Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seeing Miracles in Daily Life

With the elections here in Israel now behind us and the political wrangling just beginning, it's a good time to take a step back and look at the larger picture. Yesterday, Election Day, was for me (and so many others that I know) just glorious. Aside from the day off and the great honor many olim feel at the opportunity to vote in a Jewish homeland, the incredible weather presented a perfect opportunity for the family to take a long hike in a local forest, to marvel at the beauty of our Homeland.
Just the drive itself to the hike took my breath away, as we were surrounded on all sides by the lush green wheat fields. (I also love running in the daylight during this time of year, especially in the fields around Yad Binyamin.) Even after almost five years in Israel, I continue to marvel at the amazing beauty of our country and its amazing accomplishments in its relatively short history. In his work Tosefet Brachah (which you can actually download here  -  highly recommended!), Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein (author of the Torah Temima), asks a very simple question about the opening line of Az Yashir:
אשירה לה' כי גאה גאה, סוס ורכבו רמה וים
I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea
Wonders Rav Epstein: Is that really such a big deal? After all, if you throw a horse and chariot into the sea, you'd expect them to sink to the bottom. How is that miraculous? Moreover, Moshe fails to mention the true miracle of Kriat Yam Suf until the very end of the song.
כי בא סוס פרעה ופרשיו בים, וישב ה' עליהם את מי הים, ובני ישראל הלכו ביבשה בתוך הים
For the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.
The Jews walked on dry land while the Egyptians drowned? That's an impressive miracle! Why then did Moshe not mention it at the beginning of the song, and instead leave it for the very end? Rav Epstein suggests an answer that contains a critical message for each of us, especially today. The Midrash notes that the song begins in the future tense - אז ישיר - literally meaning that, "Then he will sing." Writes Rav Epstein,
This hints to future generations, that they will sign songs of praise to God for the miracles that He performs for Israel. For this reason it is written, אז ישיר (in the future tense). Behold, it is known that in future generations during the exile of Israel, explicit overt miracles ceased, and we only [see] miracles like those that emanate from natural events, as if they are clothed in natural clothes. Miracles such as these never ceased and will never cease from Israel, and the person with a discerning eye and understanding heart - he will see and feel through the natural pathways of the lives of Israel among the nations, individually and communally, the shining beams of heavenly guidance.
This is what Moshe wished to convey to us when he began the great Song of Praise on the Yam Suf. While true that the Jewish people saw great miracles at the Reed Sea, the events that they would witness in the future would be no less miraculous. Even the seemingly natural drowning of a horse and its rider in deep waters also depends on the watchful providence of God. The Jewish people would, in the future, witness miracles dressed in the cloak of nature, but with the proper perspective we would be able to see God's guiding hand in those natural events as well. Who cannot marvel at the hidden miracles that have guided the building of the Jewish State today? It's easier to see when literally hundreds of rockets and missiles fall on our cities and we suffer (relatively) few casualties. But even the green fields, the incredible growth, Israel's thriving economy in difficult times - all of those are miracles as well. These are the miracles Moshe alluded to so many centuries ago; the miracles that I think about when I run in the fields around my home. These are the miracles that I saw from the hilltop overlooking the Lachish region yesterday. They might be cloaked in the garments of nature. Wheat does grow in many places around the world. But here, in the Land of Israel, we must use our discerning eyes and knowing hearts to see the guiding hand of the Holy One, making the fields blossom once again.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Holiday-Themed Seminars for Preschool Teachers

Dr. Yael Segev  
Department of Early Childhood Education, Orot Israel College

"בימים ההם בזמן הזה"

On 21 Marcheshvan 5773 (November 6, 2012), Orot Israel College held the first in a series of holiday-themed in-service training seminars for preschool teachers on the Rechovot campus.

