Thursday, January 29, 2009

Teacher and Creator, in Hashem's Image

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Orot College of Education

Click here to download a pdf version of this shiur.

I remember my first teaching moment, when I knew that computer programming would have to take a backseat to Torah. Studying at YU, a friend asked me whether I would participate in a women's learning program on Wednesday nights. Reluctantly, I agreed, driving out to Westchester County during the cold of winter. But a funny thing happened when I would sit down to teach my class. Almost as soon as I sat down to begin the class, it would be over. The clock seemed to skip the hour during which we learned. (I hope my students felt the same way, at least to some degree.) But even more than enjoying the teaching, the experience changed me even more. I found the ability to help someone grow in learning and help them grow closer to Hashem intoxicating. And that's a feeling that's still with me today.
While we most often associate Parashat Bo with makkat bechorot and korban Pesach, the honor of "most famous passages from this week's parashah" (you didn't know there was such an honor) clearly go to the sections at the very end. Both קדש לי כל בכור and והיה כי יביאך gain their renown from the fact that they appear in every pair of tefillin ever written. The fact that they're tightly sealed in the black boxes doesn't help them, though. Yet, when we juxtapose these two sections we find several issues which require explanation.
Read the following two sections as carefully as you can, noting that they appear consecutively in the Torah. See if you can see how many topics, words and phrases seem to repeat themselves in the two sections.
קדש לי כל בכור (שמות י"ג:א' – י')
וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: קַדֶּשׁ לִי כָל בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר כָּל רֶחֶם בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה לִי הוּא: וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל הָעָם זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים כִּי בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיא ה' אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּה וְלֹא יֵאָכֵל חָמֵץ: הַיּוֹם אַתֶּם יֹצְאִים בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב: וְהָיָה כִי יְבִיאֲךָ ה' אֶל אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לָתֶת לָךְ אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ וְעָבַדְתָּ אֶת הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה: שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצֹּת וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי חַג לַה': מַצּוֹת יֵאָכֵל אֵת שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה' לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם: וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל יָדְךָ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה תּוֹרַת ה' בְּפִיךָ כִּי בְּיָד חֲזָקָה הוֹצִאֲךָ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם: וְשָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת הַחֻקָּה הַזֹּאת לְמוֹעֲדָהּ מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה:
והיה כי יביאך (שמות י"ג:י"א-טז)
וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִאֲךָ ה' אֶל אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לְךָ וְלַאֲבֹתֶיךָ וּנְתָנָהּ לָךְ: וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ כָל פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם לַה' וְכָל פֶּטֶר שֶׁגֶר בְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה לְךָ הַזְּכָרִים לַה': וְכָל פֶּטֶר חֲמֹר תִּפְדֶּה בְשֶׂה וְאִם לֹא תִפְדֶּה וַעֲרַפְתּוֹ וְכֹל בְּכוֹר אָדָם בְּבָנֶיךָ תִּפְדֶּה: וְהָיָה כִּי יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר לֵאמֹר מַה זֹּאת וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים: וַיְהִי כִּי הִקְשָׁה פַרְעֹה לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ וַיַּהֲרֹג ה' כָּל בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבְּכֹר אָדָם וְעַד בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה עַל כֵּן אֲנִי זֹבֵחַ לַה' כָּל פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם הַזְּכָרִים וְכָל בְּכוֹר בָּנַי אֶפְדֶּה: וְהָיָה לְאוֹת עַל יָדְכָה וּלְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ כִּי בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרָיִם
When you look at the last two sections of the parashah, you quickly begin to see a lot of repetition. The following short list appears in both parshiot:

While there are a number of differences between the two sections, what strikes me most is the fact that that Torah seems to say the same ideas twice in two consecutive sections. Both refer to redeeming a first-born child or animal, both speak about inheriting the Land of Israel, both refer to the relationship between parent and child and seem to include some sort of teaching moment, and both allude to the mitzvah of tefillin. I point out these amazing similarities because they help highlight the differences. Obviously, the Torah need not relate the same ideas twice consecutively. These two parshiot must convey different messages, and we'll find them by highlighting several important distinctions between the two parshiot. While there are a number of important distinctions, I'd like to focus on just a couple:

Clearly, these differences raise obvious questions: why does the parent give an explanation to a child who never even asked a question? What's the difference between להגיד – "to tell" and לומר – "to say"? Why does the Torah use two different words to describe the same religious article in subsequent sections?

