Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Seeing the Good

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Student Recruitment and Jewish Studies Lecturer 

It was almost inevitable.
Even before the streets were plowed, media figures and government officials began calling for an investigation into the "failures" surrounding the recent blizzard that blanketed a good chunk of Israel. True, many people lost power, and thousands were stranded. But, from my point of view, we did pretty well: the roads were shut down appropriately, saving many, many lives; the power company crews worked around the clock to restore and repair power lines that buckled under the heavy weather.
And yet, we complain. Somehow, too often, our intuition is to see the negative, rather than appreciating the positive that exists in every situation. Our task – and responsibility, is to overcome this inclination to kvetch, and to try to appreciate and grow from our struggles. According to Rashi, this is precisely the message that God conveys to Moshe Rabbeinu.
By all accounts, things aren't going well.
Rather than rescuing the Nation of Israel from bondage, Moshe has only made things worse, as the people must now gather the straw necessary to construct the bricks themselves while still fulfilling their old quotas. Recognizing his failure, Moshe complains to God.
God, why did you deal negatively with this people? Why did you send me? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has made things worse for this people; and You have not saved Your people.' (Shemot 5:22-23)
God responds by telling Moshe that He would, in fact, redeem the nation as promised. But then God adds:
'I am the LORD; and I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, as God Almighty, but by My name Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay I did not make known to them.
What is the nature of this minor lesson about the Avot? What is the difference between the two different names of God, and what is God trying to communicate to Moshe?
Rashi, in his second answer to these questions (on verse 9), quotes the Midrash explaining that God's message was a direct response to Moshe's complaints.
Said God [to Moshe]: I yearn for those who are lost but not forgotten!…Many times I revealed Myself to them, and they never asked me, "What is Your name?" And you said, "[When they ask] what is His name, what should I tell them?"
When Avraham wished to bury Sarah and could not find a grave until he was compelled to purchase one at great expense; When they complained to Yitzchak about the wells that he dug; When Ya'akov was compelled to purchase the plot of the field in order to pitch his tent –they did not wonder about My attributes! And yet you said, "Why have You made things worse?"
It's a chilling message.
How often do we "wonder" about the struggles we endure and immediately lapse into "complaint" mode – whether we're talking about the snow, our jobs, our kids' education?
I believe that these verses also carry the key to unlocking a successful Aliyah. After all, the subject under discussion here is the redemption of the Jewish Nation and their ultimate arrival in the Holy Land.) 
Aliyah, especially for people making Aliyah by choice, represents a degree of hardship.  Moving to the Holy Land requires sacrifice. Sometimes you really do feel like you've taken two steps backwards. And yet, God powerfully relays to Moshe the message that our attitude is critical. We cannot immediately complain when things don't go our way. Rather, we must permit ourselves to see the good, the blessing, and the potential that lies ahead.

A New Art Exhibit Opens at Orot Israel College’s Elkana Campus Library

A collection of Dr. Bella Layosh’s paintings are currently on exhibit on the ground floor of Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus library. The collection’s themes are Holocaust remembrance, faith, and hope – namely, the experiences of a second generation survivor, as envisioned by the artist.
Dr. Bella Layosh was born in Germany in 1948, and made aliyah with her Holocaust survivor parents when she was a year old. An Orot Israel College lecturer in educational administration, she earned her doctorate at Bar Ilan University. In addition, she has an extensive background in art and art history. She graduated from the Beit Tze’irot Mizrachi Seminary’s Midrashah for Art, and over the years, she studied with a wide array of noted artists, including Yaskil in Teveriya, Arieh Lamdan in Netanya, Rachel Shachar in Tel Aviv, Batya Magal in Kfar Maas, and others. Her works have been displayed in prestigious locations and galleries around the country – such as Avenue in Airport City (March 2009), the International Kabbalah Center in Tzfat (December 2010), the Israeli Art Gallery in Tzfat (December 2010), the Blue Bird Gallery in Petach Tikva (February 2012), and many more.
In the Orot library, Dr. Layosh’s paintings, which depict the transition from the Holocaust to Israel’s rebirth and have motifs of faith and hope, are exhibited together with a number of similarly-themed books from our extensive collection.
The exhibit is open to the public, Monday-Thursday. Enjoy pictures from the exhibit below.

Orot Israel College Library Receives Bequest from Professor Yochanan Silman z”l

By Rav Ari Shvat - Lecturer, Orot Israel College & Amalya Tsoran - Library Director, Elkana Campus

Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus library recently received a significant collection of books and manuscripts as a bequest from the late Rav Professor Yochanan Silman’s estate, thanks to the generosity of his dear wife Yehudit and as a result of Rav Ari Shvat’s efforts.
Professor Yochanan Silman z”l (5692-5772) was part of a generation of trailblazers who sought to combine Torah and research with faith, fear of Heaven, and a love of the Torah. We hope that his many books as well as his unique vision and teachings will inspire our students to learn more about him.
A graduate of prestigious yeshivot, including Hevron, Ponevezh, and Merkaz HaRav, Professor Silman learned b’chavruta for many years with Rav Dr. Zvi Elimelech Neugroschel, a veteran Orot Israel College lecturer, and he was even offered the position of head of Orot’s Jewish thought department. At a certain point, while still learning in yeshiva, he earned academic degrees from Hebrew University in philosophy and Jewish history.
Professor Silman was a longtime philosophy professor at Bar Ilan University, where he was known for his unwillingness to compromise on either Torah or research. His books and articles – as well as his extensive library – are testament to his expert knowledge of history, the Oral Torah, and many other fields. Professor Silman’s doctorate was entitled “God and Matter in the Light of the Hierarchical Relations in the Kuzari,” and he wrote numerous articles and books, including Philosopher and Prophet: Judah Halevi, the Kuzari, and the Evolution of His Thought, The Voice Heard at Sinai: Once or Ongoing, and Halachic Instructions As Guiding Principles or As Commands. In addition, he edited several scholarly journals and many books, such as The Faith of Abraham: In the Light of Interpretation throughout the Ages.
Many of Professor Silman’s books and articles focused on R’ Yehudah HaLevi, but he was also a pioneer in the field of philosophy of Halachah. In The Voice Heard at Sinai, he used his all-encompassing Torah knowledge together with his systematic thinking to tackle fundamental questions. For instance, was the entire Torah given to Moshe at Sinai, or will it be revealed or developed throughout the generations? Also, what is the difference between the rationalist and Kabbalistic approaches to the mitzvot and their underlying reasons?
Among the collection the Orot Israel College Library received from Professor Silman’s estate were books about general philosophy, ethics, morality, Jewish thought, religion and science, and Jewish history – including the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, Jewish-Christian polemics, and the history of Eretz Yisrael.
We at Orot Israel College are deeply honored to have received such a valuable gift and are extremely grateful to the family for their wonderful generosity.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restarting Ourselves on Chanukah

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Jewish Studies Instructor

My computer wasn't working – at least not well. It started to freeze up, and was taking far too long to load even simple programs. When this happens, as it does every so often, there's a fix that usually solves the problem. I simply restart the computer, and often the problem goes away.
It seems so simple: restart. Somehow, the computer puts things back the way they should be, and things work again properly. If only life were so simple. After a fight with my son/wife/co-worker – wouldn't it be wonderful if we could simply turn things off, and restart – and have everything work the way it should?
This idea of renewal and restarting applies, not only in the world of computers, but in our daily lives as well. For a long period of time, I was on a diet called SugarBusters!. The essence of the diet is: no refined sugars or grains, no processed food, and no corn or potatoes. It's pretty all-encompassing. People, when they heard about the diet would ask me: "Are you going to eat that way for the rest of your life?" (The answer, as it turned out, is 'no.') I would tell them, "I have no idea if I'm going to eat this way for the rest of my life. But I know that I'm going to eat this way today."
Each and every day during Shacharit, we refer to God as המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית – "He who renews in His Goodness each and every day the act of Creation." Each day isn't a continuation from the last day. Rather, each day is a new day; a new creation, disconnected from yesterday.
We can find this idea in the halachot of Chanukah as well. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 675) writes that,
הדלקה עושה מצוה ולא הנחה...לפיכך, עששית שהייתה דולקת כל היום שהדליקה מערב שבת למצות חנוכה, למוצאי שבת מכבה ומדליקה לשם מצוה.
The lighting [of the Chanukah lights] established the mitzvah, and not the placing [of the lights]…for this reason, an ember that remained lit for the entire day [of Shabbat] that was lit on erev Shabbat for the mitzvah of Chanukah – after Shabbat one must extinguish [the light] and relight it for the purpose of the mitzvah.
At face value, if the purpose of the lighting of the Chanukah candles is פרסומי ניסא – spreading the miracle of Chanukah – then what difference does it

