement of the Chanukah lamp), the Gemara includes a seemingly unrelated Midrash. Why did Chazal record the familiar Midrash about the well into which the brothers threw Yosef in between two halachot about Chanukah? Also, can we connect this Midrash to the rules about where to place the Chanukah lamp?
When we examine the language Chazal utilize in the Midrash about Yosef's well, we find a subtle but critical Chanukah lesson. In addition to the Midrash about the well in the Gemara, the Midrash records a different, less-known teaching (Midrash Agadah 37) about that well:
והבור רק אין בו מים [אין בו דברי תורה]. ואין מים אלא תורה, שנאמר הוי כל צמא לכו למים (ישעי' נה א), מלמד שמרוב הצרה שכח תלמודו
"And the well was empty, it contained no water" – [it contained no words of Torah]. For "water" can only refer to Torah, as it is written, "Let all who thirst go to the water." (Isaiah 55:1). This teaches us that out of great anguish [Yosef] forgot his [Torah] studies.
Yosef's brothers threw him into two "pits". They first cast him into the actual water-well, empty as it was. But then, by selling him into slavery headed towards Egypt, they cast him into a far larger well: the empty pit of Egypt. Yet, this pit was devoid not of water, but of the Torah and spirituality that Yosef learned from his father at home. The Midrash notes a critical message about the absence of Torah. Lack of Torah is not benign. Rather, that lack of Torah and spirituality itself presented a danger to Yosef. The absence of Torah is not a vacuum, open to both positive and negative opportunities. Rather, the very lack of Torah in the well necessitates the fact that "snakes and scorpions" dwelled in that well instead. A place without Torah is never innocuous. The lack of Torah spells danger for Yosef, and for us, his descendants, as the void is filled not by the positives of Hellenism: the philosophy, science and progress, but by its dangers: hedonism, materialism and self-gratification.
This could help us understand the very next passage in the Gemara: ideally, one should place the menorah not in the window, but in the doorway – on the left-hand side (when entering). In this way, we surround our doorway with mitzvot that represent the Torah: the powerful words of Shema in the mezuzah on the right, and the light of Chanukah representing the spirituality of Judaism on the left.
Where does your family light your Chanukah candles? For the past several hundred years, we lit our candles in the window, not because we wanted to but because we had to. Too many generations were forced to keep the light of Chanukah to ourselves, shut in from the dangers (both literal and spiritual) of the outside world. But today things are different, both here in Israel and across the Diaspora. We no longer fear to light our candles in the public square. Our doors today are open. We should follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and light not in the window, but with open doors.
And when we do, there can be no more powerful message about the way we relate to the outside world. Our doorways represent the portal between the insularity of the Jewish home and the "well" of the Western world. What values do we permit to pass through that portal? Are they informed by the mitzvot of Chanukah and mezuzah? The moments we spend lighting our candles this Chanukah present a perfect opportunity to contemplate these crucial questions.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Youth at Risk - Dugit Beach

During the months of summer vacation, the Dugit Beach on the Kinneret becomes a "home away from home" for a surprising number of Israeli teens. Teens camp at the beach not only as a fun vacation spot, but as a place to find peers and escape the pressures of home. Not surprisingly, this beach has become a home for a number of dangerous teenage behaviors including heavy smoking, provocative dress, violence, peer pressure, alcohol, drugs and casual sexual relations.
For several years, ELEM – an organization that works with youth at risk – has built an open tent on the Dugit beach during the summer months. The tent, open from early evening throughout the night, houses professional advisors and volunteer educators, therapists and students available to teenagers who need information, guidance, support, and even just a sympathetic ear. The discussions can be private, between an adolescent and a volunteer, and in a group setting between several volunteers or adolescents. ELEM personnel also attempt to identify and reach high risk youths on the beach. In addition, boys who are not at risk occasionally visit the tent to talk, take a break or just have light refreshments. Most of the boys visiting the tent come from religious homes.
During the summer of 2009, students studying in Orot's Department of Social and Communal Education joined ELEM's Dugit Beach project. While the Orot students hoped to gain valuable field experience, they had much to offer as well. As most of the teens that frequent Dugit Beach come from religious homes, ELEM turned to Orot to help deal with the problems and dilemmas unique to religious youth.
Orot's participation in the Dugit Beach project required thorough preparation. In addition to their normal educational training, Orot President Rabbi Neria Guttel and Head of Religious Education Rabbi Yonah Goodman addressed the students before the trip. Nurit Serri, head of the department together with Rabbi Goodman supervised the work throughout the night, and led a discussion on the beach at the end of the night.
Drawing conclusions from their experience, which Orot's students found the experience meaningful and challenging, meeting directly with youth at risk, especially from religious backgrounds, raised difficult questions: how could this happen to us? How should we as a community deal with these types of problems?
The students and the staff emerged from the project with a positive attitude: they felt that their meetings contributed to the youth and likely helped them, albeit in a limited way. They found that as religious volunteers, they could play a very significant role in affecting teens because of in their unique understanding of religious adolescents at risk.
In the years to come, Orot hopes to make its participation in the Dugit Beach Project a permanent part of students' volunteer work.

"Light a Candle " with the English Department

Dr. Vitela Arzi
Head of the English Department

"Light a Candle " with the English Department - a unique learning center at Ulpenalt Zevulun in Rosh Ha'ayin.

Chanukah- the holiday of Light
Facing this criticism, the third year students, supervised by their pedagogic supervisor (Madafit) Dr. Chaya Katz, and helped by Adina Salomon from Orot's Pedagogic Center created a unique learning experience at their training school , Ulpenat Zevulun, revolving around the topic of light and practiced through a special Learning Center that would vitalize the spiritual meanings of Light.

At the basis of the Unit prepared by the students, was the symbol of light, representing the victory of spirit over matter. The concept of light has various biblical connotations , four of which were selected by the students :
1. The light of Wisdom – " A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine" (Ecclesiastes, 8, 1 ).
2. The light of Torah- "For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light" (Proverbs, 6, 23).
3. The light of Faith: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And a light unto my path" (Psalms, 119, 105).
4.The light of Soul: "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord" (Proverbs, 20, 27).

Since Chanukah is a holiday which also revolves around contrasts and opposites, (light-darkness, many-few, weak-strong etc…), the students decided that the linguistic aspect of their learning center would revolve around opposites and contrasts (such as trust-faith, materialistic- spiritual, light- dark etc). The purpose was to go beyond Doughnuts and Dreidels into the spiritual meaning of Light, create an exciting multi-sensory learning experience, and encourage the pupils to express their personal experiences.

The Song "Light a Candle"
Singer Sarit Chadad's song "Light a Candle with Me", provides symbolic meaning to the lighting of candles as an act of bringing people and nations together. It was written in 2002 during the second Intifada, and expressed the disappointment with the illusionary peace process that was betrayed by the second Intifada.
The five stanzas of the poem had been translated by the students into English, and were taught with a focus on each of the four dimensions : Wisdom , Torah, Faith, and Soul respectively. The fifth stanza was typed with empty spaces for the pupils to fill in their own personal experiences and associations. The Jigsaw method used for the unit, enabled both personal expression and group collaboration, and concluded with the whole group singing together.

