Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sukkot 5775: Modern Day Clouds of Glory

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Judaic Studies Lecturer

For those of us living in the South (I live in Yad Binyamin, almost 40km from Gaza. Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva had it much worse, to say nothing of Otef Aza), this summer was the summer without a vacation. Everyone I know entered into the school year feeling that now that the summer had ended they need a vacation – and rightfully so. In fact, many schools in the south have given the students off during the "gesher" – the bridge days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, in order to give them a little time to breathe after such a trying summer.
Yet, the past summer's experience enriches and deepens our understanding for and appreciation of the mitzvah of ישיבה בסוכה – dwelling in a Sukkah.
The Gemara (Sukkah 11b) famously offers two explanations for the commandment to dwell in the Sukkah.
תניא כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל: ענני כבוד היו דברי רבי אליעזר, רבי עקיבא אומר סוכות ממש עשו להם
It was taught, “That I settled the Jews in booths.” Rabbi Eliezer said that this refers to the Clouds of Glory. Rabbi Akiva said the Jews made actual booths for themselves.
While we can readily understand Rabbi Eliezer's position, and the need to commemorate and celebrate the miraculous Clouds of Glory that protected the nation in the desert, Rabbi Akiva's position seems curious. Why would we commemorate the fact that the people lived in booths that they themselves had built?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that according to Rabbi Akiva we commemorate the fact that the Children of Israel dwelled in man-made booths to remind us that despite their efforts, their survival nonetheless required supernatural protection.
דעת האומר סכות ממש עשו להם, מפני זה נצטוינו לעשות סכות דוגמתן כדי שיתגלה ויתפרסם מתוך מצות הסכות גודל מעלתן של ישראל במדבר שהיו הולכים עם כובד האנשים והנשים והטף במקום ההוא אשר אין בטבע האדם לחיות בו...כי שם באותו מקום הכנתי להם כל צרכם ולא חסרו דבר
According to the opinion that says that the Jews made actual booths for themselves, we are commanded to make booths like those, to publicize the greatly elevated state of existence which the Jews enjoyed in the desert. They traveled in the desert with masses of men, women, and children in a place where it is not the nature of man to live … Even in that place, God prepared for them all of their needs and they lacked nothing.
The houses they built for themselves were not enough. They still needed God's help and protection to survive and thrive in the dangerous desert habitat. This lesson is especially relevant for the residents of the Jewish State, following the challenging, but miraculous summer we recently endured.
This summer, we discovered yet again that the homes we normally associate with safety and protection do not suffice. We required – and continue to require – an added level of protection, and I refer even to those of us who have a Safe Room that we ran to at the sound of the siren. This year, when we sit in the Sukkah under the open sky, we will not only immediately recognize our frailty and fragility. Rather, we'll also think back to the summer and remember how, even when sitting in our regular homes, we recognized that we were not in fact safe. We needed more protection – and thankfully, received it as well, as the Jewish people benefited from miraculous (from the root word "miracle") divine protection over the course of the summer. Nothing less than miraculous.
The same can be said of our own "Clouds of Glory".
Over the course of the summer, I tried to maintain my regular routine, including my regular runs around Yad Binyamin. Sometimes I run on the path that circles the yishuv, while usually I enjoy running along roads and paths through the local community and the local fields. Looking back, perhaps this wasn't such a good idea.
On one particularly clear Sunday evening, I found myself running along the road near Chafetz Chaim when a siren sounded. I watched as the Iron Dome rockets fired to intercept the unseen rockets rushing towards us suddenly took a turn – directly towards me. That's when I figured it might be a good idea to quickly seek additional shelter, and I spent the next few moments in a concrete drainage pipe.
Watching those rockets rise into the air, it was impossible not to marvel not only at the technological prowess that built the system, but also again at the Divine Hand guiding those rockets to their targets, and also directing the Hamas rockets the Iron Dome missed away from civilian areas. While Hamas fired literally thousands of rockets towards us, the vast, vast majority missed Israeli civilian areas, landing either in Gaza, in the sea, or in open areas, away from the populace.
Those misses represented nothing less than our own, national ענני הכבוד.
This coming week, as we sit in the Sukkah, we can and must celebrate, and give thanks for the additional protection we received, even while sitting in the booths that we have built, and also for the Clouds of Glory that protected the People of Israel who continue to thrive in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Who are these, who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their cotes… to bring your sons from afar?” (Yeshaya 60:8-9)

Mrs. Aliza Lipsker, Beit Chana Program Coordinator

"קומי אורי כי בא אורך... בניך מרחוק יבואו."
“Arise, shine, for your light has come… Your sons will come from afar.” (Yeshaya 60:1-4)

Who was singing this song? It was the height of the summer; war raged in the South; and the entire country was in an uproar. And yet the singing continued at Orot Israel College…
The young singers were ten Ukrainian girls from Beit Chana, who came to spend a month studying in Israel – Tanach, history, geography, Hebrew, pedagogy, and didactics – in spite of the war. During the opening ceremony, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Orot’s president, welcomed the girls, and they learned Naomi Shemer’s version of the song...

"קומי אורי כי בא אורך וכבוד ה' עליך זרח"
(“arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory
 of Hashem has shone upon you” – Yeshaya 60:1)

...and the meaning of the lyrics. In fact, the song became the girls’ anthem and accompanied them on all their trips, tours, and various activities.

