Sunday, September 9, 2012

Should we be Worried?

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Student Recruitment

As we approach the coming New Year, it seems that we've got a lot to worry about. The Prime Minister keeps beating the drum about the impending danger of a nuclear Iran; rockets are still falling on Sederot (which is pretty close to where I live), and gasoline reached an all-time high this week (what goes up doesn't seem to want to go down, either!) All of these worries don't even begin to touch on the personal concerns each of has for our families; for their health and well-being; for our children's continued growth and development. As I said, there's a lot to worry about.
But should we worry? Is worry something good and positive, or is it an emotion we should specifically try to control and minimize to whatever degree possible? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the subject of our worry.
In the classic Mussar work אורחות צדיקים, the anonymous author describes worry as a negative, destructive trait.
הדאגה. זאת המידה היא רעה ברוב ענייניה, והיא ניכרת על כל הפנים, כדכתיב (בראשית מ ו): "וירא אתם והינם זועפים"; וכתיב (נחמיה ב ב): "מדוע פניך רעים, ואתה אינך חולה". ואמר אחד מן החכמים: איני מוצא כלל באנשי נפשות העליונות סימן דאגה. הדואג על עולם זה להשיג מאומה – הוא מגונה מאוד, והיא לא נמצאת כלל באנשים הבוטחים בשם ומאמינים בו. הדאגה והיגון הם מכלים הלב, והם חולי הגוף. והדאגה הרעה שבכל הדאגות היא שירדוף אחר העבירות, ובעת שלא ימצא כל חפץ לבו – אז הוא דואג ומצטער. הדואג על עולם זה הוא רחוק מאוד מן התורה והמצוות והתפילה. לכן יחוש מאוד לתקן המידה הזאת, להסיר אותה ממנו. ואין צריך להאריך ברעתה, כי כל הטובות הבאות מן השמחה – הן היפוך הדאגה.
Worry. This attribute is almost always negative, and is recognizable on every face, as it is written, "And [Yosef] saw them and they were sad." (Bereishit 40:6) and it is also written, "Why is your face sad, and you are not sick." And one of the scholars has said, I have not seen worry in the spirits of the higher-level souls. On who worries about achieving anything in this world – this is very obscene – and is not found in those people who trust in God and have faith in Him. Worry and anguish destroy the heart and they are sicknesses of the body…Thus, a person should make great effort to fix this attribute and remove it from himself. And there's no reason to write at length about the negative nature [of worry] because all of the goodness that comes from happiness – is the direct opposite of worry.
In essence, "Don't worry, be happy."
But there is a type of worry that is positive and productive. We find in the Gemara in Brachot (4a) that although David Hamelech considered himself generally righteous, telling God שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני – "Save my soul, for I am righteous" (Tehillim 86:1), nonetheless at the end of Chapter 27 of Tehillim (לדוד ה' אורי – which we recite twice daily throughout Elul), David seems to think differently of himself.
אל תתנני בנפש צרי, כי קמו בי עדי שקר ויפח חמס. לולי האמנתי לראות בטוב ה' בארץ החיים...
Deliver me not over to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen up against me, and breathe out violence.  If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Chapter 27:12-13)
On this verse the Gemara quotes David as saying to God,
רבונו של עולם, מבטח אני בך שאתה משלם שכר טוב לצדיקים לעתיד לבא, אבל איני יודע אם יש לי חלק ביניהם אם לאו!
Master of the World – I am sure that You give proper reward to the righteous in the future. Yet, I do not know if I have a portion among them or not.
What happened to the confident, self-assured Chassid? Where is the righteous David Hamelech, who declared his goodness to God? The Gemara answers: שמא יגרום החטא – "perhaps he would lose [his reward] because of sin."
David Hamelech was indeed worried. He wasn't worried about his enemies attacking him or global warming or even whether he'd be able to afford the new iPhone. Rather, he was worried about himself, and whether he'd be able to continue to serve God properly in the future.
This, says אורחות צדיקים, is the only proper type of worry.  We can and should indeed worry whether our actions over the past year have drawn us away from God. We should be concerned, even anguished over the mistakes that we've made. And we should definitely use the power of worry to keep us from sinning in the future.
It seems, then, that we're worried entirely about the wrong things.
Should we worry about Iran? That's not really in our control, and worrying about it will only make our lives more miserable. Should we even worry about our livelihoods and the exorbitant price of gasoline? Again no. We should try and work on ourselves, so that we recognize that our sustenance lies in the hands of the Creator, who "provides bread to every living creature." We of course should pray for good health and blessing, but worrying about it won't help at all.
Still, there is something we can and must worry about: ourselves. We must worry about the insidious, seductive nature of sin, so that we can learn from our mistakes and commit ourselves to improvement, return and renewal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Orot Israel College Students Visit Yad Vashem