The students successfully transformed the abstract concepts into visual, auditory and sensory-motor experiences that were excitedly welcomed by the training school – pupils and staff alike.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Orot Hosts Sherut Le'umi Volunteers for a Practical Education Yom Iyyun

The young women of Sherut Le'umi – National Service, who dedicate between one and two years their lives after graduating high school in lieu of serving in the IDF, provide critical service to their country through their work in numerous spheres of Israeli life. Without the service of these young women in schools, dormitories, hospitals, orphanages, afternoon programs, public offices and other areas of Israeli society, many of these institutions would be unable to sustain the services that they provide to the public. At the same time, these young women find themselves suddenly thrust into work situations with minimal practical training. They often learn as they go, picking up skills "on the job."
For a number of years, the Orot College of Education has partnered with the three main Sherut Leumi organizations to host yemei iyyun – in-service days, to provide the volunteers a day of practical training, life skills and self-discovery. This week, Orot began its yom iyyun program welcoming 250 b'not Sherut who volunteer primarily in the field of education, serving under the umbrella of Aminadav, with the express purpose of giving the volunteers practical, useful knowledge that they would be able to immediately use in their service in the field.
The program began with an explanatory dance performed by the students of Orot's Educational Dance department, followed by a lecture by Dr. Shraga Fisherman, Academic Vice President , who discussed "Responsibility, Discipline and Motivation," describing important ways to use our understanding of psychology to help motivate children to behave and learn. The program continued with a choice of workshops, from a workshop in group dynamics run by a lecturer of informal education to a class on behavioral issues led by an expert in special education, to an interactive, hands-on workshop on designing Chanukah materials for the classroom.

Following lunch, the b'not sherut returned to Orot's auditorium for a dramatic presentation featuring short skits which highlighted ethical and personal dilemmas that the girls face in their year of National Service. The comedy skits, presented by a professional theater troupe, provided food for both thought and gave the volunteers a chance to laugh, enjoy and recharge their own "internal" batteries, as they prepared to return to the field, where they make critical contributions to Israeli society. Following the program, Doreen Bat-Ayun, who currently serves in the Garin Torani in Ramat Aviv said, "Both the atmosphere, workshops and presentations were wonderful. In addition, the day offered a pleasant break from our daily routine."
Orot Israel College, proud to play a part in the development and growth of the Sherut LeUmi volunteers, hosts between ten and fifteen of these in-service days over the course of the school year, enriching and educating thousands of b'not sherut.
"We see these in-service days as part of Orot's core mission of Jewish education," said Rabbi Professor Neria Gutel, president of Orot. "We're confident that the small part we play in helping them serve the country makes a large impact in the long run."

Audio Shiur from Rav Tabory: Do We Believe in Kiruv

Audio Shiur:
Rav Aviad Tabory: Do We Believe in Kiruv?
If you could not join us in person, (or just want to give the shiur another listen), feel free to listen to Rav Tabory's powerful message about kiruv and Teshuvah.

Click here for the audio link, or listen in the handy audio player supplied below.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Red Light, Green Light by Rav Sinai Prebor

The Gemara in Shabbat (88b-89a) relates that when Moshe Rabbenu ascended “upon high” to receive the Torah, the angels inquired of Hashem: “Why is there a mortal among us?” Hashem responded: “To receive the Torah.” The angels protested vociferously, claiming that it would be degrading to the Torah for it to be sent down to earth. Hashem commanded Moshe to respond. Moshe proceeded to go down the list of the Aseret Hadibrot, explaining how each one was relevant only to man and not to the angels, hence justifying the Torah’s descent to earth.
The first one says “Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzaitichu me’eretz Mitzraim.” This is of course irrelevant to the angels because they were never in Egypt.
“Lo yihiyeh lecha elohim acherim” doesn’t apply to the angels because in their neighborhood only the true God is recognized. The analysis continues and culminates in Moshe Rabbenu focusing on “Lo Tirtzach, Lo Tinaf, Lo Tignov,” explaining that these do not apply to the angels because they possess neither the characteristic of jealousy nor a yetzer hara.
This analysis of Moshe Rabbenu was persuasive, and the angels immediately agreed with Hashem that the Torah be given to B’nei Yisrael. This well known Agadah from the Gemara poses an important question. Did the argument of Moshe Rabbenu stem from the acknowledgement of man’s weakness, or man’s greatness? This depends on how one interprets the dialogue in the Gemara.
When Moshe says to the angels that the Torah is not for them because they have no yetzer hara, he may mean that the angels are on too high a spiritual level for the Torah to be pertinent to them. The Torah was written and the mitzot formulated to give the Jewish people a system through which they could combat the yetzer hara, and live a spiritual life despite the inherent weakness of the human being. The level of angels was something to which we must aspire. Hence the Torah is inapplicable to the angels, who are created spiritually perfect.
Yet there may be an alternate view of the exchange related in the Gemara. In Sefer Nefesh HaChaim, Rav Chaim Volozhiner claims that the Jewish people are actually considered to be spiritually greater than angels. This is because we are commanded to perform mitzvot, the performance of which causes more of God’s divine light to be revealed in the world. The angels, however, do not have this power. If we apply this idea to the exchange in the Gemara, Moshe might actually be arguing that the Torah’s descent to earth is actually an ascent, whereby its potential to be used as a tool for greater spirituality to be brought into the world will be realized.
Along these lines, Rav Soloveitchik, in his essay Ish Hahalakhah (Halakhic Man) compares our physical lives in this world to the spiritual existence of the soul in the afterlife. He writes: “The Halakhah is not at all concerned with a transcendent world. The world to come is a tranquil, quiet world that is wholly good, wholly everlasting, and wholly eternal, wherein a man will receive the reward for the commandments which he performed in this world. However, the receiving of a reward is not a religious act; therefore, halakhic man prefers the real world to a transcendent existence because here, in this world, man is given the opportunity to create, act, accomplish, while there, in the world to come, he is powerless to change anything at all.”
It appears, therefore, that our ability to act, and the potential to raise ourselves and the world to a higher spiritual level is the raison d’etre of being a Jew. This seems to be in direct opposition to the following statement found in the Gemara (Berachot 10b): “Rabbi Yose bar Rabbi Chanina said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: When praying (sh’emone esre), one’s feet should be together, as the verse (Yechezkel 1:6) states: ‘V’ragleihem regel y’sharah. (And their legs were a straight leg)’” In his commentary on the siddur, Olat Raya (Vol. 1, p. 262), Rav Kook explains that our legs have two uses. They can be used for the act of walking or the act of standing. When one walks, the legs are usable insofar as they are apart. When one stands, the legs are usable insofar as they are close together. When a Jew attempts through his religious life to achieve spiritual perfection, there are two crucial recurring steps in this ongoing process. There is “walking,” whereby a person takes further steps in his knowledge and spiritual growth, adding to his repertoire of learning, mitzvot, and midot. Then there is “standing,” whereby a person must involve himself in strengthening, intensifying, and internalizing of that which he has gained through the “walking,” so as not to lose what has been gained. In Tehilim (24:3), we read “Mi ya’aleh b’har Hashem, u’mi yakum bimkom kadsho.” Maintaining what one has achieved is just as crucial as the achievement. Rav Kook goes on to say that Torah provides the means through which we “walk,” through which we “ascend God’s mountain,” achieving the next stage in our spiritual growth. Tefilah, by contrast, is when we “stand.” Tefilah is when we have the opportunity to reflect on that which we have gained through Torah and Mitzot, and make it a part of us, so as not to lose it.
It is interesting that the verse cited in the Gemara as the source for keeping our feet together during Sh’mone Esre is referring to the angels seen by Yechezkel Hanavi during Ma’aseh Merkavah. During Tefilah, we view ourselves as angels, because angels do not know of spiritual growth. Their relationship with God is permanently static. Ours is fundamentally dynamic, but even we must sometimes have those static moments, emulating the angels, so as to make the changes and achievements a permanent part of us, obviously to enable ourselves to take the next “step” in our ascent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Orot's Model of the Temple

Rabbi Yosef Antman

We mention Jerusalem and the Temple in all of our prayers and blessings, on every occasion of joy as well as during our periods of mourning. From the blessing after our meals – “He Who rebuilds Jerusalem in His mercy” to the promise “I shall raise Jerusalem above my highest joy”, the Jewish people have always accorded Jerusalem its special status of sanctity.