Asking Questions at the Seder
We generally assume that people teach so that others can learn. That seems to make sense. Whether we teach professionally in the classroom, or just learn individually with our children, or simply are showing our children how to take challah from the dough on Thursday night, we teach so that they can learn. Otherwise, if no one is listening, why spend the time or energy to relate the information? What's the point?
But then we come to the night of the Seder. Sure, we're supposed to answer our children's questions. They ask and we answer. But what if no one's listening? What if I'm stuck alone on the night of the Seder? What if there's no one there to ask me a question, and for me to answer? Should I still answer the question, or since there's no one asking, what's the point? The Mishnah in Pesachim addresses this question clearly stating that, while it's preferable for a child to ask his father, ואם אינו חכם אשתו שואלתו ואם לאו הוא שואל לעצמו – "if the son is not wise, his wife asks him, and if not, he asks himself." If there's no one else to ask me the four questions during the Seder, I must ask myself the questions and answer them as well. This only begs the question: what's the point of asking and answering questions myself?

The Male in Female in Each of Us
God created us to emulate Him. While we use the male form (Him) to describe God, Chazal teach us that God has no true gender – He is both masculine and feminine at the same time. I'm not a kabbalist (and if I was I wouldn't tell you), but the seforim (not sure which ones) teach us that each individual, created in God's image, has both of these masculine and feminine tendencies. Rav Soloveitchik, in a beautiful essay reprinted in ימי זכרון, explains that the דוכרא - the male aspect of God (and of us) is the part that gives – that influences others. Conversely, the נוקבא – the female aspect of God relates to the receiver, the part of us that is influenced and shaped by others. Keeping this in mind, we can now examine teaching in a new way.

Two Types of Teaching At first blush, we look at teaching in a purely utilitarian way: we teach in order to impart information. My daughter needs to know how to tie her shoes; my son needs to know his vocabulary in order to finish his Navi homework. Even in the classroom, my students need to know this information to be better, more informed Jews. (Or if you ask them, they need the information to pass the test – but that's a separate issue entirely.) In any case, we see the act of teaching in its functional form – useful and important, but nothing more.
But the Torah tells us that Hashem wants us to teach not only because our children or students (be they child or adult) need and want to learn the information. Rather, Hashem wants us to teach because the act of teaching transforms the teacher from a passive person – a נוקבא – into an active shaper – a דוכרא. When we teach we come to emulate God in a powerful and profound way, by become creators ourselves – creating students, new people, and more educated children. Thus, when we teach others, we not only change our students. Perhaps even more profoundly, we change ourselves.
This is the fundamental difference between the two parshiot at the end of Bo. קדש לי כל בכור reflects inward and relates to the transformational power of יציאת מצרים not as a lesson for our children, but as a means to change ourselves. For this reason, I must teach my child about יציאת מצרים whether he asks me about it or not. I'm not speaking to him necessarily. I'm telling him – והגדת לבנך – whether he's listening or not, (it's far better if he is listening, of course), and whether he's even there or not. I wear my Tefillin not as an adornment for others, but as a reminder to myself that when Hashem redeemed us from Egypt, He granted each of us the opportunity to become like Him in some small way: to be the creators of worlds. In this context, Hashem didn't take us out of Egypt. He took me – as an individual, destined and commanded to emulate Him to the best of my ability. The Torah sums up this idea powerfully when it tells us that the reason why I wear Tefillin is, למען תהיה תורת ה' בפיך – so that the Torah of Hashem will be in your mouth. In my mouth, and mine alone. As I teach, I transform myself and become closer to and more like Hashem in the process.
But then there's the practical aspect of teaching. It's nice for me to emulate God, to become a mini-creator, but someone's got to teach the children. Someone has to answer their questions. When people need information – when they're the needy נוקבא – when they require shaping, we all must step up to the plate. As parents we must teach our children; we must "speak" with them, listening to their questions and answering to the best of our ability. Instead of wearing Tefillin to remind ourselves of how Hashem saved us, they now become a טוטפת – an adornment to be seen not by me, but as a symbol for others, most notably, my own children. In this context we all become parts of a greater unit: Hashem took us out of Egypt. Tefillin remind us that Hashem redeemed us all. In practical terms, we become responsible for each other, and for all Jewish children. Every Jew needs to learn and grow, every one of us needs to fulfill the aspect of נוקבא – to be shaped and molded into better people and better Jews. And that starts with teaching our children about who we are as a people. It starts with יציאת מצרים.
All too often, we fail to recognize the transformative power of teaching, and the significance that Judaism places in it. We see only the practical value of teaching – and our own shortcomings, so we don't do it. Sure, if you're a professional teacher you do it. But how many of us shirk the responsibility of teaching our children and studying with them because we feel inadequate. We don't know the information that well; we can't explain it well; we don't relate all that well – we all know the reasons.
Parshat Bo reminds us that Hashem doesn't just want us to send our kids to someone else to learn the material. He wants us to emulate Him – to be creators of worlds. He doesn't just want them to learn. He wants us to teach.
And that takes effort and energy. It takes thought and preparation. You can't just sit down at the Shabbat table and bemoan the fact that you don't have anything to relate on the parshah. You have to prepare something beforehand; a topic to discuss, an issue to relate. Write down a list of questions to ask your younger children. Take the time to prepare a meaningful discussion that will engage and enlighten.
Because when you do, you'll see that it's not only about your children learning. It's about emulating Hashem, and become creators ourselves.
Shabbat Shalom.