make when I lit the candles? Why should it matter whether I lit the candles today, yesterday, or three days ago? Yet, the Mishnah Berurah explain that,
ואינו מועיל מה שהדליקה אתמול לשם מצוה דכל יומא ויומא מילתא באנפי נפשה היא
The lighting from yesterday for the sake of the mitzvah does not help [for today] – for each and every day stands alone.
While the light may be the same, we are still required to perform the act of lighting each and every day. My actions from yesterday do not suffice. I must restart, relight and rekindle in order to properly perform the mitzvah.
The same rule applies to the rest of our lives.
Some of the very best things we do are repetitive. Yet that very repetitiveness can lead to a sense of staleness and boredom. Even the lighting of the candles itself can become repetitive. We all know remember the excitement of the first night; the exuberance with which we sing Maoz Tzur. The second night is still pretty good. But by the fifth and sixth nights, even the lighting of the Chanukiah takes on a tone of drudgery.
That's precisely the point at which we need to "Restart." Reinvigorate, and relight ourselves with the passion of the light of Chanukah.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New at Orot Israel College - "Briah" School for Complementary Medicine

by Sarah Bar Asher, Founder and Head, Orot Israel College’s School of Naturopathy, Elkana Campus

Orot Israel College is proud to announce the opening of the Briah School for Complementary Medicine – headed by naturopath Sarah Bar Asher – on our Elkana campus. The first course, “Jewish Herbal Medicine,” which began on 11 Marcheshvan 5774 (October 15, 2013), is being taught by Mr. Avraham Dahan, editor of Encyclopediat Talmud HaTz’machim.
Encyclopediat Talmud HaTz’machim is a comprehensive look at the world of Jewish herbal medicine. It is based on countless Jewish sources – ranging from Sefer Breishit to various 18th century works.
The course will introduce the students to a wide array of medicinal herbs, spices, and aromatic plants and will teach them about the plants’ uses and functions – as described in the Tanach, the Talmud, and the medical writings of Chachmei Yisrael through the ages. By the end of the course, the students will have learned about the plants’ health benefits as well as how to prepare brews, lotions, spiced wines, and more.
In addition, the students will get to concoct, cook, bake, and taste ancient recipes and prescriptions from hundreds and thousands of years ago – including the prescriptions of Ezra HaSofer, the Rambam, Assaf HaRofeh, R’ Chaim Vital, Tuviah Katz, R’ Natan ben Yoel Falaquera, R’ Meir ibn Aldabi, and others. Also, the students will, b’ezrat Hashem, head out on a field trip to Emek Yizrael, where they will be able to gather edible wildflowers.
At the first session, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, who greeted the students and shared a dvar Torah, enjoyed a cup of herbal tea. Inspired by the Talmud, the tea contained white-leaved savory, jasmine, and a touch of lemon verbena and was sweetened with sugar cane.
Naturopath Sarah Bar Asher will deliver the next course, “Nutrition and the Food Industry,” which will begin on 9 Kislev 5774 (November 12, 2013). For details and registration please call 1-800-500-210.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Princess Whose Prince Had Not Yet Come

Dr. Zipi Rhein – Psychologist and Lecturer,
Orot Israel College and Bar Ilan University
Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom across the sea, there lived a princess. Like most princesses, she spent her formative years in the usual educational frameworks, and she always knew that when she graduated, she would get engaged to a royal prince from one of the neighboring kingdoms. It was all supposed to be very simple: By her 21st birthday, she was to have met and married her true love.
But when the fateful day arrived, and offers started pouring in from across the realm, a strange thing happened. She met countless princes from all the neighboring kingdoms, but not one of them proved to be the knight in shining armor of her dreams. The first was not religious or idealistic enough. The second was not good-looking enough, and the third was too short for her. Although the fourth was a good match on an intellectual level, there was no emotional connection, and the fifth did not seem to know how to act on a date.
The king and queen were beside themselves. All their daughter’s friends were already engaged. Even the princess had started to feel the pressure. After all, it is not easy to be an unmarried 21-year-old princess. Desperate, the king turned to his trusted advisors and asked them to figure out a way to help his daughter.
In our own world, it is also supposed to be very simple: All one has to do is find the right cover for every pot – that is, the right guy for every girl. But sometimes, matchmaking is as hard as Splitting the Sea. For instance, last week, I spoke to a wonderful guy, who told me that he had been going out with a certain girl for three months. He felt something toward the girl but did not think that it was enough to propose marriage. Another girl asked me if she was doing something wrong, because she rarely made it past the first or second date. Meanwhile, a different girl, who made an appointment with me for next week, wants to talk about getting over a breakup before going out with the next guy.
And in fact, this used to be enough. A couple would marry because they were compatible – not emotional compatibility, but compatible in terms of economic status and values. They would build a home and bring children into the world. And even if they did not get along, and even if they argued, they would stay married, because divorce was not an option. People did not get divorced. People did not stay single. And the few remaining singles apparently had some sort of flaws and could not be married off. Moreover, being single used to be very difficult. Between housework (laundry, cooking, etc.) and earning a living, it was too much for one person to handle. Keeping on top of everything required a team effort.
So why is it so complicated to find a husband or a wife? Perhaps the answer is that today, one no longer needs to get married. Instead, one chooses to get married. In the past, not only was it hard to be single, but it was considered to be the non-normative state. In today’s world, however, getting married is a choice. Thus, one needs to learn how to make that choice. How do you choose the right person? How do you know when the relationship is not going to work out?
A successful relationship must include three elements:
1. Every relationship must be based on some sort of attraction/love. Yet, for some individuals, that attraction/love is constant, but for others, it fluctuates. Therefore, do not compare these two types of people. Young men and women who fit the latter model must learn not to be alarmed by emotional “downturns.”
2. Communication – Communication develops over time. Therefore, at the beginning of the relationship, one must look for the beginning stages of good communication. In other words, one should be able to share not only the nice and pleasant aspects of oneself but also the less pleasant things.
3. Finding a good person with good midot (character traits).

Furthermore, whenever relationship questions or problems arise, consult a professional, who can help one choose wisely and reach the end of the fairy tale: the princess finds her true love, and they live happily ever after.

Thoughts on the Beginning of the New Semester

Rabbanit Dr. Leah Vizel
Dean of Students (Elkana Campus) and Dean of Extramural Studies

Dear Students,
Shalom u’vrachah!
The chagim have long since given way to our normal, everyday routine. How does one cope with the transition from the Tishrei festivals to the month of Marcheshvan? That depends on the individual person.
Unusual events – such as holidays and celebrations – cannot replace a regular routine. After all, constructing a building is a long, arduous process that requires hard work and much dedication. Our challenge is to find meaning within our daily lives. It is the small, ordinary actions that combine to form our personalities - not just the extraordinary ones.
Those who choose to join the Orot Israel family believe that educating Israel’s children is one of our generation’s most significant missions. Yet, it is not always easy to hold on to that sense of mission during the days, weeks, and months that comprise the typical academic year.
As a student heads out on the path she sets for herself, she will, b’ezrat Hashem, encounter numerous and varied sources, which will enrich her inner world. She will gain the critical knowledge and the essential tools she needs to become an accomplished educator and teacher, to add another key layer to her personality, and to make for herself a Rav and acquire for herself good friends. (See Pirkei Avot 1:6.)
Based on my own experience, here is what I recommend: Do not let the hours, days, months, and years slip by you. Wherever you happen to find yourself, play an active role, and try and learn something from everyone. As you reach for your goals, you will likely encounter tasks and topics that do not “speak to you” and do not seem to be important. However, if you keep your mind on your goal, you will recognize that these mundane parts combine to form a complex whole. In addition, maintaining a sense of mission along the way will help you complete and identify with the task at hand.
A bit about my job at Orot Israel College: At the start of the current academic year, I became dean of students at the Elkana campus and am also responsible for extramural studies. Primarily, my job is to take care of the students’ needs – including technical matters, such as the dorms and scholarships, as well as more substantial issues, such as arranging various activities and solving problems.
Orot Israel College functions like a real family and tries to meet the students’ diverse needs. I am always open to new suggestions and ideas, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with you on an individual basis.
As Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohein Kook zt”l famously stated:
"כשהנשמה מאירה גם שמים עוטי ערפל מפיקים אור נעים."
“When the soul shines, even the fog-veiled heavens emit a pleasant light.”
When one takes a deeper look at reality and focuses on one’s sense of purpose, even winter’s fog-veiled skies and daily life’s drab routine will emit a pleasant light.
Best wishes for a bright and fruitful winter.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why Must I Say "I'm Sorry"?