This hope and longing to behold the rebuilding of the Temple grows stronger in the generations of redemption, and has intensified through our proximity to the Temple Mount and our physical contact with the holy stones surrounding it. We can almost glimpse it “looking through the windows” and “peeping through the lattice”, as described in Shir ha-Shirim. Moreover, we are called upon to involve ourselves in matters pertaining to holiness and the Temple – to learn about the Temple, to understand its various aspects, and to become familiar with its structure and the foundations of the Temple service. Through this we are strengthened in our prayer “that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days”.

A decade ago, the founder of Orot Israel College – Rabbi Yehuda Felix shlita , together with the former director of the College library – Mrs. Sara Mallis and her husband, Avraham z"l, decided to create a study model of the Second Temple in its final form, following the renovations and extensions of King Herod and based on the descriptions and measurements set down in the Mishna, Talmud, and other sources. The Mallis family dedicated the model to the memory of their parents on both sides of the family (Mallis and Freunlich). The model was built by Mr. Michael Osnis, a master stonemason from Kedumim. Following his adoption of a religious lifestyle and his aliya from Russia, he decided to devote himself to recreating very accurate models of the Temple with guidance from the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. Mr. Osnis’ models are regarded as extremely reliable representations, and others like the one at Orot College, can be found in various locations in Israel and worldwide. He builds his models with materials resembling as closely as possible the original building materials, down to the tiniest details.

The model was built on a scale of 1:100 (for instance, the ‘azara of the Temple – whose breadth measured 135 cubits, or 70m, is represented in the model by an area measuring 70cm across), without a roof and with walls extending only part of the way up, to facilitate detailed and in-depth survey and study. The model is located in a special room of the library building, and is open for viewing by students and visitors. Study of texts pertaining to the Temple accompanied by a guided tour of the model, provides a very real sense of the structure and the sacrificial service in all its complexity.

For the past few years, the standard policy at Orot College initiated by the President of the College, Rabbi Neria Guttel shlita, requires that every student, during the course of her studies, participates in a workshop/tour of the model, led by expert lecturers. (In addition, I give a year-long course on “The Temple in halakha and Jewish thought”, as part of the “Haye Olam” studies.) Although the tour itself takes only an hour and a half, it arouses great interest among the students and gives rise to questions relating to its physical structure as well as surrounding issues such as permission to enter the Temple Mount, the place of women who bring an offering after childbirth, the place where a ‘nezira’ offers her sacrifice and whether a woman places her hands upon the animal she brings as a korban.

May it be Hashem’s will that the answers to all of the questions surrounding the Temple and its service may be implemented in practice, speedily in our days, Amen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Toshba students on a field trip

Right before Shavu’ot, the second and third-year students of the department of Toshba went on a trip to the Galil “in the footsteps of the Tanna’im and Amora’im”.

It was the students’ idea to make the trip, wanting to do something meaningful together as a group at the end of a long academic year. The idea of building a day around visits to Kivrei Tzaddikim came up at once, since this would be a way of spending a day in limud and tefilla, centered on the lives of Gedolei Chazal.

In preparation for the trip, each of the girls had to prepare brief biographies on one or more of the Tanna’im and Amora’im, to be presented before the rest of the group at the relevant sites. In this way, even before the trip had begun the students spent time learning about the various Tanna’im and Amora’im, their lives, their teachings, and their respective contributions to Am Yisrael and to Torah sheb’al Peh.

The trip began in T’veriah, at the site of the kever of Rabbi Akiva. The students learned together, discussed the life and teachings of Rabbi Akiva, and then davened together. The students also visited the kevarot of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and his students, again learning and davening at the site. While in the area, the students also visited the kevarot of the Rambam, the Ramchal, and the Shelah HaKadosh, at whose kever they said the special tefillah that the Shelah composed to merit having righteous children.

From there the students traveled to Meiron, stopping on the way at the kevarot of Rabbi Chalafta and his sons Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yossi. Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta is the well-known “Rabbi Yossi” mentioned throughout Shas. At Meiron the students stopped to learn and daven, first at the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and thereafter at the kever of Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar.

The students then traveled to the kever of Rabbi Yehuda bar Illai, well known simply as “Rabbi Yehuda” throughout Shas. More than six hundred halachot are recorded in Rabbi Yehudah’s name. From there the students traveled to the special burial cave of the great Amora’im Abaye and Rava. The trip ended at “Amukah”, the kever of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, which is a widely popular site because of the “segulot” associated with it.

A trip of this length has to have food! But on a trip of this sort, even the meal is sure to be carefully planned. The students prepared a “Se’udat ‘Amen-im’“, a meal in which food items are chosen with their berachot in mind, the goal being to recite as many different berachot in the course of a single meal as halachically possible. The “Se’udat ‘Amen-im’“ was conducted at Amuka, a fitting conclusion to a very special day.

Coming out of such an intense trip, the students described a sense of great religious uplifting, feeling that it had been an incredible “zechut” to be able to learn about the life and times and contributions of some of the greatest figures in the history of Am Yisrael, so near to the final resting places of the gedolim themselves.

The trip was also a great bonding opportunity for the students, who normally meet only in academic settings and here were able to get together, in a meaningful way, on tiyul in the Galil. While going on tiyul more frequently is almost impossible given the intensity of learning at Orot, sometimes just taking off one day to do something special makes all seem worthwhile.

Greetings from Rav Noam Himelstein

To all Bat Zion Bogrot: Hashem Imachem! It's been a long time ... every once and a while I bump into a former student and we have a great time catching up! I would love to hear from you all though – you don`t have to wait for an official newsletter!

I thought that for a Dvar Torah I'd choose something quite relevant, to my mind:

The Gemara (Ta'anit 20b) relates the following fascinating story:

The Rabbis taught: "A person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar." Once R. Elazar the son of R. Shimon was coming from his teacher's house in Migdal Gedor, riding on a donkey. He was traveling along the bank of the river with a feeling of great joy and a sense of arrogance, because he had learned a great deal of Torah. A very ugly person happened upon him. The ugly person said: "How are you Rebbe?"R. Elazar did not respond. [Rather,] he said: "Empty one - how ugly this fellow is! Are all the people of your town as ugly as you?" The ugly person responded: "I don't know, but you should go to the craftsman who made me and tell him how ugly is the vessel that he made." R. Elazar knew that he had sinned. He got off the donkey, prostrated himself before the other fellow and said: "I have pained you. Forgive me." The man said: "I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and tell him how ugly is the vessel he made."

R. Elazar followed him until they came to his town. All the townspeople came out to greet R. Elazar and they said: "Welcome, our Rabbi, our Rabbi, our teacher, our teacher." The ugly fellow said: "Who are you referring to as your rabbi?" They said: "The one who is walking behind you." He said to them: "If this is a rabbi, let there not be more like him in Israel." They said: "Why?" He said to them: "This is what he did to me." They said to him: "Nevertheless, forgive him because he is a great Torah scholar."
He said to them: "For your sake I forgive him, but on condition that he not become accustomed to act this way."