Dance and Movement Department at Orot Israel College Celebrates its Ten-Year Anniversary

הללוהו בתוף ומחול במנים ועוגב... תהלים קנ, ד

A decade – a space of time and place, a decade of performance, search and growth. The right time to celebrate this exciting event was Hannukah, a time of thanksgiving, renewal, clarification – light from darkness, Greek culture against Beit Hashmonai.
We all gathered in the auditorium - the academic faculty, graduates of the program, students and guests, for a moment of sharing the fruits and remembering the common path - a path that started with a group of young women, some of them from the world of dance and part of them from the world of Torah and education, who joined together in order to answer the yearn for dance in the world of Torah. Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Felix, Dr. Moshe Kedem ז"ל, Rabbi Tuviah Katz and Mrs. Talia Perlstein, everyone in his field, held meetings, deliberated, and created the department of Dance and Movement at Orot Israel College.
The program began ten years ago with a handful of worried girls, not knowing what they should expect; teachers who had never before passed the green line; a meeting between worlds – religious and secular, modern and classic dance, a spiritual world, etc. Since then, the department has continuously developed and grown.
The day started with performances of the students, each year with its special performance showing the religious artistic development that the students are undergoing through their training in all the fields – expression, technical accuracy, refinement, awareness, control, creativity, spiritual maturity etc. The compositions included both classic and modern repertoires, carefully chosen and faithful to the spiritual world of the girls.
The composer, Prof. Andre Hajdu was invited to introduce his compositions that express musical reading in the Bible, and thus exposed us to his philosophy regarding the relationship between art and religion. During the day, there were several workshops on the subjects of movement, religion and art which enabled exchanges of views between the graduates, students and guests. The day closed with the performances of graduates from all the years. They produced 10 first fruit works, after a long time of intense personal work and artistic guidance. The performances emphasized the need of these young women to find a sincere way for personal expression. Producing these performance in itself is a breakthrough to the possibility of combining family responsibilities, livelihood and fulfillment of personal creation in dancing of religious women. The enthusiasm and commitment that characterized the creative process of the graduates toward the decade celebration, were an incentive for Orot's administration to create (will already start אי"ה next month) a continued framework for the graduates of the dance department, which will enable their artistic development in the field of creation and performance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seeing the Good. And the Bad - Devar Torah for Va'era 5769

We dedicate this devar Torah to the memory of Mrs. Riva Koschitzky, special friend of the entire Orot community, on the conclusion of her shloshim this week. May her memory be for a blessing for her family, friends and all of Klal Yisrael.