by Dr. Amnon Hever,
Department of Jewish History, Elkana Campus

As Holocaust studies play a major role at Orot Israel College, our first-year students recently participated in an intensive, full-day seminar at Yad Vashem.
As part of the seminar, which focused on the plight of the Jewish child during the Holocaust, the students toured the Holocaust History Museum, the “No Child's Play” exhibition, the Children’s Memorial, and the Center for Major Questions Arising from the Holocaust. Throughout the day, Orot's students were shown how to use objects, photographs, monuments, statues, memorial sites, exhibits, and art to teach about the Holocaust, and also how to respond to Holocaust-themed educational questions.
Over the past ten years, Orot Israel College has worked closely with Yad Vashem to develop appropriate programming for our students. What began as a single course for the history department has since expanded into a wide range of courses, which are open to the entire student body. Course topics include the history of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Nazism, religious Jews and the Holocaust, and rescue efforts. The courses are given by some of Yad Vashem’s top lecturers and incorporate documentary films, survivor testimonies, unique presentations, and other didactic materials produced by Yad Vashem.
In addition, Orot and Yad Vashem joined forces to design a unique practical course devoted to didactic techniques for Holocaust education, and last year, Orot offered a series of didactic workshops about Holocaust education. Each workshop was geared for a different academic department and served as part of the students’ practical training. Moreover, during the upcoming academic year, we hope to offer a general course that will concentrate on the Holocaust in Jewish thought.
Every course has proven to be very popular with the students, who made every effort to avoid missing even a single class.
Much of the credit goes to Mrs. Lea Roshkovsky, director of the Israeli Teachers Training Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS), whose dedication, enthusiasm, and persistence made these programs so successful.
Special thanks also go to Uri Shalev of Yad Vashem. In his affable and serene way, he managed to transmit the legacy of the Holocaust to his students.

Orot Israel College Gears Up For the Education Ministry’s New Tanach Curriculum

by Rabbanit Nomi Shachor,
Tanach Department Head, Elkana Campus

During the month of Tamuz, Orot Israel College hosted a three-day conference on teaching Sefer Breishit to seventh graders. Designed to prepare the participants for the launch of the Education Ministry’s new Tanach curriculum, over one hundred teachers from across the country took part in the well-received conference at the Elkana campus.
Recently, the Ministry of Education released a new Tanach curriculum emphasizes the pshat, or simple meaning, of the text and the importance of studying Sefer Breishit in its entirety. Yet, at the same time, educators must ensure that their students are exposed to Sefer Breishit’s profound messages and ideas. In particular, educators hope that their students will come to understand the significance of the events that led up to Am Yisrael’s birth and establishment.
With these competing goals in mind, the conference’s organizers invited a wide array of distinguished rabbis as well as experienced Tanach teachers to address the participants. Some of the speakers – such as Rav Yitzchak Ben Shachar shlit”a, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Rav Uriel Touitou, Rav Menachem Shachor, and Rabbanit Nomi Shachor – delved into many of Sefer Breishit’s central themes: the Avot, Brit Bein HaBetarim, cheit v’onesh, nisayon, and so on. Other lecturers – such as Rabbanit Dr. Yael Tzohar, Dr. Rivka Raviv, Dr. Ayal Davidson, Mrs. Tafat Halperin, Mrs. Hadassah Stoffel, and Mrs. Hila Nachteiler – focused on essential tools for teaching Sefer Breishit. Examples included a program for teaching bekiut (i.e. a pedagogic approach which leads to a broad, surface knowledge of the text), a timeline, assorted maps of Eretz Yisrael, relevant stories, and much more. Each participant received a CD containing these tools, lecture source sheets, and the presentations.
In her talk, Mrs. Miri Schlissel, director of Tanach studies at the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Department, noted that Sefer Breishit is an ideal way to begin junior high school. In addition, she showed how studying bekiut is well-suited for the early adolescent temperament. The conference proved to be a great success, as evidenced by the feedback forms and the dozens of thank you notes we received: “I enjoyed it and gained a lot.” “Yishar ko’ach on the welcome initiative. It was enlightening and beneficial.” “Thank you for the valuable and interesting conference and the gracious accommodations.”