R. Elazar immediately entered [the study hall] and taught: "A person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar."

This anecdote raises many questions: To which individual did R. Elazar refer to when he spoke of one who is “hard like a cedar"? What caused R. Elazar to respond as he did? Why was the ugly man so reluctant to forgive the Rabbi? What, indeed, is the moral message the Aggadah wishes to teach us? Certainly, that even great men can make mistakes. But there seems to be more. I have learnt this Aggadah many times with different groups of students (but not with Orot girls! Hence the choice of Aggadah!); every time we have uncovered new messages. Many layers of understanding and interpretation can be found in this story; I will suggest only one.

The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) tells us that Rav Shimon bar Yochai disturbed the Roman authorities, and was compelled to go into hiding in a cave, accompanied by his son and closest student, Rav Elazar. A carob tree and a spring miraculously appeared to provide them with food and water. The Gemara continues: They stayed twelve years in the cave. Then Eliyahu came and stood at the opening of the cave, and said "Who will let Bar Yochai know the Caesar has died and his decrees are nullified?" They went out [of the cave] and saw people who were plowing and sowing. He [Rav Shimon] said, "These people are neglecting eternal life and occupying themselves with transient life?!" Every place they gazed was immediately burned up. A Bat Kol [heavenly voice] declared to them, "Did you go out to destroy My world?! Go back to your cave!" They went back in and lingered twelve months, saying, "The wicked are judged in Gehinnom for twelve months." Then a Bat Kol declared, "Go out of your cave."

Rav Shimon bar Yochais` personality deserves an article in his own right; he was an incredible individual, totally devoted to Torah study and removed from the mundane (See for exp. Berachot 35b). But if indeed the “R. Elazar the son of R. Shimon” mentioned in our story is none other than Rav Shimon bar Yochais` son, who hid in the cave with his father, then an amazing message is revealed.

Note the location of his teachers` house: “Migdal Gedor”. A “migdal” is a tower; “gedor” means “fenced in”. Perhaps R. Elazar felt that the Torah was meant to be studied in the proverbial ivory tower, distanced from the people; only selected elite individuals should be privileged to delve into it. That is why he couldn't relate to the simple, earthly, ugly man; nor could he and his father at first, when they left their cave, understand that in this world, people actually do need to plow and sow! R. Elazar was so holy, so far removed from this world, that he couldn't accept that. It took him and his father another year in the cave, and a rebuke from an ugly man, to realize that although certain individuals should certainly commit themselves wholly to Torah, nevertheless the majority are not like that. Most people do involve themselves in the world around them, and so it should be – as long as they themselves are committed to Torah, and find a place for Torah in their daily lives. The message then is that Torah is not meant to be restricted to “Migdal Gedor”, but is relevant to everyone, at all times and in all places. How important is this as we pursue our college careers, join the workforce, and get involved with the world around us! We all have a special Chelek of Torah, and we must keep this as part of our lives, in all our endeavors!

Please be in touch, you are always all welcome for shabbat or just to come and shmooze! 054-3090892, or

Kol tuv,

Noam Himelstein

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pendulum of Teshuvah: Thoughts on Ledavid Hashem Ori

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Recruiting and Special Projects

As Rosh Chodesh Elul rolls around, we add two things to the daily tefillah: the blasts of the Shofar and the recitation of Ledovid Hashem Ori - the twenty-seventh chapter of Tehillim. It's easy to understand why we blow the Shofar. It serves as a warning call that Rosh Hashanah quickly approaches.
But Ledovid Hashem always left me wondering: what does it have to do with Teshuvah? Why do we recite this specific chapter around the time of repentance?
Yet, when we take a careful look at David's powerful words, we find that it speaks not only about Teshuvah, but about the human condition. If we read his words with care and sensitivity, they can help us prepare ourselves for the coming Days of Awe.

Click here to download the shiur.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Bat Zion Graduate in Time Magazine

As the "territories" in Yehudah v'Shomron garner ever-increasing attention due to U.S. President Obama's insistence that all building come to a halt (God forbid), the residents who live in these areas have become increasingly visible in the American media.
Mimi (Geller) Katz, a Bat Zion student (who later attended the teachers college and even worked as an Eim Bayit at Orot) who currently resides in Beit El, appeared in a spread in Time Magazine that featured some of the residents living in different areas of the "occupied" territories.
First and foremost, we are proud of Mimi and her connection to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael. But we must also highlight stories like those of the Katz family, who wish nothing more than to live quiet and peaceful lives in the Land granted to us by Hashem.
As any Orot student knows, the Orot Israel College in Elkana was built on the "wrong" side of the green line, and intentionally so. Orot emphasizes the powerful connection of Am Yisrael to her Land, and the simple act of coming to school and studying in Elkana reinforces that connection each and every day.
So send this story to your friends. Let them know about Mimi, her extended family and normal lives they lead - regardless of what the media promotes. However you do it, each and every one of us must support the thousands of Jews whose lives articulate the dream of inhabiting, settling and building Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Chwat Sings Al Hamichyah

Several years ago, Rav Ari Chwat composed a wonderful version of Al Hamichyah to help children learn the words of the brachah and make it easier for them to remember. You may remember Rav Chwat singing this and many other songs during his chug shira at Orot.

For the catchy tune you can click here to see it on YouTube, or click below to listen to the song.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Parents are From Mars and Children from Venus - An article from Rav Yona Goodman

As the long summer vacation continues, we as parents struggle to both entertain our children and also give them meaningful and productive activities. Rav Yona Good gives some powerful suggestions to parents to help make the summer not just a time of rest and relaxation, but also of growth and development.
Click here to download the article.

Rabbi Yona Goodman, Director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary Education and Religion, publishes in Hebrew an educational newsletter geared towards teachers (and future teachers) called "Be'ayin Chinuchit".

The "Or Hanna" Summer Program at Orot

When thousands of students throughout the Ukraine are leaving school for the summer vacation, an elite group of girls from the Bet Hanna Seminar in Dnepropetrovsk Ukraine are coming to Orot for a special summer program of experiential studies. The success of this unique program should be attributed to the president of the college, Rabbi Prof. Neriah Guttel, Dr. Shraga Fisherman and the support of the Teacher Training Dept. of the Ministry of Education, the Claims Conference, the Jewish community in Dnepropetrovsk and others.

This is the twelfth consecutive year that the students of the Bet Hanna Seminar are coming to Orot. The goal of the program is to enhance their level of Jewish studies and Hebrew language, to get acquainted with the Land of Israel, and thus developing their relationship to Zionism and love of Eretz Yisrael as well as their connection to the Torah and Jewish Law.
The six weeks program consists of studies on a large variety of subjects given in Hebrew and in Russian by the best lecturers. Of course, the main emphasis is on the enhancement of their Hebrew language skills. 30 weekly hours are devoted to this purpose. The students are also learning methods of teaching the Holocaust in Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union.
In addition, the students are introduced to updated methodologies of teaching Jewish subjects and Hebrew. They also participate in experiential educational creativity in the well-equipped modern resource center of Orot. Furthermore, the students contribute the knowledge and the tools that they have acquired to groups of new immigrant children (girls) in Israel.
The teachers are partly from the Orot staff as well as from other places all over Israel and have been chosen scrupulously by the program administration.
The need for teachers in Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the former Soviet Union is clear and many efforts are invested in this program. The only college for teacher training in the former Soviet Union is the "Bet Hanna" Seminary. The Ministry of Education is well aware of the importance to increase the bond to Israel and its heritage in the Jewish schools of the Former Soviet Union, and therefore invests special efforts in this unique program.
In order to reach utmost success and efficiency from the program, the heads of Orot and the staff of Bet Hanna have meetings months before the program starts and together they crystallize the goals of the program, choosing scrupulously the suitable students for this program.
"Until now the program has proven itself to be extremely successful" says Rabbi Moshe Weber, Head of this year's program. "The knowledge that the students acquire here in the summer program in the fields of Hebrew, methodology and Jewish tradition, and especially the Israeli way of life, is equivalent to a few years of studies in Ukraine".
This year, one of the students will get married during the program – another proof of the program's success!

