Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The King in the field-Ellul in the Yeshiva

The month of Ellul, the month before Rosh Hashana is a special time in the Yeshiva. The word Ellul is an acronym for Ani Ledodi Vdodi Li.From Shir Ha SHirim "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me" relating to the special relationship of the Jewish People to Hashem.The last letter of the four words is yud numerically 10x4=40 denoting the 40 days between rosh chodesh Ellul and Yom Kippur, the same 40 days that Moshe entreated Gd on Mt. Sinai to forgive The sin of the golden calf and give the second tablets of the commandments. Ellul also is connected to the Aramaic root A-L-L which means to come and specifically to come in order too seek out. Onkelos translates spies-allalin.,those who come to seek out the land
Who is coming and what is he seeking?. The Sages tell us that during the year Hashem is like a king in his palace and the commoners must be granted special permission to enter. But in the month of Ellul, before his coronation the king leaves the palace and goes into the fields to meet his subjects This is the time that the King is closest to his people..

Yeshivat Machon Meir is known as the "ba'al teshuva Yeshiva" of the Dati Leumi community . That was true 20 years ago when I first attended the Yeshiva. Most of the 100 or so students were men who came from secular backgrounds and were taking their first steps toward the world of Torah and commandments.Today with over 400 students there avreichim and talmidei chachamim along with Ba'alei Teshuvah.

The personality of Rosh Yeshiva , Rav Dov Bigon, himself a ba'al teshuva, is the leading light of the yeshiva. He has"hadrat panim' a glowing countenance that radiates tremendous charisma and at the same time total humility.Before tefillat Arvit he gives a short "shmuss", a discussion based on the teachings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook. HaRav taught that teshuva,  usually translated as repentance,  really means "return" that every Jew has the ability to return to his real self, his pure inner self whose source is divine. This is so no matter how far he has strayed from the path of Torah and mitzvot.

In Ellul when "the King is in the Field" there is an aura of kedusha, of holiness in the Yeshiva. When we can search our souls and ask forgiveness in order to participate in the crowning of the King on Rosh Hashana.
The dovening is very different than what I had gotten used to in my shul in Rechovot. The Rav there was Rav Avraham Rubin a Slonim Chassid. Slonim Chassidut takes dovening very seriously. The Rav used to say to us "Prayer is not a sing-along, it is not entertainment, but communion with the divine that requires total concentration.At Yeshivat Machon Meir the dovening is full of song, much of it influenced by niggunim from the Chassidic courts of  Mozhitz, Vizhnitz and also modern tunes of Shlomo Carlebach,, Avraham Fried and Ben-tzion Shenker. To me there is no contradiction here. Kriat shema and shmoneh esrei are said silently and with great concentration, but songs of praise are sung with joy and exuberance. There is even dancing on Kabbalat Shabbat. This is in line with the synthesis of  the seriousness of the Litvish Yeshiva world together with the unbridled joy of Chassidut that you find in the Yeshivas such as Machon Meir which are identified with Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav Kook and Har HaMor.

It is a great privilege to learn Torah from Rabbanim such as R' Bigon, Doron Katz,Chanoch Ben-Pazi, and Elisha Vishlitzki. May Hashem give me the strength to take advantage of this opportunity to meet the King in the field with his ministers. who show us the way to approach Him and crown him with the crown of Torah.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Let us put Jersalem above our chiefest joy

We have just moved to Yerushalayim,fulfilling a dream we have had for many years. Actually I should say we returned to Jerusalem. It was in this very neighborhood of Kiriat Moshe that Risa and I met forty years ago. We spent the first three years of our marriage in Jerusalem. Those were magical years that we had together before we had children..Our apartment is across the street from Yeshivat Machon Meir where I learned for three years almost twenty years ago.When I entered the Bet Midrash and sat down and opened a Gemarra, it felt as if those interim years fell away and I was at home. The rosh yeshiva,Rav Bigon immediately recognized me and welcomed me back to the yeshiva. I don't know yet if I will be learning full time at Machon Meir, there are other options, but I will probably learn at least one seder there.
The neighborhood has changed very little in the past twenty years except for the fact that it seems that there are more Chardalim (National Charedi) and less DatiimLeumiim (National Religious) and secular. That is fine with me since I consider myself to be closer to Chardali today, particularly the Mamlachti (statist) trend. Yeshivat Mercaz Harav which along with Yeshivat Har HaMor are the flagships of the Chardali (sometimes called "Torani" movement. It is very comfortable to live in a neighborhood where most of the people look like you, and doven in the type of shul that you do.
We hope and pray that Hashem will grant us many years of health to serve Him in his city, Yerushalayim our chiefest joy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chadarav II

Chadarav p16

How can I say things to others, if I don't say them to my own soul
How can I disseminate spiritual and material  knowledge
if I dont have the key to the hidden treasures inside me
"Open your gates" I say to my inner sanctums
to my heart and my conscience.

My soul yearns to penetrate  those inner sanctums
In all that I try to raise up from the light of Torah and the world
 I find  the pure roots must come from the depths of the soul itself 
whose light comes from the light of Torah, the glory of the world
If I can come back from Torah to my inner soul then I can add life
to  reenter the rooms of Torah, the rooms of ancient treasures.
Every clear revelation has a tripartite meaning:
for the soul, the Torah and the world.
"Answer the words of my tongue for all your commandments are righteous" (ps.119:172)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Chadarav-The Innermost Thoughts of Harav Kook

                     Chadarav-Harav Kooks innermost thoughts

About ten years ago Shirat Devorah publishing put out a slim volume called"Chadarav"(His inner sanctums). It is a collection of the personal writings of Rav Ytzchak Hacohen Kook. ZTZL. There had been some controversy over the publication due to th very personal, intimate nature of the material. Finally after the death of Rav Tzvi Yehudah ZTZL, the Rav's son, the family released the manuscripts for publication. The result is an extraordinay work that sheds light on the innermost spiritual life of Harav.