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Jewish Studies Lecturer

Judaism is anything but easy. While most nations celebrate their New Year with drinking, partying and staying up late, we spend our New Year coronating God as king of the world, while we also engage in an extended process of self-evaluation and introspection. The entire period culminates with…that's right, a day of fasting spent entirely in shul.
Moreover, Teshuvah can be quite complicated. While repentance suffices for the sins I committed against God, the same cannot be said for the sins I committed against someone else. The Mishnah in Yoma (8:7) tells us that, עבירות שבין אדם למקום, יום הכיפורים מכפר – "Yom Kippur atones for sins between man and God". (Of course, you have to repent for Yom Kippur to work its magic.) But what about עבירות בין אדם לחבירו – "sins between man and his fellow man? Teshuvah is not enough. For these sins, we must do more.
שבינו לבין חברו אין יום הכיפורים מכפר, עד שירצה את חברו.  את זו דרש רבי אלעזר בן עזריה, "מכול, חטאותיכם, לפני ה', תטהרו" (ויקרא טז,ל)--עבירות שבין אדם למקום, יום הכיפורים מכפר; שבינו לבין חברו--אין יום הכיפורים מכפר, עד שירצה את חברו. 
Yom Kippur does not atone for [sins] between man and his fellow man until he appeases his friend. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria extrapolated this idea from the following verse: 'From all your sins, before God, you shall be purified." (Vayikra 16:30) Yom Kippur atones for sins between man and God. [But] Yom Kippur does not atone for [sins] between man and his fellow man until he appeases his friend.
Indeed, Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:9) adopts this approach in Mishneh Torah, stating that you must first appease the victim of your sin before Yom Kippur can offer atonement.
We've always taken this fact for granted. After all, it makes intuitive sense, at least at first. How can God forgive you if you haven't even apologized to the person you hurt? And yet, the more I think about it, the less sense it seems to make. Why indeed should I have to apologize to the person I hurt? Let's assume that I stole money from a neighbor. I feel terrible about it, and vow never to repeat my sin. Moreover, I return the money, leaving an anonymous envelope full of cash on his doorstep. I've made him whole. I confessed my sin to God, and will truly never commit that sin again. Why should I have to then go to the neighbor and confess? Why should my atonement hinge on his goodwill (or lack thereof), state of mind, and sensitivity?
Moreover, it's not so clear that the verse that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria quotes says what we think it says. The verse he quotes says,
כִּי-בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם:  מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ.
For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord.
Read the last phrase again: "From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord." It doesn't say "some". It says "all." This would seem to go against both the Mishnah and the Rambam. Yet, the translation really hinges on how you read the verse, and where you pause during the reading. I'll explain:
Option 1: If you read the phrase: מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ (with a pause after the word חטאתיכם), then the phrase means "from all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord."
Option 2: If you read it without a pause after the first two words the meaning changes dramatically: מִכֹּל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי ה', תִּטְהָרוּ – "from all your sins [committed] before the Lord, you shall be clean."
Which reading is grammatically correct? When we check the trop (טעמי המקרא), 
מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה֖' תִּטְהָֽרוּ
we see that there's a zakef katan – a small pause – after the words מכל חטאתיכם. Option 1 is correct. The Torah seems not to distinguish between different types of sins. At least according to the simple text, Yom Kippur offers atonement whether we apologize or not.
This, I believe, is why the Mishnah notes that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria extrapolated this idea from the verse. It's not the simple meaning. It's a drush, and the Mishnah says so explicitly. The Mishnah continues:
אמר רבי עקיבא, אשריכם ישראל, לפני מי אתם מיטהרין ומי מטהר אתכם--אביכם שבשמיים:  שנאמר "וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים, וטהרתם . . ." (יחזקאל לו,כה), ואומר "מקוה ישראל ה'" (ירמיהו יז,יג)--מה המקוה מטהר את הטמאים, אף הקדוש ברוך הוא מטהר את ישראל.
Rabbi Akiva says: Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? [And] who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified” (Ezekiel 36:25), and it is further said: “The hope of Israel is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:13), just as a mikvah purifies the defiled, so too, does the Holy one Blessed is He, purify Israel.
It's a famous quote, and a beautiful idea. But is it just a nice ending to the Masechet (it is the last Mishnah of Yoma), or is Rabbi Akiva chiming in on the previous issue? One could suggest that Rabbi Akiva is in fact arguing with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, and suggesting that Yom Kippur purifies everyone, for every sin – regardless of what category the sin falls in. In fact, this is exactly what the Sefer Meor Einayim (quoted by the Tosfot Yom Hakippurim) suggests:
וראיתי בספר מאור עיניים (דף קכד ע"ב) דפירש דראב"ע סבירא ליה דמי שיש לו עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו אין הקב"ה מכפר לו אפי' על עבירות שבין אדם למקום. ור"ע חולק עליו וס"ל דאפילו על עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו הקב"ה מכפר אף על גב שלא ריצה את חבירו ואין דבריו מחוורין אצלי.
I saw in the book Meor Einayim who explained that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria held that God does not offer atonement to someone with sins between himself and his fellow man – even for the sins he committed against God. Rabbi Akiva argues with him and it is his opinion that God atones even for sins committed against one's fellow man, even though he did not appease his friend. And [Meor Einayim's] words are not clear to me.
While the Tosfot Yom Hakippurim (and Rambam and pretty much everyone else) disagrees with Meor Einayim, the opinion is fascinating. Why indeed should my atonement hinge not only my asking for, but my receiving my friend's forgiveness? It's not enough just to ask; I have to actually make strenuous efforts to secure his forgiveness. Why is it so important that the person I hurt forgive me?
This is a great question to ask ourselves as we struggle to pick up the phone, call and offer a sincere apology before Yom Kippur.

Students From Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine Spend the Summer at Orot Israel College

by Mrs. Aliza Lipsker
Program Coordinator, Elkana Campus

At the end of an exciting, challenging, and experiential month-long learning program, one of the students declared, “What will I take back to the Ukraine? I will take all of Eretz Yisrael with me!”
The student was part of a group from Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine – a branch of Orot Israel College, where young Jewish women study to become teachers in Jewish schools throughout the former Soviet republics. The students spent a month in Israel, focusing on Hebrew, Judaic studies, pedagogy, and Israeli life and culture.
From nine in the morning until ten at night, the daily schedule included stimulating classes, fun trips, and assorted extracurricular activities. The students slept in Orot’s beautiful new dormitory in Elkana and enjoyed Rachel’s delicious cooking. All the meals were designed to showcase Israel’s bountiful food and produce.
Every day after davening in the morning, Beit Chana’s own Rav Moshe Webber delivered a shiur on Chassidut. Next, the students spent four hours learning Hebrew. Under the able tutelage of Mrs. Sarit Gizbar and Mrs. Nurit Alkalai, the classes – many of which were held in Orot’s state-of-the-art pedagogic center – revolved around the study of classic Hebrew songs. And as the girls traveled the country, these songs were always on their lips.
Other classes included teaching methods, Torah, Halachah, the Jewish home, and the Holocaust, and the students visited the renowned Shem Olam Institute of the Holocaust and Faith in Kfar HaRo’eh.
Evenings were devoted to dance, art, make-up, and flower arranging classes as well as various social events, such as a special activity in honor of Tu B’Av. During the day, the girls had time to swim in Orot’s pool and catch some waves at the Herzliya Beach.
The program included numerous trips. For example, on Tisha B’Av, the girls visited Yad Vashem and recited Kinnot at the Kotel, and on a different occasion, they toured the Knesset, the Old City, and Ir David. Other trips included stops in Acco, Teveriyah, Meiron, Tzfat, and the Golan Heights. The girls went rafting, jeeping, and boating; visited Mini Israel, the Armored Corps Museum in Latrun, Luna Park, and the Invitation to Silence exhibit in Holon; and spent Rosh Chodesh Elul in Hevron and at Kever Rachel.
During the moving farewell ceremony, the students planted trees from the Seven Species on the Orot campus and were awarded diplomas. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, spoke to the students. Each girl shared – whether in Hebrew, Russian, or some combination thereof – what she had gained from the incredible program and her wonderful stay in Israel. All the girls agreed that they hoped to return!