Thank God, the war has ended. At least for now. By the time you read this, our sons will have returned to their bases, once again out of harm's way. Quiet has returned to the south of Israel, and we hope that the stability and normalcy most people take for granted can again become part of daily life citizens living in the south of Israel.
By all accounts, the war was an incredible success. At a shiva house this week (not related to the war), Rabbi Lazer Brody noted that if someone had said before the war that Israel would suffer only thirteen casualties (and each one is a terrible loss) in a full-fledged Gaza war, no one would have believed. We must see the fantastic hand of Hashem that heard our prayers, guided our soldiers, and protected our citizens.
Truthfully, seeing Hashem's hand isn't that hard. How many times did we hear on the radio or read in the news, "Twelve missiles fell today – no one was hurt." How can 900 missiles and rockets aimed at cities and population centers miss so often, if not for yad Hashem?
In truth though, it's always easier to feel God's guiding grasp on our shoulder when things go the way we'd like. But what about when they don’t? Do we feel a level of hashgachah when things don't go our way? Do we search for and see the Divine when we endure the distress of defeat – both nationally and personally?
Often you have to go back to the end of last week's parshah to understand the beginning of this week's Torah reading. This week is a good example. At the end of Parashat Shemot Moshe presents Hashem with a series of complaints. "It didn't work. I went to Par'oh, told him what you said, and not only aren't things better – but they've gotten worse. למה הרעתה לעם הזה – why have you damaged this poor people? למה זה שלחתני – why did you send me?" Hashem, concluding the parshah, answers Moshe's questions by insisting that He would indeed redeem the nation from slavery in Egypt. And that's where Parashat Va'era begins.
וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב ושמי ה' לא נודעתי להם – "I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, and never revealed my Divine Name to them." Why does Hashem refer specifically to the Avot here? How do they relate to Moshe's complaint and Hashem's response? Rashi (on verse 9) answers these questions by quoting a Gemara from Sanhedrin (111a).
Our rabbis learned out regarding the issue above, when Moshe said "Why have you done evil" the Holy One blessed be He said to him, "Woe to those that are lost and not forgotten. I have what to complain about the deaths of the avot. I revealed myself to them many times as el shakai, and they said to me, 'What's your name?' And you ask me, 'What's Your name – what should I tell them?' When Avraham went to bury his wife Sarah and couldn't find a suitable grave until he had to pay an exorbitant sum; and Yitzchak [struggled with the residents] who complained about the wells that he dug; and Ya'akov needed to buy the field where he pitched his tent – and they never complained against me. And you said, 'Why have you done evil?'"

In other words, when Moshe complains to Hashem, Hashem throws the complaints right back: "You know, things don't always go the way you think that they should. Why, when things don't see to go the way that you'd like do you immediately wonder where I've gone?
The Avot achieved greatness precisely for this reason: their faith transcended the difficulties they encountered in life. They could see yad Hashem not only in the good, but also in the bad. And while we're not Avot by any stretch, growing in our emunah means learning to see Godliness in every aspect of life, both good and bad.
The Mishnah in Berachot (Chapter 9) teaches us, חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה – "a person is obligated to bless God on the bad that befalls him, just as he blesses God on the good." No, it's not easy to see yad Hashem either in personal or national setbacks. But our emunah demands that if we're going to believe that Hashem intervenes and guides our lives during our most joyous and happy moments, then He must also be there with us, crying alongside us, when we suffer and mourn.
It's hard to think about emunah when times are hard. Perhaps this Shabbat specifically, when we can sigh with a sense of relief; when we can give thanks for the good – for the safety and security that God blesses us with - we can best ponder this question.
Shabbat Shalom.

Important Changes at the Bat Zion Program

Dear Friends,
In September of last year, I joined the Orot College for Education as the new director of the Bat Zion program. I had great hopes and excitement about revitalizing a program that had brought young women to study the Torah of the Land of Israel for over twenty years. I spent the entire month of November traveling to cities throughout England and the United States meeting potential.
Despite the hard work, due to an increasing number of one-year programs and the changing tastes of high school seniors, we did not receive sufficient applications to re-establish Orot's Bat Zion program. Still, Orot continues to provide a high-quality college-level education to hundreds of Israeli students, and we would like to offer the benefits that Orot can provide to students from abroad.
We are revamping the Bat Zion program to better reflect Orot's strengths and cater to students looking for what Orot can offer them. Foreign students who attend Orot will integrate into the broader college community and participate in a program consisting of:

  1. A Judaic studies course schedule drawn from Orot's large number of class options. Students will take classes for full college credit or audit classes for no college credit. (Orot's college program runs from Sunday morning to Wednesday evening
  2. Integration into the regular dormitory and college student life
  3. Additional educational assistance and tutoring to help English-speaking students thrive and succeed in their Israeli classes
  4. Thursday programming for foreign students, including shiurim in English and special tiyyulim weekly. We will transport students to Jerusalem each Thursday evening. The regular college runs from Sunday through Wednesday, so Bat Zion students will enjoy additional special program on Thursdays.
  5. Monthly Shabbatonim and other programs for overseas students
  6. A significantly lower price than the previously advertised one-year program. Teaching hours account for a significant portion of one-year programs. Because we will integrate Bat Zion students into existing college classes, we can offer the program at a significantly reduced cost, while still offering additional experiences important for a powerful Israel experience. Tuition for the coming year including room and board will be $10,200, and will cover lodging, food, health-insurance, tiyyulim and any other additional programming.
Clearly, this is a different type of program than the Bat Zion program that I presented in November. It will be a very small program for a student with looking for serious learning and confident enough to function in an Israeli environment. At the same time, it offers a unique opportunity for a student looking to spend her year in Israel invested in serious Torah study. She will experience Israel, grow in Torah, make friends, and learn Hebrew that will stay with her throughout her life.
Additionally, if a student is considering making aliyah after high school, a year at Orot will be a great way to enter the Israeli system under the guidance of a combined program, making her integration that much easier the following year.
I will be contacting you soon just to touch base and get your feedback. If you have any comments or suggestions, or feel that a particular student might be a good candidate for Orot, please let me know.
Thank you so much for your help and assistance. It was a pleasure meeting you during my travels, and I thank all of you for your encouragement, kindness and friendship. I pray that the current calm in Israel grows into a period of peace, safety and security for us all.


Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Bat Zion Program at Orot

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Appreciating Our Blessings - Devar Torah for Shemot

Yad Binyamin seemed like a perfect choice. A wonderful community with a nice mix of Israelis and “Anglos”, my wife and I felt it would be a great place to begin our lives as new immigrants to Israel. Indeed, we were right. The kids have made good friends, the schools have been terrific to work with, and the community members warm and welcoming. Yad Binayamin really has been great.
Except for our friends from the South. OK – not really our friends. I mean our enemies from Hamas in Gaza. Yad Binyamin lies 39.5 kilometers from the Gaza border, just inside the outer limits of Hamas rocket capability. The Military Civilian Authority decided (wisely) to keep all children home from school, mine included, and they have only returned to school this week. Life at home is the same, but different. Just a little more tense. The children don’t sleep as well. They don’t venture out like they used to.
But still, with the challenge of living in a real war zone, carrying my children into our protected room,
listening to my wife lie on the ground during a rocket attack on my cell phone, things are wonderful. They truly are. Why do I say so? Because I learned lesson from the Ben Ish Chai that I saw in a terrific sefer called מעיין השבוע.
As we begin to read of שיעבוד מצרים, the subjugation of the Jewish people at the hands of the Egyptians, one primary question enters our minds: why? If God really wanted to ultimately give the Jewish people the Torah and return them to ארץ ישראל, who needs Egypt? Who needs hundreds of years of slavery, suffering and desperation? Why not just keep Ya’akov and his family in the Land of Cana’an, take them to Eilat for a weekend to give them the Torah and let them comfortably settle the land? Why did God deliberately create a situation that demanded suffering before the salvation?
The Ben Ish Chai answers this question through a parable.
There once lived a wealthy businessman who kindly took in an orphaned youth as his houseguest. He happily gave the youth a home to live in and the young man settled into his new life comfortably. Several years later, a poor man came to the house to ask for tzedakah. Like most beggars, he expected only a modest donation, perhaps only five or ten shekel. When the man pulled out two hundred shekel, the pauper rejoiced. He began to bless the g’vir, his wife, his children – his city, his home. It was all the businessman could do to get the man out the door, bowing and throwing blessings behind him as he left.
Watching the scene unfold, the businessman’s wife commented to him, “While it’s true that you gave that man a nice gift, it’s not that much in the grand scheme of things. We’ve given the young man living in our home far, far more than two hundred shekel, and while he’s a fine young man, he never thanks us the way that man did.”
The businessman agreed with his wife, and called the young man into his office.
“You have been living with us for several years,” he told him. “You’ve always been pleasant, but I want you out of my house now. Please leave everything we’ve given you, and go immediately.”
The young man, dumbfounded, didn’t know what to do. All he could do was quietly leave the house, wondering where to go next. Arriving in the center of town he soon grew hungry. With nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep, he found a hard bench in the park to spend the night. Forced to find work for food, he began hiring himself out to deliver groceries to harried housewives, earning just enough to get a bite to eat. On the third day the businessman told his assistant, “Go call the young man back to the house and return him to his room.”
That afternoon at lunch, the young man rushed into the kitchen to help set the table. He thanked his patron profusely for the food, and afterwards asked if he could help in any other way.
The Jewish nation, said the Ben Ish Chai, was that young orphan. If God had given us the Torah with ease and comfort; if He had allowed us to remain in ארץ ישראל without having to conquer it ourselves, we would never appreciate the value of those incredible gifts. This is why Hashem sent Ya’akov down to Egypt and the Jewish people suffered for so long. Only because we suffered to gain our freedom and only because we struggled to receive the Torah do those values mean so much to us today.
And, only because we fought – and continue to fight – to protect our right to ארץ ישראל do we truly appreciate the Land that Hashem has given us. There really is a relationship between the hardships we undergo and how much we value the blessings that we have. Thank God, I live in Yad Binyamin, not Sderot. I really don’t have things so hard. And the subtle changes to my daily life that the war has brought highlight just how much I appreciate my kids’ school, my community, the quiet of normal daily life, and the blessing that I merit to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Each of us deals with challenges and tribulations in our lives. Shemot reminds us that even while we address the hardships of life, those very struggles can help us appreciate the tremendous blessings that Hashem brings to our lives each and every day.
We hope and pray that with Hashem’s help, the IDF succeeds in its mission, life in Israel returns to normal, and our soldiers return safely to their families soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rockets on Ashdod - A Student's Experience