Summer Program – "Or Hanna"

Joint Program between "Bet Hanna Seminary" and "Orot Israel College" Elkana

When thousands of students throughout the Ukraine are leaving school for the summer vacation, an elite group of girls from the Bet Hanna Seminar in Dnepropetrovsk Ukraine are coming to Orot for a special summer program of experiential studies. The success of this unique program should be attributed to the president of the college, Rabbi Prof. Neriah Guttel, Dr. Shraga Fisherman and the support of the Teacher Training Dept. of the Ministry of Education, the Claims Conference, the Jewish community in Dnepropetrovsk and others.

This is the twelfth consecutive year that the students of the Bet Hanna Seminar are coming to Orot. The goal of the program is to enhance their level of Jewish studies and Hebrew language, to get acquainted with the Land of Israel, and thus developing their relationship to Zionism and love of Eretz Yisrael as well as their connection to the Torah and Jewish Law.
The six weeks program consists of studies on a large variety of subjects given in Hebrew and in Russian by the best lecturers. Of course, the main emphasis is on the enhancement of their Hebrew language skills. 30 weekly hours are devoted to this purpose. The students are also learning methods of teaching the Holocaust in Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union.
In addition, the students are introduced to updated methodologies of teaching Jewish subjects and Hebrew. They also participate in experiential educational creativity in the well-equipped modern resource center of Orot. Furthermore, the students contribute the knowledge and the tools that they have acquired to groups of new immigrant children (girls) in Israel.
The teachers are partly from the Orot staff as well as from other places all over Israel and have been chosen scrupulously by the program administration.
The need for teachers in Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the former Soviet Union is clear and many efforts are invested in this program. The only college for teacher training in the former Soviet Union is the "Bet Hanna" Seminary. The Ministry of Education is well aware of the importance to increase the bond to Israel and its heritage in the Jewish schools of the Former Soviet Union, and therefore invests special efforts in this unique program.
In order to reach utmost success and efficiency from the program, the heads of Orot and the staff of Bet Hanna have meetings months before the program starts and together they crystallize the goals of the program, choosing scrupulously the suitable students for this program.
"Until now the program has proven itself to be extremely successful" says Rabbi Moshe Weber, Head of this year's program. "The knowledge that the students acquire here in the summer program in the fields of Hebrew, methodology and Jewish tradition, and especially the Israeli way of life, is equivalent to a few years of studies in Ukraine".

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Lasting Legacy - Devar Torah for Parshat Pinchas

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruiting and Special Projects

To download a pdf version of this devar Torah (for easy Shabbat reading), click here.

This week I officiated at the wedding of an old classmate from grade school. It was great to participate in his wedding, and I enjoyed being a part of their simcha. During the dinner, his mother and I were talking, and she said something that stuck in my mind. She said, "You know, no matter what you do in your profession, no matter how great your accomplishments, the bottom line is that your greatest legacy is your children."
The conversation was about her, so I didn't tell her what I was thinking, but what crossed my mind is, "And that's why I now live in Israel." Twice this week I've seen people from the States, both of whom asked me whether I miss the rabbinate. (I won't answer the question now - that's an entirely different post.) But it was very hard - gut-wrenchingly hard - to leave our shul and congregational life. It was, without a doubt, the hardest decision we ever made, because while we loved leading the membership of the shul and playing a role in our community, we knew that no matter how good Detroit or the rabbinate was for us, Israel would be better for our children.
And we were right on so many different levels. The schools are an order of magnitude higher than comparable schools in the States (at least for us). Life has much greater meaning. Children are freer, and yet given more responsibility. My children already have a sense of devotion to Am Yisrael that it would have been difficult, if not impossible to convey to them in the States.
I thought of this notion of legacy in light of a rather tragic section in Parshat Pinchas. After God instructs Moshe to climb Mount Avarim and gaze upon the Land of Israel before his death, Moshe asks God to appoint a new leader for the Jewish people. Rashi wonders: why does he wait this long? After all, he knew that he was going to die long before, so why does he only ask God to appoint a new leader at this point.
Rashi's answer always makes me a little sad:
כיון ששמע משה שאמר לו המקום תן נחלת צלפחד לבנותיו אמר הגיע שעה שאתבע צרכי שיירשו בני את גדולתי. אמר לו הקב"ה לא כך עלתה במחשבה לפני, כדאי הוא יהושע ליטול שכר שמושו שלא מש מתוך האהל
When Moshe heard God's instructions regarding Tzlafchad's inheritance that went to his daughters he said, "The time has arrived for me to make my own request - that my sons should inherit my greatness. Said God, "That did not enter into consideration before Me. Yehoshua is worthy to receive the reward for his service, for he did not stray from within your tent."
After everything Moshe had done for God and the Jewish people; after all his hard work and dedication; after giving up his nice life in Midyan to save the Jewish nation, separating from his wife, suffering through the forty years in the desert - after everything, all he wants is one thing. הגיע שעה שאתבע צרכי - "the time has come for me to claim my needs." For all that he had done: rescuing a nation, transmitting the Torah to them, remaking world history single-handedly; none of that was enough. He wanted his legacy to be his children. And that he could not have.

I listen regularly to a podcast called "This American Life." A recent episode called "Origin Stories" contained a story about advertising executive Julian Koenig, who made up famous ad campaigns like the "Think Small" campaign for the VW Beetle. Apparently, a former colleague claimed credit for much of his work, and Julian Koenig has spent a ton of time trying to retake credit for his work. But why, his daughter asked him, did he care that much about who got credit? After all, no one really knows about this stuff or cares, and anyone who does care already knows the truth? His daughter Sarah, who narrates the story says,
"He's eighty eight years old now, so his legacy is understandably on his mind. And even though he did famous campaigns: for all sorts of good causes: gun control, nuclear proliferation, Robert Kennedy's senatorial and presidential campaign, my father's not really satisfied with his work."
Said Julian:
Advertising is built on puffery, and on deception, and I don't think that anyone can go proudly into the next world with a career built on deception, no matter how well they do."
On one hand, it's impressive to see a person capable of looking back at his life's work with honesty and candor. But from another perspective, all I can think is: How sad. How many people will look back at a life of work spent sitting at a desk in front of a computer at an office, knowing that they helped corporations grow and prosper, or computers talk to one another, but spent less time on our true legacies - the values and principles they passed to their children; the energy they spent on their people, or their relationship with God?