To Learn and To Teach

by Rabbanit Nomi Shachor 
Tanach Department, Orot Israel College


When the Education Ministry recently unveiled a brand new junior high school Tanach curriculum, many teachers felt unprepared to handle some of the more complicated topics in Breishit and Vayikra. In particular, they were unsure how to approach such daunting subjects as marriage, childbirth, and forbidden sexual relations.
With these teachers in mind, Orot Israel College decided to offer an advanced in-service training course to provide teachers and educators with a broad array of tools and skills for teaching Tanach to junior high school students. Some ninety teachers from across Israel participated in the three-day program.
Among the program’s highlights were talks by guidance counselor Mrs. Avital Ben-Hur and Orot Israel College’s own Rabbanit Nomi Shachor, who focused on appropriate pedagogic techniques, educational values, and how to decide which topics to emphasize and which topics to underplay.
The program proved to be a huge success, and the organizers received numerous letters from the grateful participants. For example, Talia Arad, a physical education teacher, wrote about Rabbanit Dr. Yael Zohar’s fascinating lecture on Megilat Esther:
“The idea behind the words, ‘Do not imagine to yourself.’ (Esther 4:13) With these extremely stirring and inspiring words – which speak to Esther’s very essence - Mordechai addresses Esther. ‘Who knows whether it was for a time like this that you attained the kingdom?’ (Esther 4:14)
“Do not think only of yourself. Have faith and confidence. You have the power to change history and your nation’s fate. And so, Mordechai tells her, you must be alert. HaKadosh Baruch Hu sends you signals, and you must pay attention and act. Do not waste this opportunity.
“Before going to the king, Esther prays and thus gets in touch with her inner essence. With great self-sacrifice, she accepts the mission of saving her brethren. ‘And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4:16) It is true that ‘the dead cannot praise God.’ (Tehilim 115:17) However, self-sacrifice is necessary, and I will do everything in my power to save my people.
“These words are still relevant today. How many times have we found ourselves facing signs from Hashem Yitbarach? How many times have we planned on traveling to a certain place but instead arrived somewhere else, and by chance (and there is no such thing as chance), we met someone new?
“Although we choose our own paths, we are accompanied by endless signs. Sometimes we heed these signs, and sometimes we ‘scorn’ them. We often ask ourselves if this is the right time? For a wedding? To give birth? To go to work? And so on…
“On a personal note, I was able to relate to Rabbanit Zohar’s words, when she spoke about Esther and opportunities. I almost wasted the opportunity to marry a widower and his four children. After having been a single-parent with four children of my own for about seven years, I was presented with this opportunity. But when I felt that the relationship was going nowhere, I ended it. Two months later, HaKadosh Baruch Hu once again signaled that this was my life’s course. Today, we have been married for two years, and about half a year ago, a sweet baby girl joined our family. So yes, the signs and the questions always exist, and self-sacrifice is necessary…
“I pray that Esther will continue to inspire us with her self-sacrifice and her connection to her inner roots, and may we always remember where we came from.
As we begin the new year, we add our voices to her beautiful prayer.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Orot Israel College’s Noga Dance Company Performs at Bar Ilan University

The Noga Dance Company recently performed at Bar Ilan University’s Midrashah for Women. The well-received program included a beautiful performance, a fascinating panel discussion with the choreographer and the dancers, and an interactive dance workshop.
Every Rosh Chodesh, the Midrashah at Bar Ilan organizes a special event focusing on a different branch of the arts. The Noga Dance Company was asked to appear as a fitting tribute to Miriam HaNeviah, who famously sang “with drum and dance.”
Garnering loud applause from the audience, the dancers performed two dances. The first, “Naftulai” by Tziona Shabtai, portrays one woman’s inner world and its inherent contradictions, and the second, part of a new production by Avital Ben-Gad, revolves around the concept of prayer.
Following the performance, the dancers spoke about Orot Israel College’s one-of-a-kind dance program and discussed some of the personal and halachic challenges involved. The enchanted audience was very interested to learn how the dancers are able to incorporate both faith and art into their lives.
Finally, the Bar Ilan students were treated to a dance workshop led by Sharona Florsheim, the dance company’s artistic director. She demonstrated how one can communicate and express oneself via movement and dance.
The entire evening received rave reviews. The Bar Ilan students later described the event as a profound, meaningful, and joyous experience, and Dr. Ruth Ben Meir and Mrs. Yael Schlossberg of the Midrashah sent a lovely thank you note to the members of the dance company:
“The performance made a deep impression on us. You performed before an audience for whom dance is not their ‘mother tongue,’ but nevertheless, you managed to break the language barrier and touch our hearts. We were able to become part of the struggle, the escape, the
return, the search, the tension, the longing, the yearning, and the prayer, which you expressed with such talent. Meeting young religious artists - who face the tension and the connection between creativity and faith and who choose to express themselves while living halachic lives - added depth and meaning to the encounter.”
Thanks to the generous support of Mifal HaPayis’s Council for Culture and Art and the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the Noga Dance Company is currently working on a children’s dance by Avital Ben-Gad.

Sensory-Motor Book Exhibit at Orot Israel College

by Dr. Avia Guttman – Head, Special Education Department, Elkana Campus

This year, the Department of Special Education unveiled a special audio-visual exhibit at Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus. Entitled “What Happens When I Read,” the exhibit presents sensory-motor books for children with special needs. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, and Dr. Avia Guttman, head of Orot’s Department of Special Education, cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony and thanked all those who made the exhibit possible.
Dr. Yael Segev, who was the driving force behind the exhibit, explained,
“R’ Nachman says: ‘When a person sees and learns from a book, and everywhere that he sees and looks, he finds himself.’ (Likutei Moharan 141, Torah 121) Special needs children require mediation and a heavier reliance on various senses in order to allow them to understand the story and to identify with its heroes.” 
When a child identifies with the characters in a book, he benefits emotionally and cognitively. However, special needs children are often unable to identify with the characters or even with the story itself. In contrast, the sensory-motor books in this exhibit are creatively designed to tell the story via different sensory channels, thus enabling the child to comprehend the story on his or her own level.
The curators divided the exhibit into four categories: books for children with attention deficit disorders, books for children with sensory modulation disorders, books for children with developmental disabilities, and books for blind and deaf children. Each display case included specific instructions.
For instance, readers were asked to sit on a chair covered with spikes in order to simulate the experiences of a child with ADHD or to enter the “dialogue in the dark” room to simulate the experiences of a blind child. In addition, audio-visual presentations offered explanations of the various disorders.
Many people were involved in making the exhibit possible. Special thanks go to Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Mr. Yaniv David, assistant director-general for operations; Mrs. Naama Meyersdorf, director of our pedagogic center; Dr. Yael Segev, an Orot lecturer; and of course, the students, who produced all of the sensory-motor books in the collection.

Orot Israel College Students Organize Preschool Math Fair

by Luzit Odesser – Early Childhood Education Department, Elkana Campus

Recently, a group of second-year students from Orot Israel College’s early education department organized a math fair at an Elkana kindergarten.
The fair consisted of six interactive stations, with each station focusing on a different math skill, including counting, numbering, addition, and more.
The preschool years are a critical stage in a child’s development. Among other things, this is an age when children are capable of acquiring and developing basic mathematical concepts and skills. Since younger children learn best when they are active participants in the process, preschool teachers typically employ a wide range of sensory, visual, and experiential activities, such as games, songs, stories, and other pedagogical tools.
Thus, when planning the stations, the Orot students made sure to incorporate various fun activities, including jumping, skipping, basketball, and even fishing.
The math fair proved to be a resounding success. As the Orot students were packing up and getting ready to leave, the kindergarten kids asked, “When are you coming back?”