by Mali Shalashvily Educational Counseling, Literature
Orot College of Education

It seems ridiculous to think that after Hanukkah, the Festival of Courage, we the citizens of Ashdod were compelled to cope with a new abnormal reality and demonstrate our courage as “in those days of Hanukkah” in this time as well - בימים ההם גם בזמן הזה.
The experience of the first alarm in Ashdod, together with the noise of the helicopters circling the city’s skies, were no small annoyance for the citizens and myself, caught in the middle of our Shabbat sleep. We didn't understand at first that the moment of war had arrived in Ashdod and that we should act accordingly. The air was thick with a sensation of adrenaline and pressure; people smiled nervously, waiting to see what would happen next.
At first, I thought that the alarm could connect between people together, and that somehow the situation could affect us positively.
How? Can you imagine an 8 story building with 32 families, and in those critical seconds, all of them gather in the staircase of the building. This is what it sounded like: on the eighth floor there are shouts against the Arabs; on the sixth floor an anxious child scream and his mother tries to calm him. On the first floor a couple recites Tehillim; on the fifth floor a neighbor is belting out "Hashem we love You" in song, if only to try and convince herself; the fourth floor resident screams that he finds the singing grating and begins to curse . On the second floor a father (a professional soldier) holds a meeting of "the security cabinet" with a neighbor dressed only in boxer shorts and an undershirt. It was this situation that we coined "the Israeli experience!"
The next day however, each alarm brings terrible fear, in light of our awareness that a citizen from Netivot was killed by a Grad rocket while sitting in the "Vaknin bar". And so, we all assemble quietly in the staircase within 45 seconds,waiting to hear the falling of the rockets, skipping a heartbeat. Immediately, my heart must return to normal.
At home, we decided that to be properly prepared for the situation, we must take precautions. I’ll share four:
• When driving the car, one must drive close to buildings in order to be able to reach a protected building within a few seconds.
• All the entrance doors of the buildings have been removed to enable each passer-by to enter the building in time.
• One should shower very quickly.
• Go outside only when really necessary.
I heard many stories of people caught by Grad and Kassam rockets in unpleasant situations and at the wrong time.
Which is precisely what happened to me the next day.
I wanted to go for a short walk in order to reinvigorate, and most of to escape sitting at home in front of the television. On my way, I met one of my students from the neighborhood. As his teacher, I asked how he was; we spoke briefly about the situation and how he and his family were coping with the stress and the atmosphere.
And then suddenly - the alarm, the sound growing louder and louder every second. I could see that my pupil was looking around with a helpless look to find a safe-room to hide in. When he couldn’t find one, he looked at me with a panicked look that I will never forget and asked, "My teacher, what should we do?"
I could feel his fear, as if it stuck to me too; I don't know if I was afraid, or maybe it was the responsibility for a frightened and helpless student when I have no solution to offer. I took his hand and we started to run quickly to a building that was far away from us. As soon as we found a shelter in the building, we heard a powerful explosion and all the windows of the building shook and nearly shattered. We needed to stay a few more minutes in order to be sure that no more rockets were launched, because there are many times when a few rockets are launched together, or as it is called by the citizens of Sederot, "Buy one get one free.” Of course, immediately after those long minutes, I told my pupil to run home as quickly as possible. As to me, I also went home very quickly, my heart pounded at full force. When I reached home, I learned that two intersections from where I was standing, a woman had been killed by a Grad rocket.
I should add that three more Israeli civilians have been killed during the fighting, with more than 60 rockets falling daily. For this reason, when this war ends, I'll be saying the blessing "שעשה ניסים לאבותינו, בימים ההם בזמן הזה"
And again, the alarm….