Alumni Highlight - Fun in Jerusalem

Joanna Shebson attended Orot in 1993-1994. In 2007 she came on aliyah with her husband Jonathan and their two sons, Aryeh and Marko and they settled in Jerusalem. Joanna spent the first year getting her family adjusted and finishing shiputzim on their apt which is a job in itself. With the Israeli gan schedule finishing at 1pm she got used to finding fun activities to do with her kids in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is full of wonderful attractions, special events and even fun parks. In May 2009 Joanna started to collect information about events in Jerusalem for kids and from there her blog was born. Fun in Jerusalem is the source for kids' activities in Jerusalem. It includes an online calendar of events and blog posts about all sorts of topics for locals and tourists including swimming pools in Jerusalem, volunteer opportunities for teens and fun restaurants to take kids to. You can also find information and some fun discussions on the Fun In Jerusalem facebook group. For those who like to twitter you can find her @funinjerusalem.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What Hashem Wants From Us - Devar Torah for Parshat Chukat

Food for Thought for Parshat Chukat
By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruiting and Special Projects

For the last couple of weeks, people in Israel have been feeling a little more tense than usual. Many of us are worried about the direction that the US government has been moving – more towards Arab appeasement, more pressure on Israel. Working at a school in the beautiful city of Elkana, looking out over the hills at the city of Tel Aviv below, you wonder how anyone could even think of abandoning not just beautiful land, but strategically critical areas. And yet America's President keeps insisting on "no more building the in settlements." Where I work. On the wrong side of an arbitrary line. So we're a little more nervous than normal.
When I brought up the topic with a relative living in the States, she told me that of a conversation she had with someone who said, "Whatever Hakadosh baruch Hu wants – that's what's going to happen." Clearly, that's true. But it also implies that what we do really doesn't matter in the end and that everything is in Hashem's hands only. I couldn't disagree more.

Chukat relates the strange story of the Nachash Hanechoshet – the copper serpent that Moshe made to save the people from death. At the conclusion of the forty years of wandering in the desert, the reborn nation is now ready to enter the Land of Israel. Yet, as their travels begin to drag on and they travel around Edom (instead of attacking and going right through it), the young nation grows impatient and begins to complain.
לָמָה הֶעֱלִיתֻנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם, לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר: כִּי אֵין לֶחֶם, וְאֵין מַיִם, וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה, בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל
Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul hates this light bread.
They don't complain about the issue at hand – their desire to enter the Land. Moreover, they don't actually tell the truth: there is water, and they're not dying in the desert. In short, they're simply kvetching. Hashem punishes them swiftly and severely: serpents emerge in the desert and begin fatally biting the people. They immediately repent and beg Moshe to pray for the removal of the snakes and their salvation, which he does. Hashem, instead of immediately eliminating the snakes, instructs Moshe to construct a serpent and hang it on a pole, וְהָיָה, כָּל-הַנָּשׁוּךְ וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ, וָחָי, "Whoever is bitten, when he sees [the serpent] will live".
Yet, Rashi notes that when the Torah tells us what actually happens, the people don't just "see" the serpent. Rather, וְהָיָה, אִם-נָשַׁךְ הַנָּחָשׁ אֶת-אִישׁ--וְהִבִּיט אֶל-נְחַשׁ הַנְּחשֶׁת, וָחָי, "if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the serpent of brass he lived." Why, Rashi asks, if Hashem tells Moshe that the people only need to see the serpent do they specifically look at it? Rashi explains,
שלא היה ממהר נשוך הנחש להתרפאות אלא אם כן מביט בו בכוונה
It would not heal a bitten person quickly unless he intentionally looked at it.
Chazal derive an important and well-known principle from this story (in Gemara Rosh Hashanah 29a):
Does the serpent kill or give life? Rather, when Israel looked towards the heavens and subjugated their hearts to their Father in Heaven they would be saved, and if not they would wither.
From Rashi we can derive three levels of activity and salvation among the people: Someone who was bitten but for some reason never saw the serpent tragically died. A snakebite victim who happened to see the copper snake would heal, but slowly. Finally, the person who stared intently at the serpent enjoyed a speedy recovery. All of this makes me wonder: If Hashem had already forgiven them and if the matter truly hinged on an individual's personal level of Teshuvah, why create the copper snake in the first place? Why should the speed of someone's recovery depend on whether he saw the snake peripherally or stared at in intentionally? What difference does that make?
It makes a great deal of difference. While it's true that "everything is in Hashem's hands and whatever He wants will happen in the end," I believe that Hashem wants most for us to take an active role in our own lives. Sure, He could have healed the sick without any input from us whatsoever. But Hashem doesn't want us to lead miraculous lives. He wants us to live in the real world and appreciate that what we do truly makes a difference, both spiritually and physically. He wants us to have faith; but also to believe that our efforts can and must effect change in the real world.

That's precisely what I said in response to the person who said about the "settlements" that, "Whatever Hakadosh baruch Hu wants – that's what's going to happen."

I couldn't agree more. But what He wants is for us to stand up, be counted, and do our utmost to ensure that His Land remains firmly in the hands of His nation.

Students of the Special Education Department Visit the Israeli Therapeutic Horse Riding Center

First year Orot students in the Special Education Department studying in the specializations dealing with the integration of children with special needs into the regular classroom and children with sensory-motor impairments, paid a visit to the Israeli Therapeutic Horse Riding Center in Tel-Mond. The students were very impressed by their visit and enjoyed learning about the treatment aids of the center and its treatment methods for children in need of therapy. The Israeli Therapeutic Horse Riding Center is unique and was established in 1986 in Beth-Yehoshua as a volunteer and non-profit organization. The center has a professional, dedicated and skilled staff that helps populations with special needs through horse riding treatment as well as dog therapy.
Since dawn of history, horses were not only a means of transportation but also a symbol of status and wealth. More than 2000 years ago, Hippocrates noted that there is a medical power in the way the horse walks, and that horse riding has positive influences on the body – especially in strengthening and maintaining the functioning of the muscles.
The uniqueness of the dog is his being an animal that gives unconditional love, and becomes a connecting factor between man and his environment. Activities that provide positive reinforcement will help treated children achieve significant improvements in the various areas of their lives.
Students watched the activities of instructors with the horses. Children suffering from communication and concentration problems were treated through activities with dogs. We saw the smile and the sparkle in the eyes of the children and the pleasure they derived from their therapy.
The students highly recommend a visit the center, which is always happy to welcome volunteers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Praise and Prayer: Devar Torah for Beha'alotecha

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Recruiting and Special Projects

This past Tuesday, the entire population of Israel participated in a "drill", simulating an attack on Israel. At 11am, sirens sounded throughout the country, and children in schools, people in offices – basically everyone – was supposed to find their protected space and get there. Did they do it? No idea. I was actually already working in our Mamad (I don't remember what the acronym stands for, but that's what you call it). But as the siren sounded and I continued to work I thought, "I don't remember ever having to do this in America." ("Duck and cover" was long before my time.)
The siren also reminded me of a different type of "sounding" mentioned in this week's parshah. (For those of you outside of Israel, this week we read Beha'alotecha, as Shabbat was not a day of Yom Tov. So even though you'll be reading Parshat Naso, in Israel we'll be a week ahead until you catch up in about a month.) I'm sharing a thought that Rav Gutel, Orot's President, mentioned at Orot's Yom Yerushalayim lunch and lecture this week.