Elul During Summer Vacation?

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Judaic Studies Lecturer

Every few years, before the Jewish calendar can adjust itself with an additional month during the spring, the summer and winter chagim arrive unusually early. This year, for example, Rosh Hashanah, which "normally" falls towards the end of September, begins this year during the first week of September. Simchat Torah ends before the end of the month! It's an "early" year in every sense.
What difference does that make? Why should the secular date that Rosh Hashanah falls on matter? It shouldn't – but it does, because much of our lives revolve not around the Jewish calendar, but the secular one.
We take our vacations not based on the Jewish calendar, but on the secular one. Our lives are often governed by work and school schedules almost always set not according to the Jewish calendar, but the secular one. For this reason, you may well be on vacation right now because your children are still on vacation, which will continue until the end of the month. This is true not only around the world, but especially in Israel. It's a yearly tradition in August for parents of young children to complain that that they don't know how to go to work while their kids are off from school.
The Jewish calendar cares not for summer vacation or secular school schedules. While we were on vacation, the month of Elul began, ushering in the first pangs of the High Holiday season.  For men who attend shul in the morning (and especially for Sephardim who recite Selichot each night), the Shofar reminds us: Rosh Hashanah is coming. But for many women, and especially for our children who are enjoying their vacation, Elul has yet to enter their consciousness.
Recently, Rav Yona Goodman, head of Chinuch Emuni at Orot, shared a short audio (link here) which got me thinking about this issue. While during a normal year, it might make sense to leave the lion's share of Rosh Hashanah preparation to our kids' schools, this year, when they begin school only a short time before Rosh Hashanah, we must take it upon ourselves to educate our children both about Elul, and about the process of Teshuvah.
When do we do it? Actually, opportunities abound. You can:
  • Talk about Elul around the Shabbat table
  • Do your yearly Tzedakah accounting, sharing with your children how much you "owe"
  • Instead of the beach, use a vacation day for a family chessed project
  • Take a family Tiyyul to a spiritual location (shofar factory?), to put us in the mood for Rosh Hashanah
Rav Yona's words were ringing in my ears as we sat down to dinner last week, and two of my children briefly entered into minor spat over some insignificant slight. While I would normally try and ignore the argument during dinner, I instead noted that it was Rosh Chodesh Elul, and entered into a short discussion around the table about controlling our anger – and that perhaps this could be a goal that we could share as a family during Elul.
In truth, Elul during the summer presents a unique educational opportunity. Because our children learn about the High Holidays in school, a danger exists that they might come to see Teshuvah not as a personal, intimate process, but instead as yet another subject that they cover in school (which is entirely unrelated to their home lives). Nothing could be farther from the truth. The very best way to counter this mistaken perception is to bring Teshuvah into our homes, and make the process of introspection and self-improvement a household affair -- even when you're on vacation.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

In Memory of Noam Yehoshua Hirsch

As many of you heard, Noam Yehoshua Hirsch z"l, Nomi Spanglet's nephew, died tragically and suddenly several weeks ago. Beloved in his school, family and community, Noam's passing struck a painful blow throughout numerous communities in Israel and abroad. Still, the faith, fortitude and strength demonstrated by his family serves as an important lesson in Emunah for each of us. For this reason, we felt it appropriate to share with you the words of Hesped offered by Noam's father, Joel Hirsch. May the inspiration we all receive from his powerful words serve an aliyah for the neshamah of young Noam Yehoshua.
To read the hesped, click here.

תהא נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים

Forever Thin

by Sarah Bar Asher – Head of Orot Israel College’s School of Naturopathy

The holidays announced that they are going on vacation right after Shavuot and not coming back until Rosh Hashanah. So, we might as well take advantage of this window of opportunity and turn our attention to weight control. Put it this way: Weight gain “stands” on three things: on absentminded eating, on clandestine eating, and on the “such-a-wastes.” Let me explain.

Absentminded eating:
At bedtime, a person may say that he did not eat all day, and he may sincerely believe that he is telling the truth. He is not lying. He simply was not there when the eating occurred.
If we eat while driving, talking, writing, or just standing around, we will not remember that we ate. Our memory will still be hungry, and as a result, we will want to eat again. Thus, unless we sat at the table and said, “Hineni muchan u’mezuman, I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of eating lunch…” (so what if there is no such blessing?!), it is as if we did not really eat. Of course, the calories added up, but our brain was not the one doing the counting. Rather, it was our fat cells.

Clandestine eating:
We are well-mannered people. We know that it is not polite to show everyone exactly how much and what we are capable of eating. However, it is important to be a fly on the wall when we are alone in the kitchen. Thus, when the ice cream calls from the freezer and pleads that it is cold and needs to warm up in your mouth, do not bring it home in the first place. Do not put it - or yourself – to the test.

The “such-a-wastes”:
It turns out that many people eat “such-a-wastes.” You know the type. They declare that Moshe’s leftover schnitzel is such-a-waste. Or that Yossi’s half-eaten sandwich is such-a-waste. You are not a vacuum cleaner. You deserve the most delicious food in the world, which means food that was prepared especially for you. Nothing else is as esthetically pleasing (i.e. not crumbled up), served at the right temperature (i.e. not cold), or as fresh (i.e. not dried out or wilted). And most importantly, it is counted by your brain, and therefore, it is not fattening (on condition, of course, that it contains nutritious ingredients).

Therefore, keep these three things in mind. And remember: nothing stands in the way of faith. No, that was not a typo. Because every overweight individual wants to become thin. But in order to achieve a healthy weight, wanting is not enough. One also needs faith. The problem is that most people do not believe that they are capable of controlling their weight. Therefore, they lose hope and despair, or they do not even bother trying. What can we do? Think about people who lost weight and managed to keep it off for many years. Tell yourself, “If they can do it, there is no reason why I can’t successfully accomplish my goal.” And indeed, there truly is no logical reason why you should not succeed. You just have to believe with your entire heart. If you believe, it will work. Admittedly, for every person who keeps the weight off, there are many others who turned their bodies into accordions. But you want to stay thin. So, stay positive, and forget about all the accordion players, even if you happen to be one yourself.

And finally, a good diet plan should be based on your own personal circumstances. It must take into account your metabolism, any medications you take on a regular basis, the results of your blood tests, your weight, your lifestyle, your budget, your daily schedule, and so on. Therefore, be sure to invest in a healthy meal plan that works for you.

What’s New at Orot Israel College’s Land of Israel Studies Department?

by Dr. Ayal Davidson - Head of Orot Israel College’s Land of Israel Studies Department

Recently, several exciting events took place at Orot Israel College’s Land of Israel Studies Department.

First, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, and Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Dean of Students, joined the students and faculty of the Land of Israel Studies Department at a festive dedication ceremony for a new departmental room which was designed by the students themselves.

Next, a brand new departmental website was launched at the dedication ceremony. The site contains a wide array of informative articles, videos, and pictures and will serve as an ideal forum for online student discussions.

Finally, the Land of Israel Studies Department hosted a daylong seminar for the Association of Midrashot. The seminar focused on daily life during ancient times and included a study of various plants, their uses, and their Biblical names. In addition, Dr. Aryeh Borenstein treated the participants to a fascinating tour of archeological sites in the western Shomron.

MK Nissan Slomiansky Visits Orot Israel College

By Rabbanit Nomi Shachor – Tanach Department, Orot Israel College

On 25 Iyar 5773 (May 5, 2013), Nissan Slomiansky, a Member of Knesset for the Bayit HaYehudi party and chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, visited Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus. Invited by Tanach Studies Department Head Rabbanit Nomi Shachor, who teaches a course on historical and spiritual outlooks on the State of Israel, MK Slomiansky delivered a fascinating lecture entitled, “Gush Emunim and the Settlement Movement in Yehudah and Shomron.” Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, introduced MK Slomiansky and thanked him for his considerable support for Orot throughout the years.

MK Slomiansky opened with a description of his studies at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavne and Bar Ilan University. During this period, he developed a close friendship with Rav Hanan Porat z”l, who introduced him to the founders of the Gush Emunim movement. Eventually, he chose to forego the rest of his academic studies in order to focus on public service – a decision that proved to be “a watershed moment” for him. As Gush Emunim’s first secretary-general, he worked to bring the movement’s dreams to life – particularly in the wake of the Yom Kippur War when Gush Emunim was transformed from a political protest movement into an activist movement working to realize Jewish settlement rights throughout the Land of Israel.