The initial session, which focused on Chanukah, revolved around questions such as:
·         According to the Book of the Maccabees, what was the main Chanukah miracle? Hint: It was not the miracle of the oil…
·         Which popular preschool Chanukah songs do not reflect the true meaning and spirit of Chanukah?
·         Did you know that back in Moshe Rabbenu’s time – i.e. some 1,000 years before the Maccabees defeated the Greeks - the 25th of Kislev was already considered to be a festive day?

Each seminar is geared to provide early childhood educators with a solid grasp of the relevant sources about the mitzvot and customs connected to the Jewish festivals. Thanks to the insights and the textual and practical foundation they acquire during the course of the seminars, the teachers are better equipped to prepare age-appropriate, appealing, varied, and nuanced lesson plans for their young students.

Seminar topics include avoiding common misconceptions about the festivals, adapting content to fit the students’ ages, understanding the festivals’ underlying core messages and ideals, and more. In addition, during the seminars, classic holiday stories are examined in terms of their religious, historiographical, and literary values.

Religious-public preschool teachers from across the country are invited to participate in the seminars, which are delivered by some of Israel’s leading educators. Each seminar involves a theoretical lecture as well as a creative, practical session.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Orot Israel College Visits Mount Gilboa

by Dr. Ayal Davidson
Head, Land of Israel Studies Department, Orot Israel College

When King Shaul – the humble man who was charged with the daunting task of uniting a torn and fragmented nation – died, a particularly inglorious period in Jewish history came to an abrupt end. The era that had begun with a bright hope for a great monarchy concluded with nationwide disillusionment and disappointment.

"הָרֵי בַגִּלְבֹּעַ אַל טַל וְאַל מָטָר עֲלֵיכֶם..."
“O mountains of Gilboa, let there be neither dew nor rain upon you…” (Shmuel II 1:21)

Mount Gilboa – cursed by none other than King David – became a poignant symbol of the pervasive gloom. Yet, at the same time, it represented a historical turning point, because David would go on to succeed where his predecessor had failed.

Equipped with comfortable shoes, a Tanach, water, and plenty of snacks, Orot Israel College’s student body recently headed to the Gilboa in order to uncover its secrets. From atop Mount Shaul – named for the king who died bravely in battle on this spot – we looked out over the Yizrael and Harod Valleys at the distant Gilad Mountains along the horizon. We then followed the scenic Nachal Yitzpor down the mountain and admired the bold-faced pink and white cyclamens and the numerous autumn crocuses.

The second part of our trip focused on Yizrael, the site of Achav and Izevel’s sumptuous palace. After reading the passage from Sefer Melachim I - which tells how the royal duo infamously betrayed Navot - we discussed the king’s moral authority and the pernicious influences of an alien, idolatrous culture. From Tel Yizrael, we hiked down to “the spring in Yizrael” – the lovely spring which flows along the ancient city - and the adjacent pool.

A special thank you to the wonderful students from Orot’s Land of Israel studies department, who served as our talented tour guides during the amazing trip. They even devoted an entire day to mapping out our route in advance, and all their hard work and dedication certainly paid off. The student guides were supervised by Naamah Bindiger - who gave birth, b’shaah tovah, to a beautiful baby girl during the course of the preparations - and Yehudit Zorger, who quickly and skillfully stepped in and took over from Naamah.

B.Ed. Degree Ceremony

At a gala ceremony which was recently held at Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus, 153 graduates were awarded B.Ed. degrees. In attendance were Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat; Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of the board of trustees; Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president; a representative of the Education Ministry; and the graduates’ families. In his keynote address, Rav Eliyahu spoke passionately in favor of women going out to work, earning academic degrees, and having professional careers. “The stereotype of a woman’s role in supporting her family is inaccurate,” Rav Eliyahu said. “We just have to listen to the words of the ancient song, ‘Eishet Chayil,’ and we’ll see that even then, it was accepted and proper for a woman to go out to support her family in the fields of commerce, manufacturing, wisdom (for example, the fields of research and science), and certainly the field of education.” Orot Israel College congratulates our graduates and extends our best wishes to them for continued success in all their future endeavors.
Enjoy the pictures!