Parenting by Example: A Devar Torah for Vayechi

The phone rings during the dead of the night. You grab the phone half-awake, barely registering the time on the clock. 4:35 am. Who could be calling at this hour? It's the hospital. "Your father is sick. Things don't look good. You'd better come quick."
Of course. You jump out of bed and quickly pull on some clothes. You grab your car key, your cell phone and wallet and head towards the front door.
But then you wonder: should I bring something else? What else am I missing? What about your kids?

Yosef received precisely that phone call: ויאמור ליוסף הנה אביך חולה – "And he said to Yosef, behold your father is sick." (48:1) The Torah doesn't even bother telling us that Yosef travels immediately to his father. But it does tell us what – or who -- he brought with him. ויקח את שני בנוי עמו – "and he took his two sons with him. "Yosef took his children. Yosef took Menashe and Ephraim.

Why did he bring them? Rashi says that he brought them to receive a brachah. Yet, nowhere do we find Yosef asking his father to bless his sons. Rather, the initiative for the brachot comes from Ya'akov himself. "Take them to me and I will bless them."

We can find a different reason for Ya'akov to bring his sons by asking the question from the other direction: why wouldn't he bring his sons? After all, if you found out that your aging father had fallen ill and you feared that he was nearing death, would you come alone or would you bring your children? I imagine that all of us would bring our kids, especially if they were not too young – which Menashe and Ephraim were not.

Or would we? After all, hospitals are nasty places. I've heard parents tell me more than once that they didn't want to "expose" their children to the difficult sight of seeing Bubby or Saba hooked up to all those tubes. After all, is that the lasting image that we want them to have of their beloved grandparent?

Of course it's not. But hopefully, our children have many more images and memories than the final stay at the hospital. More importantly, the lasting image they must have is of their father or mother lovingly sitting at the side of the bed, jumping for every need – from an extra blanket or a sip of water, to the recitation of yet another chapter of Tehillim. They must learn from us how to be people of chesed, mitzvot and yirat shamayim. For if they don't learn it from us, where will they learn it?

Yosef brought his sons with him to see Ya'akov because Yosef made it a practice to include his children in all his positive endeavors and especially in the mitzvoth that he performed. He was about to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud av v'em. It made perfect sense for him to bring his sons along with him. So why does the Torah tell us this seemingly unimportant fact? Both in language and in fact, Yosef's parenting practice of including his children pays great dividends. Precisely because Yosef brings Menashe and Ephraim does Ya'akov bless them; their presence that accords them the honor of being the models of Jewish blessing for all time.

When Yosef hears about Ya'akov’s illness, the Torah tells us that ויקח את שני בניו אתו - "and he took his two sons with him. "Yet, when Ya'akov learns of their presence and wishes to bless them he uses the exact same language: ויאמר קחם נא אלי ואברכם- "and he said, take them to me and I will bless them. "In using the same word – לקחת, in an unusual way, the Torah connects Yosef's "taking" with Ya'akov’s. Only because Yosef had the foresight and parental instincts to bring his sons with him on this visit do his sons merit the blessing that they receive.

As parents, we all struggle with the same issues. We push our children to grow and achieve – but we don't want to push them too much for fear of alienating them. We want them to take initiative and act on their own. So we bug them about it. Yet, all too often we forget that one of the best forms of encouragement is teaching by example. How many mothers attend a Tehillim group but don't invite their daughters along? How many meals have we cooked for a neighbor but neglected to include our children in the project? How many times have we visited a friend who was sick, but left our kids at home?

If the power of chesed can transform us, we must also use it as an educational tool to share our good work – the very best part of us – with our children. They must see the tzedakah that we give. They can participate in the chesed we perform. And just like Yosef, when we "take" our children with us and expose them to the best parts of who we are and what they can be, we give them the greatest blessing of all: inspiration by example.