During the course of his gripping talk, MK Slomiansky touched upon various issues connected to Gush Emunim – such as the movement’s special relationship with Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohein Kook zt”l; how non-observant Israelis joined the movement; and the creation of a new settlement model: the communal settlement. He also discussed the movement’s spiritual impact and Am Yisrael’s bond with Eretz Yisrael in accordance with Torat Yisrael. Although much has been achieved, he feels that there is still much to be done, as evidenced by the disengagement from Gush Katif several years ago. He believes that the settlement movement requires political activism, both within and outside the government, and he credits the movement’s success to the spiritual strength, dedication, and sacrifices of the many families who heeded the movement’s clarion call and built wonderful communities throughout Yehudah and Shomron.

In conclusion, MK Slomiansky called upon the Orot students to join the settlement enterprise – whether in Yehudah, Shomron, the Galil, the Negev, or any other part of Eretz Yisrael.

Deputy Education Minister Visits Orot Israel College’s Rechovot Campus

On 17 Sivan 5773 (May 26, 2013), MK Avi Wortzman, Israel’s deputy education minister, visited Orot Israel College’s Rechovot campus. He and his staff had a chance to learn about Orot and meet with assorted faculty members.

Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, and Rav Chaim Fogel, a member of Orot’s board of trustees, spoke to the deputy minister about Orot’s considerable achievements and accomplishments and noted that Orot is the country’s largest and most comprehensive religious educational college. They also pointed a number of creative solutions Orot has found to various national priorities – including increasing the number of preschool teachers, training civics teachers, preparing teachers for the Education Ministry’s new “Ofek Chadash” program, and much more. In addition, they discussed the different advanced degrees currently offered by Orot as well as those still pending final approval by the Council for Higher Education.

Mr. Ofir Abicsis described the social, welfare, and educational contributions of the garin Torani (core group) in Rechovot’s Oshiyot neighborhood, and Rav Ami Danino, Rosh Yeshivat Orot Yaakov, focused on the yeshiva’s unique ability to transform boys from lower socioeconomic neighborhoods into outstanding hesdernikim.

At the conclusion of his visit, the deputy minister expressed his deep appreciation and admiration for Orot Israel College and promised to continue his support for what he called "an illustrious institution".

5773 Convocation Ceremony at Orot Israel College’s Rechovot Campus

Some 270 Orot Israel College graduates were awarded B.Ed. degrees at a gala convocation ceremony at our Rechovot campus. The ceremony was held at the campus amphitheater, which was packed with the graduates, their families, and Orot faculty and staff members.

Following a festive reception for the graduates, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president; and Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of the board of trustees greeted the graduates and shared some divrei Torah. Next, Mr. Dedi Elchai spoke in the name of the graduates.

The keynote speaker was MK Rav Shai Piron, Israel’s Education Minister, who discussed the roles of teachers and educators. Mr. Rachamim Malul, Rechovot’s mayor, praised Orot and noted its significance to the city of Rechovot.

The degrees were awarded in the presence of Rav Noach Greenfeld, director of the Education Ministry’s Teacher’s Training Division and former head of Moreshet Yaakov College, and Mr. David Buskilah of the Teacher’s Training Division.

Singer Eldar Yechiel, an Orot alumnus, entertained the audience with his beautiful music, and Mr. Natan Fried, dean of students at the Rechovot campus, served as master of ceremonies.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Forcing Our Children to Accept the Torah?

As parents, we ofter struggle whether and when to coerce our children to behave appropriately. And, when we address this issue in the context of religiosity, the question becomes all the more pressing. Sure, we can force our children to live as religious Jews during their formative years. But is that really what we want? Don't we want them to want to follow the mitzvot on their own?

On Shavuot we specifically celebrate Ma'amad Har Sinai, and the beautiful, awesome power that the Torah describes as the Jewish people received the Torah. Chazal describe the Revelation as a kind of wedding between God and the Jewish people, establishing an eternal bond between us that can never be severed.
Yet, a famous Gemara (Shabbat 88a) relates that, at least according to one opinion, getting us to the Chuppah required some serious arm-twisting.
 ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר: א"ר אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב"ה עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם
"And they sat at the bottom of the mountain" (Shemot 19) Said Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa: This teaches us that the Holy One held the mountain over them like a barrel and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah, good! And if not, there will be your grave.'
According to the Gemara, despite the wonderful declaration of נעשה ונשמע, the Jewish people weren't altogether ready to fully accept the requirements of the Torah. So God made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Literally. "Take My Torah," He told us, "Or that will be the last decision you ever make."
According to Rashi's interpretation of the Gemara, this troubling statement leads the Gemara to raise a critical question.
א"ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא
Said Rav Ada bar Yaakov: from this verse we see a great criticism against the Torah.
What is the criticism against the Torah? Rashi explains that should God bring a claim against the Jewish for failing to follow the Torah [and ask them], "Why did you not fulfill the Torah that you accepted upon yourselves?" they could reply that they only accepted the Torah out of coercion. It's a powerful question. How can we be held responsible for not keeping a Torah that we never willingly accepted? And, because God coerced us with the threat of death to accept the Torah, why should we endure terrible punishment for failure to keep an agreement that we never really wanted?
The Gemara never offers a satisfying answer to this question. Yet, Rava seems to respond to the question by implying that in the end we did accept the Torah willingly.
אמר רבא אעפ"כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב (אסתר ט) קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר
Said Rava: Nonetheless, they still [willingly] accepted [the Torah] in the times of Achashverosh, as it is written, "They fulfilled and accepted" – [meaning that] they fulfilled that which they had already accepted.
Yet, this enigmatic, troubling section raises more questions than it answers. If we never really willingly accepted the Torah until the era of the Purim story, why were the Jewish people punished and expelled from the Land of Israel during the First Temple Period? After all, they had not yet willingly accepted upon themselves the covenant with God. How then could God fairly hold them accountable for failing to adhere to an agreement they never really wanted?

Rav A.Y. HaKohen Kook zt"l, in his Ein Ayah commentary, offers a different interpretation of this passage in the Gemara, based upon his understanding of the crucial nature of coercion in Torah education. He writes,
Free will is a specific form of content through which a person improves his ethical stamina. For this reason, he has specific control over its parameters and scope. But free will itself is part of the essential character of a human being – about which it is not relevant to describe as a freedom. We are not free to want or not to want. Free will is the essence of life itself, and life is given to us without our choice. We control the bending of our will to one of two directions, to the right or left. There we find the hand of choice.
If the Torah was simply the expression of the ethical content of humanity, it would have been worthwhile to have been given with complete free choice. But in truth, the Torah is the expression of the unique individuality of man, as he is. Violation of the Torah is an estrangement of a person – an estrangement from himself…for this reason, it was appropriate that the Torah should be revealed in this matter an essential, fundamental revelation…
Rav Kook's language can sometimes be confusing, so I'll explain.
God gives us freedom to make choices in order to allow us to improve upon ourselves. Yet, some aspects of our existence were never given to free will. God never asked us whether we want to breathe or not. We do – without choosing to, without free will. God never asked us whether we want free choice. It's essential to being a human being. Once we have free choice, then we must use that freedom to choose wisely and appropriately.
The same rule applies to the acceptance of the Torah.
According to Rav Kook's philosophy, the Torah isn't a force or power external to us that we must internalize, study and accept. Rather, the Torah represents the essential, inner spiritual nature of the Jewish people. We are the Torah, and it is us. For this reason, it wouldn't make any sense for us to have the freedom to choose whether to accept the Torah or not, because that would be akin to choosing whether or not we wished to exist or not.
That, explains Rav Kook, is exactly what the Gemara teaches us.
According to his understanding, Rav Acha bar Yaakov isn't asking a question, but making a critical assertion:
א"ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא!
Said Rav Acha bar Yaakov, from here we see a great proof to the Torah!
At Sinai, when God figuratively held the mountain over our heads and forced us to accept the Torah, He was telling us that the Torah was essential to our very being. Without the Torah we would cease to exist! The greatest proof of this fact is that God didn't ask us whether we want it. Rather, He forced us to accept it without free will, because you cannot accept something that's already essential to your very existence.

