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