One of the more famous "religious Zionist" verses in the Torah appears in this week's Torah reading. We read,
וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם, עַל-הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם--וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם, בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת; וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם, מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם. וּבְיוֹם שִׂמְחַתְכֶם וּבְמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם, וּבְרָאשֵׁי חָדְשֵׁיכֶם--וּתְקַעְתֶּם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת עַל עֹלֹתֵיכֶם, וְעַל זִבְחֵי שַׁלְמֵיכֶם; וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי אֱלֹקיכֶם, אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם.
And when you go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Hashem your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Hashem your God.' (Bamidbar 10:9-10)
These verses have taken on such significance that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate instituted that we read the first as part of the davening on the evening of Yom Ha'atzmaut.
Looking at the two verses, you get the sense that these are two related but different commandments. The first relates to the blowing of the trumpets during times of distress and war. We blow the trumpets as a kind of prayer; a form of calling out to Hashem to save us in our time of need. The second verse alludes to a very different trumpeting. When we sound the trumpets on holidays and Rosh Chodesh, the soundings serve as a kind of praise for Hashem. Think of it (lehavdil) as a form of "Hail to the Chief" sounded in the Beit Hamikdash. The two verses describe the same activity, but serve decidedly different functions. Or so we think.
Many hundreds of years ago, someone asked the Ritva (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Aderet) why they didn't blow trumpets on fast days. After all, if the purpose of blowing the trumpets was to call out to Hashem in timed of need, the Middle Ages in France certainly qualified. He explained that the French custom not to blow trumpets was based on the understanding that the trumpets could only be blown in the Beit Hamikdash. The two verses are not separate mitzvot, unconnected and unrelated. Rather, they are inherently connected and constrained by the same set of rules. Rav Moshe Feinstein (see Igrot Moshe Orach Chayyim Volume 1: 169) uses this principle to explain why the Rambam, in his list of commandments, lists the blowing of the trumpets not as two commandments, but as one (positive mitzvot, number 59). Rav Moshe explains that Rambam too considered the trumpets of both travail and celebration to be one and the same mitzvah.
If so, then even when we blow the trumpets crying out to Hashem for salvation, we still do so as a form of praise (like the trumpets of joy). And when we blow the trumpets of Yom Tov in celebration, there's a measure of supplication and prayer as well.
To me, this makes sense on a deeper level as well. Even as we celebrate the holidays with korbanot and joy, don't we need to call out to Hashem for his continued support and guidance? Even when we recite Hallel, a prayer clearly focusing on praise of Hashem, we still cry out, אנא ה' הושיע נא – "please Hashem, help us!" And by the same token, as we turn to face our enemies who attack us from without and blow the trumpets to cry out to Hashem for help, should there not also be an element of thanks and praise as well? After all, we have the benefit of crying out from Yerushalayim, the seat of holiness for the entire world. We enjoy the spiritual solace of worshiping Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash. Even in our worries, we must also give thanks for the blessings that we still enjoy.
Praise and prayer, crying out and giving thanks – so often in life they make up two sides of the same coin.
Which brings me back to the siren in that Mamad. Sure, it's terrible that we have to sound the "trumpet" of attack, preparing the population for an enemy that stands at our borders, always searching for new and more devious ways to destroy us. But in that siren, is there not also a measure of praise as well? Sure, I never heard such a siren while living in America. But this year I have the merit to not simply read about it on or in a Devar Torah. I heard these sirens from my home in Eretz Yisrael.
And for that I will continue to give Hashem my unending thanks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bamidbar: The Blessing of Modern Media

This week, Orot conducted its third annual Amadot conference, which focused on the topic of "The World of Communication: Challenges and Objectives."
The introductory panel featured, among others, Rav Yuval Sherlow, a well-known thinker and leading rabbi in the Modern Orthodox community. While many speakers focused on the numerous potential pitfalls that modern media presents, Rav Sherlow also noted some of the advantages and benefits that today's communication tools afford us. I'd like to share some thoughts from his talk through the prism of the Parshah.
During the count of the nation, the Torah lists the count of the Kohanim, beginning with Aharon. Instead of just counting the people present, the Torah also mentions two men who did not make the count:
וַיָּמָת נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא לִפְנֵי ה' בְּהַקְרִבָם אֵשׁ זָרָה לִפְנֵי ה' בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי וּבָנִים לֹא-הָיוּ לָהֶם:
Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they brought a strange fire before Hashem in the Sinai desert, and they had no children. (Bamidbar 3:4)
This raises a very simple question: we already know what happened. We know why and how Aharon's sons died. Why does the Torah need to mention this painful episode yet again? The Midrash explains that through the Torah's description we learn some new information.
וכי במדבר סיני מתו ? אלא מלמד שמהר סיני נטלו אפופסין שלהם למיתה. הה"ד (שמות כד) ואל אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו.
Did they die in the Sinai desert? Rather, this teaches us that that from Mount Sinai they were already designated for death, as we read, "And upon the nobles of the Children of Israel He did not extend His hand." (Shemot 24)
According to this Midrash, Datan and Aviram died not because of the strange fire that they offered in the desert. The fire was simply the last straw. They had clearly engaged in some type of inappropriate behavior at Mount Sinai that put them in an extremely precarious position. When the brought the funny fire, Hashem decided that He had had enough, and their punishment ensued.
It's interesting to note that the Torah doesn't pull any punches. We might have thought that it was enough to think that they died because of what happened in the Mishkan. But the Torah believes in full disclosure: we learn of their mistakes; their missteps and their sins, so that we can improve ourselves and avoid their actions and their fate.
This, said Rav Sherlow, is one of the unique benefits that the world of communication affords us. While we must always be careful about violating lashon hara, spreading malicious gossip and rumor, there's a corresponding value as well. The Torah commands us, לא תעמוד על דם רעך – "Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother." The world of communication has the ability to bring to the light of day issues and practices that were once hushed up and pushed under the table.
The media has saved numerous children. It has shielded families, protected students and defended women through television stories, internet blogs and newspapers. Modern media has many problems, but we cannot ignore the benefits that it has also brought to our society.
Even when they're not pleasant, sometimes bringing painful issues out into the open isn't just a right. It's a mitzvah.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Burden and Opportunity of Holiness