To me, Rav Kook's powerful passage carries another important message as well. Coercion isn't wrong or inappropriate. Rather, it's an essential element of the transmission of Torah.
Look at it this way: Do we ask our children whether they want to go to school, or recite Shema at night or go to shul? We don't, nor should we. We coerce our children in order to internalize certain critical behaviors in their lives. We want the Torah to be an essential part of them.
Hopefully, at some point in their lives, these behaviors will become so essential to their identities that they'll continue to adhere to them after we no longer force to do so. But it starts with coercion –as well it should.
Should I force my children to follow the truth of God's Torah, and make it an essential part of them? To this question, my answer is an unequivocal "Yes."
After all, that's how we got the Torah in the first place.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Orot Israel College Students Visit Zomet Institute

By Rav Avraham Weiss  
Head of Toshb”a Department, Elkana campus

Not long ago, students from Orot Israel College’s Toshb”a (Oral Law) Department visited the Zomet Institute in Gush Etzion. As its website explains, the Zomet Institute is “dedicated to seamlessly merging halachic Judaism with modern life.” Founded in 5737 (1977), Zomet is known for its halachic-technological solutions, including milking machines that can be used on Shabbat, Shabbat elevators, electric scooters for Shabbat, and much more. Zomet now boasts a new visitor’s center, where the general public can learn about these technologies and the underlying halachic principles involved.
For the Orot students, the tour was a chance to see real-life, modern applications of “dry,” theoretical Halachah - including equipment for hospitals, security systems, and home use. Furthermore, translating halachic principles into a practical language helps clarify those principles. Thus, for example, the students learned about the differences between the halachic concepts of grama and ko’ach kocho; the necessary preconditions for grama; the source for the prohibition against using electricity on Shabbat (boneh, makeh b’patish, mavir, or molid?); and the practical ramifications of these questions.
The students were particularly intrigued by the issue of shinui otzmat zerem hechashmal (varying of electric current), which is the principle behind the use of hearing aids, electric scooters, electric wheelchairs, metal detectors, automatic gates, LED lights, and other instruments on Shabbat. Halachic authorities insist that shinui otzmat zerem hechashmal does not involve molid (loosely, “creating” something new), but shinui otzmat zerem hechashmal is usually restricted to cases of tzorech gadol (literally, “a great need”), due to concerns of marit ayin (outward appearance) or that such use is “unbefitting Shabbat.” However, it is possible that in the distant future, these concerns will no longer apply. After all, the so-called Shabbat clock (i.e. an automatic timer) is now widely used, but initially, some opinions held that it should only be used to turn on lights on Shabbat (due to similar concerns).
Rav Reuven Spolter, who teaches a course on the Shabbat laws at Orot Israel College, accompanied the students on their fascinating and enlightening tour of the Zomet 

Orot Israel College Hosts Gala Book Launch in Honor of Dr. Yitzchak Sapir

On Tuesday, 23 Adar 5773 (March 5, 2013), Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus hosted an event marking the release of “Minchat Sapir” – a collection of articles published in Dr. Yitzchak Sapir’s honor. Dr. Ayal Davidson, head of Orot’s Land of Israel Studies Department, served as the master of ceremonies for the gala event, which was held in the presence of Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Dr. Yehuda Felix, Orot’s founder and first Rosh Michlalah; Dr. Yossi Spanier, the book’s editor and the former head of Orot’s Land of Israel Studies Department; Orot’s faculty, alumni, family, and many friends. In addition, Aviv Gozlan, one of Dr. Sapir’s students, played the piano, and Dr. Aryeh Morgenstern delivered a fascinating lecture entitled “Building the Churvah: The Onset of the Redemption and the Vilna Gaon’s Students.”

“This evening is very emotional and special,” noted Rav Professor Guttel. “What makes this evening so special is that it sprang from below. Orot supported and assisted, of course, in the book’s publication. But the initiative and the publishing were arranged by Yitzchak’s colleagues, friends, and loved ones, and I consider that to be a fitting expression of this evening, this book, and this man. The book conveys love, affection, and friendship. During the Exodus from Egypt, we left 80% of the nation behind. However, when we received the Torah, we once again became one nation: ‘as one man, with one heart.’ So, too, this book and evening, which brought together those who deal with different opinions, purviews, and departments, constitutes a pathway to unity and cooperation.”

Dr. Spanier recalled, “About four years ago, Professor Yisrael Rosenson and I decided to put together a commemorative book for our friend Dr. Yitzchak Sapir, in honor of his retirement. During the intervening years, we collected, sorted, and organized the articles. While editing the book, we focused on Yitzchak’s interests and activities over the years, including the Tanach, synagogues, prayer, the history of the Land of Israel, Israeli botany, and archeology. Although it took us somewhat longer than anticipated, we believe that the final product will not disappoint and that the book reflects the man of the book: Yitzchak.

“As it says on the book’s cover: ‘The main thread connecting the articles is the authors’ admiration and appreciation for the man whom they honored with their writing: Yitzchak Sapir. This is the thread that connects the writers and their compositions to the readers. Sapir connects worlds and people. On an academic level, his multidisciplinary approach is evident at every turn… Sapir’s personality and critiques lead to a multifaceted integration – of religion and science, Torah and derech eretz, man and the One Above. This collection was written as a gift of love for a family man, a researcher, an explorer, a scholar, an educator, and most of all, a dear friend. His name is Yitzchak Sapir.’”

Representing the family, Dr. Sapir’s son Uri remarked, “It is now several days after Purim, and one of the familiar themes of the Megilah is ‘v’nahafochu’ (‘and it shall be reversed.’) There is no need to tell those who know Abba how important this matter is to him. The root ‘hey-pey-chaf’ appears in Tehilim 114, where the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt is described in comparison to unnatural phenomena. The miracle is cited in reference to the contrast between an immovable stone as opposed to flowing water. Even Chazal likened the Torah to both stone and water. Similarly, firmness versus elasticity are just one of the many inherent contrasts which characterize Abba. His way of life, which contains contradictions and contrasts, yields great depths – like signposts with crests, valleys, and mountains.

“An adherence to truth is manifested in Abba’s life as a life of action, and as the Rambam said: ‘Practices the truth, because it is truth.’ Often, this trait creates antagonism, detachment, and distance from others. But this is not the case with Abba. His teachers, his friends, his students, and his partners along the way know a man who walks with his truth and, at the same time, loves and supports unconditionally. Truth and peace are two values that – like stone and water – clearly contrast with each other, but as the navi said: ‘Love truth and peace.’ Love makes room for both of them, and indeed, for Abba, these values stand next to each other, fully and completely.”

Next, Orot alumnus Naama Ariel said, “Dr. Sapir recommended that we read the international bestseller – the Tanach – and to extract its pearls. In every chapter and verse, he sees the word of Hashem that must be studied, and we were always amazed by his knowledge and devotion to every book and verse. In addition to the intellectual learning, there is a great deal of emotion in his approach to the Land of Israel, and one part of the air he breathes is the Land. He is not a teacher in the ordinary sense of the word, but first and foremost, a loving and concerned educator.”

Dr. Sapir himself was the final speaker. He said, “One of the most awkward moments of my life was when Yisrael and Yossi told me that they were thinking about publishing the book, and they asked for my permission. I considered it and finally agreed to their proposal. And when I saw how my teachers and my friends willingly and gladly responded and shared their teachings, and even more so, when I see the book, which is like a new vessel filled with aged wine, I am happy and thankful.

“During a rare cynicism-free moment, I wrote in the introduction to my research paper: ‘This work is the fruit of loves – a love of the Torah, a love of the Land, a love of the Hebrew language, and a love of Israel and its history.’ At my request, the book’s editors divided it into four sections, corresponding to these four loves…

“I see you before me – my teachers and my friends, who have been with me throughout my life: friends in Torah learning, friends in a love and knowledge of the Land, friends in the act of settling it, and friends in fighting for it. I love you all, and thank you for gathering together and coming.”