The program’s goals were threefold:
1. To encourage the students from Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to develop a love for Eretz Yisrael and to bring them closer to Am Yisrael and to their roots.
2. To offer meaningful and experiential lessons in Judaic studies, Land of Israel studies, and Hebrew as well as numerous activities and trips around Israel.
3. To ensure that at the end of the program, the participants would leave “wanting more” from their stay in Orot in particular and in Israel in general.
We are thrilled to announce that we exceeded our goals!
Classes were held daily from 9:00-21:30, and the packed schedule included outings to the pool and the beach. In addition, the girls traveled to the North, Yerushalayim, Gush Etzion, Hevron, Beit Lechem, and many other places across the country; they celebrated Tu B’Av in ancient Shilo together with the women of the Binyamin region; they visited historical and other significant sites in Eretz Yisrael; and they even experienced a siren on an Erev Shabbat in Elkana and were forced to run to the nearby protected space.
Based on the girls’ reactions, the program was a rousing success. They said that they wished they could stay longer and expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the incredible experience. At the graduation ceremony, the girls sang,
"אין לי ארץ אחרת" (“I have no other country”) and "קומי אורי כי בא אורך... בניך מרחוק יבואו", and a girl named Chaya Mushka gave a moving speech:
“It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of the program. I remember that… I was so excited when they told us that the program would be held this year too. We couldn’t wait to hear about the trip to Eretz Yisrael, and we were pleased and happy when it actually happened. We really couldn’t believe that in spite of the situation in Eretz Yisrael, we would be privileged to come.
I think that we had a special group this year. We enjoyed being together and sharing the unique experiences, the lessons, and the games. We learned a lot about each other. Specifically, we learned that each girl is different and has so, so much to give. We now feel much more united.
 I want to say thank you – in my name and in the name of the entire group – for the amazing program.
 We saw how much effort was put into every little detail, the classes, the evening programs, and especially the trips, because there is nothing like touring in Eretz Yisrael. It is a special feeling, and only someone who lives abroad can understand it.
 It is amazing to meet – here in Eretz Yisrael - people like you, who know how to give whole-heartedly and from the depths of their souls; who are always in the right place, at the right time; who immediately volunteer to help and to lend a hand. Thank you, and thank you again.”

Rosh Hashanah: A Festive Holiday or a Day of Awe?

by Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Dean of Students (Elkana Campus) and Dean of Extramural Studies
Rosh Hashanah - the Day of Judgment – has a dual nature. On one hand, it appears in the Torah together with the other holidays and is specifically described as a festival:
"תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו."
However, at the same time, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as the Day of Judgment, when the Books of Life and Death lie open before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and:
"כל באי עולם יעברון לפניך כבני מרון."
Furthermore, when Nechemiah saw that the nation wept, mourned, and trembled on Rosh Hashanah, he instructed them:
"לכו אכלו משמנים ושתו ממתקים... כי קדוש היום."
Similarly, Chazal seem to have a contradictory approach to Rosh Hashanah.
How can we explain this? On Rosh Hashanah - which, according to our tradition, is the day when man was created – we renew our covenant with our Father in Heaven, and that is certainly a reason to rejoice. Yet, this covenant entails great responsibility and requires us to treat it seriously and solemnly. We are given a golden opportunity to turn a new leaf and to choose a life of meaning. As the Slonimer Rebbe explains in “Netivot Shalom,” three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah – the tzadikim (the righteous), the beinonim (the average or mediocre), and the resha’im (the wicked) – and as the new year approaches, every person inscribes himself and decides how the upcoming year will look. One who resolves to fulfill his role and destiny is immediately inscribed and sealed for a good life. However, when one does not do so, one implies that one has no role – chalilah – in HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s world.
Nechemiah saw that Am Yisrael grieved over the sins of the past and was unaware that Rosh Hashanah encompasses a great hope for a better future. It is a day of man’s renewal and a renewed covenant with the Master of the Universe. Therefore, although we must certainly rejoice, we cannot ignore the day’s ingrained solemnity.
At Orot Israel College, we are also on the cusp of a new year, and we hope to be inscribed immediately in the Book of Life for a meaningful life of giving and contributing. A heavy yet delightful responsibility rests on our shoulders.
In particular, I would like to focus on Orot’s extramural studies program. Baruch Hashem, we expanded our course offering over the past year, and many post-graduate students came from near and far to partake in our many programs. Inter alia, we introduced an advanced study program in Tanach instruction, an online program for literature teachers, and much more. As we look to the future, we are excited about the many new courses that are set to open this year, including an in-service teachers’ training course for the Ofek Chadash program; a unique course for rami”m and Toshb”a teachers; new complementary medicine courses; art therapy, bibliotherapy, psychodrama, and behavioral-cognitive therapy courses; an in-service training course for preschool teachers about the festivals; Jewish culture and tradition courses; and much more. Our goal is to meet the needs of those who seek to continue their studies even after completing their academic degrees.
May the coming year be a year of successful, fruitful, and meaningful academic achievements, and may all our communal and private prayers be answered.

Best wishes for a gmar chatimah tovah!