No one likes being told what to do. Blessed to have been born into free societies where we have the right to choose our own paths in life, the notion of coercion seems foreign – even quaint. In Israel we struggle with this notion in the area of religion – what we call kefiyah datit – religious coercion. Why should someone be forced to marry in a religious ceremony? Why should it be against the law to sell Chametz on Pesach in a democratic society?
At the same time, Judaism very strongly believes in the notion of coercion. The Gemara makes no distinctions between interpersonal transgressions (stealing or maiming) and spiritual transgressions (violating Shabbat or kashrut) when discussing punishments meted out in Beit Din. The Jewish community can – and must – force each individual Jew to adhere to the Torah. The fact that modern courts lack the jurisdiction and power to mete out these punishments in no way diminishes the very real coercive role of the Jewish court. Unlike our less schooled brothers and sisters, we understand that mitzvot are neither "good deeds" nor positive acts. Mitzvot are commandments. God doesn't ask us to follow them. He commands us, warning us that should we fail to comply we will ultimately suffer the consequences. What are mitzvot if not a form of coercion? More importantly, how do we square this perspective with our basic understandings of freedom of choice inherent in modern life?
This notion of coercion appears in several places in Emor. Hashem commands us to sanctify the Kohen. As our representative before Hashem in the Beit Hamikdash, the Kohen himself enjoys a higher level of kedushah that demands special behavior. He cannot defile himself, other than for immediate family members. He cannot marry certain types of women, such as converts and divorcees. וקדשתו – "and you shall sanctify him," the Torah tells us.
Yet, in two separate places, Rashi inserts the notion of coercion. What if the Kohen – born a Kohen against his will – doesn't want to adhere to the rules? He desires neither the rights of Terumah, nor the obligations of his Kehunah. What if he falls in love with a pious convert and wishes to abrogate his kehunah and lead a "normal" life? Sorry – that's not permitted. Rashi (on 21:8) explains, על כרחו – "against his will – if he does not wish to divorce [such a woman after he married her in violation of halachah], they must lash him and afflict him until he does divorce her.] The Kohen doesn't have a choice. His father was a Kohen (yes, we all know the joke), so he must bear not just the rights, but the responsibilities of that kehunah as well. (see also Rashi on 21:6)
Coercion again appears at the conclusion of the chapter. Now speaking to the entire nation Hashem tells us,
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֹתָם: אֲנִי, ה'. וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי, וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אֲנִי ה' מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם.
And you shall guard my commandments and do them, I am Hashem. And you shall not defile My holy name, and I will be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel, I am Hashem who sanctifies you.
And yet, when we look at Rashi, he again interprets these verses in a rather striking manner. What does it mean that we must sanctify Hashem's name? Says Rashi, "Give yourself over [to be killed] and sanctify my name." Here Hashem tells us that we must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect and defend His sanctity.
Somewhat surprisingly, in each case the coercion appears in the form of Kedushah. Holiness isn't a feeling of spirituality; some vague sense of godliness or specialness. Rather, holiness emanates directly from a willingness to bend our own will to God's; to submit to His desire and sublimate ourselves. The Kohen achieves great kedushah precisely because he doesn't have a choice. He is kadosh – whether he likes it or not.
What's true for the Kohen applies to each of us as well. Every Jew was born into the גוי קדוש – Hashem's holy people. We all wear that mantle of kedushah on our shoulders, not despite the fact that it was forced upon us, but because of it. The real question we must ask ourselves is: do we see that Kedushah as a yoke and a burden forced upon us against our will, or a crown of glory bringing God's holiness into the world.
That's a choice that only we can make.

Orot Prepares for its Kenes Amadot Conference

Orot Israel College is getting ready for its third annual Amadot Conference which will take place at Orot onכ"ד אייר תשס"ט (18-05-09).

The Amadot Conferences – Am, MeDina, Torah – deal with the complex intersection between the three components of the Zionist-Religious world – the Jewish nation, the State of Israel and the Torah. This complex intersection requires multidisciplinary analysis: scientific, religious, educational, cultural and interdisciplinary. These annual conferences, organized by the Orot Israel College of Education, are accompanied and supervised by a senior academic steering committee which chooses the topics of the conference and the lectures.

The first Amadot conference, (2007) "The Kippah and the Beret" dealt with the reciprocal relationship and tensions between the values of military service and religious obligation that long identified the Zionist-Religious community.

The second Amadot conference (2008) – "Ve'Hai Ahiha Imach" (Love thy neighbor) dealt with the attitude towards people with special needs and their integration into society, in various aspects: educational, halachic, philosophical, psychological, social, historical, legal, communication and artistic.

This year's Amadot conference – The World of Communication - will deal with the challenges and aims of the world of modern communication in society – press, radio, T.V. and internet. It will address issues from the numerous vantage points of education, halachah, sociaty, law, gender, youth and consumerism.

For more information about the conference, click here.

The Conference is free and open to the pubic. For more information about attending, contact Nomi Spanglet, Director of Development and Alumni Relations.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Eretz Yisrael: An Integral Aspect of an Orot Education

Orot takes great pride in the fact that its students not only identify with the Land of Israel, but spend time and energy learning about and traveling the Land. Because Eretz Yisrael is part of their identity and their college curriculum, they are able to transmit their love for the Land to their students in classrooms across Israel.

Each year, students studying in Orot's "Eretz Yisrael Studies" Department lead the entire student body of special tiyyulim across Israel. On this year's second field trip they took the students to the Shefelah (coastal plain) and south to Beth-Shemesh to acquaint Orot students - the future teachers of Israel - with the area around Emek Ha'Elah where the famous battle of David and Goliath took place.

The students also visited the site where the war between the people of Judaea and the Romans took place in the second century, where there are remnants of caves in which Jews hid from the Romans.
Approximately 250 students as well as 10 teachers participated in the field trip. The guides were students from the department of Land of Israel Studies, who were trained by the teaching staff. In the pictures you can see the students in Tel-Azakka learning about the combat of David and Goliath.

The Gift of Tzara'at, on Yom Ha'atzmaut

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Recruiting and Special Projects
What's the worst gift that you've ever received? When I got married, my wife and I received a plastic platter in the shape of a fish. We found it both strange and rather ugly. So we kept it. Each of us has a gift like that. I'm sure we've all gotten pretty bad gifts. But in each case, at least someone tried to give you something nice – even though it turned out to be a miserable failure. But what if your neighbor "gave" you the flu – on purpose? Would you consider it a "gift"?
Parshat Metzora relates the very unusual appearance of nigei batim, blemishes that appear on the walls of one's home. The Torah describes the procedure requiring the removal of the tzara'at in order to purify the home. Yet, the language describing this particular tzara'at raises an important question. In other cases of tzara'at, the Torah describes the affliction in neutral language: אדם כי יהיה בעור בשרו שאת – "if a person has in his skin a blemish…" The Torah doesn’t make any judgments about the wound. It's there. How should he act? But when describing tzara'at of the home the Torah says,
כי תבאו אל ארץ כנען אשר אני נותן לכם אחזה, ונתתי נגע צרעת בבית ארץ אחזתכם
When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession.
The word ונתתי doesn't really mean "and I put." It means "and I give," which leads us to wonder, what type of gift is tzara'at on one's home? I can think of many things I'd rather have instead of having to knock down parts of my home. Why then does the Torah use the verb לתת – "to give" when describing tzara'at of the home?
Rashi gives the famous answer that the Emorites hid money in the walls of their homes before the Jews conquered the land. So, when Jews moved into their homes, the homes broke out with hives, so that when the people knocked down the walls they found the money.
But the Yalkut Meam Loez (Vayikra page 153) answers the question in a way that can give us new appreciation for the trials and tribulations that we have experienced this past year in the Land of Israel.
When they originally built their homes, the Emorites dedicated their construction to their idol of choice, thus infusing these homes and buildings with a רוח טומאה – a spirit of impurity which would defile anything that dwelled in those homes. Because Hashem wished to give us the Land and that His presence should dwell in it, He did not wish for his Shechinah to dwell in a place of Tum'ah. For this reason, he sent blemishes in the walls of the homes containing the defilement, so that the people could remove them and purify their new homes, themselves, and their new Land.
Meam Loez asks us to see trials and tribulations from a new perspective. Although difficult to appreciate, sometimes destruction is actually constructive. If we succeed in removing the spirit of Tum'ah, and replace it with a sprit of purity, then the tzara'at was indeed a gift, even if it didn't seem so at first.
This week we'll celebrate the 61st anniversary of the great gift from Hashem that is the State of Israel. Like tzara'at habayit, sometimes we might feel tempted to look at the difficulties and struggles that Israel must deal with and think, "Some gift. Who needs all these troubles?" Why did we have to add more names to the list of the fallen during the past year? Why must we keep fighting wars to defend our right to live in our God-given Land?
But when we place these struggles in context and see the tremendous growth, bounty and blessing that is the State to not only the Jewish people, but to the world, we realize that we have a lot to be grateful for.
And one day we will also realizes that even the blemishes – which we commemorate on Yom Hazikaron before we celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut – were a necessary part of the process that brings about the needed purification of Eretz Yisrael.