Students in the English Department assist Learning Disabled students in Elkana’s elementary school

By Dr. Vitela Arzi, 
Head of the English Department, Elkana campus

Students in the English Department taking the course "Teaching English to Students with Learning Disabilities (L.D.)" have an excellent opportunity to implement their theoretical knowledge by teaching students in the neighborhood elementary school on a one to one basis.
The goal of the program is to allow our future English teachers to have hands-on experience to practice what they have been taught. The first semester of the course was dedicated not only to the teaching of the remedial program for teaching reading to L.D. students, but also to the acquisition of concepts and topics related to L.D. learners, such as attention deficit disorder and visual and audio perception problems.
The participants in the program are students who were selected by the elementary school advisor after consulting with teachers. All have some form of a learning disability and have had difficulties learning English.
Orot students come equipped with the necessary material for assessment and teaching while the class instructor, Mrs. Tzila Rabinovitz, an experienced professional in the field of Teaching English to Learning Disabled students, makes the rounds and supervises the activity. After the lesson, the students and instructor discuss and summarize their work.
Both students and pupils benefit from the program. The students gain practical experience in teaching the remedial method they have learned and the pupils benefit from being taught in a way that accommodates their learning styles.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A New Look at the Wicked Son

Last spring, at Orot's staff Shabbat in Naharia, I heard a wonderful thought about the Rasha - the wicked son - from Rav Ze'ev Hass, an instructor at Orot. For parents and educators, we find the Wicked Son the most challenging of children. First of all, what parent would even label her child as "wicked"?
רשע מה הוא אומר? 'מה העבודה הזאת לכם?' - ולא לו. ולפי שהוציא עצמו מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר, אף אתה הקהה את שיניו, ואמור לו: 'בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים' - לי ולא לך, אילו היית שם לא היית נגאל! 
What does the Wicked Son say? "What is this worship for you?" - and not for him. And because he excluded himself, he has rejected a founding principle. You too must blunt his teeth and say to him, "For this God did for me when I left Egypt." For me and not for him. Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed.
The Questions 
We all well know the questions regarding the Rasha. At face value, his question really isn't that difficult: מה העבודה הזאת לכם - "what is this worship of yours?" His question is so similar to the question of the Wise Son that we are left to wonder why we react to him in such a seemingly harsh manner, and to the Wise Son with such love and care. Secondly, as soon as he stops speaking, we stop talking to him, and start talking about him - in third person. Only then do we return to speaking to him to deliver our harsh response. Finally, the answer that the Hagadah provides to the Rasha should trouble us. Blunt his teeth? Tell him that he would still be in Egypt? When has that worked on a child?
Not an Only Child Rav Hass suggested an answer by considering the "Wicked Son" not in a vacuum, but in contrast to his brother - the Wise Son. Imagine this son growing up, constantly trying to compete with his older, "perfect" brother. (This phenomenon isn't that unusual.) The oldest is often the most accomplished - intellectually, physically, educationally. Imagine how his brother feels when he's the one in school whose teachers always say, "Are you the Chacham's brother?" (As much as we ask teachers not to say things like that, somehow they still do...) How about at report card time, when he invetiably compares his grades to his "perfect" brother's? It's not hard to imagine him thinking that he can never really live up to the standard his brother set for him, so why bother?

The "Wicked Son" in our Schools
If you've ever taught in a school that tracks students by ability, you can see this phenomenon outright. It doesn't matter how you label the classes: "A1, A2, A3"; "Masmidim, Lomdim" - whatever you call them, the students in the bottom class know that they're the "dummy" class, and they'll say so outright. Oh - they'll do something else as well. They'll stop trying. After all, if their very own school calls them idiots, then why should they even bother trying to disprove them? (It's a good question that schools constantly struggle with: how do you establish an environment that allows excellent students to grow without labeling the others as inferior?) That's our "Rasha". If he can't compete with his brother - and he can't - then why bother. So he begins to act out. We don't believe that children are inherently wicked. But he acts wickedly. His behavior certainly is bad, manifesting an attitude of apathy and indifference. And so he asks his question: "What is this worship of yours?" Why should I bother if I'll never measure up?

The Unique Nature of the Jewish Nation
Chazal teach us that at the time of the Exodux, the Jewish people found themselves in the depths of spiritual depravity and degradation. In the words of the Midrash, they had reached the 49th level of impurity, as far down as one can possibly descend and yet repent and return. What if they had adopted the attitude of the wicked son. Had the Jewish nation given up, the Exodus would never have taken place. This, explains Rav Hass, is the concept of the "Chosen Nation"; the unique quality of the Jewish people that we contain within us a spiritual spark which can, and ultimately must propel us to improve, grow and acheive spiritual greatness. This is an eternal "rule" of the Jewish people. Even if we ourselves cannot see the great potential within us, God can. He will redeem us and nurture us in order to draw out the spark of holiness that we all contain. This inherent Jewish inherent quality will never change. And yet, it's the very notion that the Wicked Son rejects. So we say not to the Rasha - but about him, that if his apathetic attitude had been in Egypt, then he and the rest of us would never have been redeemed. Change can only come about when you believe in yourself and see not only your shortcomings, but the great potential within you to grow.

The Solution: Show Him the Truth For this reason, we are instructed specifically to "blunt" his teeth (and not knock them out). Rav Hass noted a fascinating truth about God's creations: the more sophisticated and advanced a being is, the more primitive it is at birth. Think about it: animals are expected to get up and walk on their own moments after being born. Human beings, on the other hand, enter the world helpless, unable to care for themselves in even the most simple manner. We require nurturing, care and attention for years before we can take the necessary steps to care for ourselves, and then hopefully, our children. Nothing symbolizes this idea better than our teeth. We're born without them, and as we grow, our teeth grow, symbolizing our development and maturity. (Baby teeth --> adult teeth --> wisdom teeth). So, when addressing the Rasha's attitude of indifference, we tell him to look at his teeth. Does he really think that he was supposed to be born with a mouth full of teeth? Why then should he necessarily have to live up to the Chacham from the very beginning? Just as his teeth will grow and sharpen, so too will he develop, grow and become the person that he was meant to be.

"Our" Rasha
No parent today would label her child a "Rasha." (God forbid!) And yet, every parent and teacher knows which child feels inferior; that he cannot keep up with the stronger kids, and would rather not bother. Our task must be to instill in our children a sense of potential. We must help them sharper their teeth (ושננתם לבניך - from the word שן - see Rashi) to the point that they too have a sense of confidence in their unique abilities. Like the Jewish nation, every child has that spark. It's up to us to help it emerge - to bring each and every child the personal redemption he or she can and must achieve.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Orot Israel College Students Attend Prestigious Academic Conference

by Dr. Avia Guttman  
Head, Special Education Department, Orot Israel College

On Monday, 25 Tevet 5773 (January 7, 2013), students from Orot Israel College’s special education department attended an important academic conference at Bar Ilan University in honor of Israel Prize laureate Professor Reuven Feuerstein’s 91st birthday. Entitled “Cognitive Education, Modifiability, Learning, the Brain, and Everything in Between,” the conference was a joint undertaking of Bar Ilan’s School of Education and the Israel Association for Cognitive Education. After a number of distinguished academics – including Professor Zemira Mevarech, Dean of Bar Ilan’s Faculty of Social Sciences; Israel Prize laureate Professor Penina Klein of Bar Ilan’s School of Education; Professor Hephzibah Lifshitz, President of the Israel Association for Cognitive Education; and others – greeted the conference’s participants, the two keynote speakers took to the podium. Professor David Tzuriel, an internationally-renowned expert on dynamic assessment, spoke about “Mediated Learning and Cognitive Modifiability,” and Professor Moshe Bar, the director of Bar Ilan’s Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, gave a talk entitled “To Learn and to Remember: The Human Brain from Infancy to Old Age.” Next, the participants were invited to choose from an exciting array of simultaneous symposiums, which focused on cognitive education’s real life applications. The symposiums were delivered by lecturers from different Israeli universities. Orot Israel College was represented by Dr. Avia Guttmann, head of our special education department, who chaired a symposium and delivered one of the lectures. Finally, Professor Feuerstein himself took to the stage and delighted the participants with his talk, which was entitled “Structural Cognitive Modifiability and the Brain’s Neuroplasticity.” Professor Feuerstein demonstrated how learning and repetition can even have an effect on the brains of individuals with impaired cognitive functioning. Later, the students thanked Orot’s administration for allowing them to participate in this prestigious conference. In particular, the students enjoyed meeting the world-famous authors of the books and articles they had encountered during the course of their studies at Orot. The students were also grateful that they had been privileged to witness academia at its best and said that they hoped they would have the opportunity to take part in additional conferences and colloquiums.