After reading an excellent translation of one of Harav's poems in the Rebbitzin's Husband" blog, I decided to try translating passages of Chadarav in English. The Rav's allusive alliterate poetic style are a challange for the translator. I hope That I can succeed in capturing some of the spirit and flavor of the Hebrew original

The King brought me to his innermost (chamber(Shir HaShirim 1:4)

As the Holy one blessed is he has innermost chambers of his Torah
so do the talmidei chachamim have each one of them innermost chambers of their Torah

I have but to stand
and listen to myself
to hear the secret conversation
that is produced in the innermost sanctums
I will hear and my soul will live

From inside of me, from the fountain I must find the hidden treasure
I am ever connected to the holy anguish of the search for higher perfection
and that cannot be fulfilled.
because that is the eternal yearning whose source  is the thirst for the divine
for which nothing else in the world can quench
only he who seeks this thirst is open more and more
and recognizes more and more
that he himself must become the source of the pleasure
the basis of all spiritual pleasures
the glory of Shaddai

more to come....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In Mitzpeh Ramon "Hakol B'seder"

This year Risa and I were invited to the Passover seder by our oldest son Efi in his home in Mitzpeh Rasmon in the Negev highlands. Now with the new expressway to the south (kvish 6) the trip from Rechovot takes less than two hours, a relatively easy drive on good roads all the way. We rented a car from Avis for the trip. I am glad that we decided not to buy a car and rent whenever we need to. For five days it came to about 650 shekels and we had use of the car for part of chol hamoed too. On Thursday we packed up the car and set off for Mitzpeh Ramon. We contributed the wine, grape juice and hand baked shmurah matzot. These are very special matzot made in the chareidi settlement of Kommemiut not far from Rechovot. They are made from hand stone ground whole wheat which was "watched" from the time of harvest so as not to come into contact with any moisture.The hechsher boasts of "chai chumros" (18 stringencies) including that the wheat was harvested by G-d fearing Jews who said "leshem Yichud" before operating the harvester, the rolling pins  are sanded down every 18 minuets,  the water used for the dough comes from a special closed cistern supervised year round by a special mashgiach etc. etc. The matzot are rolled out super thin by a special group of women(davka !) and baked by men who continuously recite a cycle of Psalms. In any event IMHO these are the best tasting hand baked shmura matzot that I have ever tasted.

We arrived at Efi's house in the early afternoon and everything there was already prepared. The charoset mixed the horseradish ground, the Lettuce rinsed and the food for the meal cooking in the kitchen. Our daughter-in-law Ora is amazing. She is totally organized with each of the five children ( one to ten years old)r washed and dressed for the holiday  the four little girls in new holiday dresses. She went about finishing the last preparations and giving out orders to the children, calm and collected without ever raising her voice. I honestly don't know how she does it. I sat down with our oldest grandson Oz Avraham  and we talked about the halachot of the seder. He also asked me about the siyyum that I had made earlier that morning, traditionally made by firstborn sons to commemorate the miracle of the plague of the firstborn where Hashem passed over the firstborn of Israel and struck down the firstborn of Egypt (see my previous post).  I explained that the Gemarra Yerushalmi gave the laws of moving forbidden objects on Shabbat. I mentioned that in the time of Chazal they had a special press which was used for smoothing out wrinkled clothes and the gemarra dealt with the question of whether or not it was permitted to use or move this press on Shabbat. Oz asked me if moving parts of the press could be compared to opening and closing the door of a house and therefore be permitted. I was amazed that Oz (10 years old) was familiar with the relevant Mishnah and actually asked the same question asked in the classical commentaries.I told him that the commentary Korban Haeidah explained that while it is permitted to open or close a door it is forbidden to dismantle the door or set it on its hinges. In the same way it is forbidden to assemble or dismantle the launderer's press which is bolted to the floor and therefore considered part of the building. Discussing a knotty problem in the gemarra with your grandson-now that is real nachas !!

In the evening we sat down to the Seder led by Efi. Efi is a Rav and educational counselor in the Mitzpeh Ramon high school Yeshiva, and he masterfully led the seder giving everyone especially  the children a chance to participate. To explain why the Haggadah enumerates the particulars of all the plagues and miracles he made up a parable.A king sent his favorite son on a long journey. the prince sat in the carriage and was unaware of what was happening outside. The king sent his special guard to protect the prince. A gang of rebels tried to attack the carriage but the guard chased them away.The guard also protected them from wild animals and made sure that the carriage stayed on the right course. When the carriage arrived at the royal palace the guard brought a step ladder so that the prince could climb down. The prince said to the king that he wanted to thank the guard for helping him get down from the carriage. The king said to him that he should first thank the guard for saving him from the many dangers of the journey. In the same way we must thank Hashem for each and every one of the signs and miracles he performed for us in the Exodus from Egypt and the sojourn in the desert. During this story the children hung on every word, with total concentration.

Another chiddush was that after the "Dayyenu" hymn which enumerates fifteen stages of the deliverance from Egypt  saying that each stage in and of itself would have been enough for us to give praise to Hashem,Efi asked each of us to say our own personal "dayyenu". When it was my turn I said that if Hashem had only shown me the way of teshuva-dayyenu. If He had only brought me out of the diaspora to the land of Israel-dayyenu. If He  had only given me my beloved wife-dayyenu. If He had only given us our six precious children-dayyenu. If He had only granted us our twelve grandchildren-dayyenu. How much more so that I must give thanks for all of these and many other things that Hashem has granted me. Dayyenu vedayyenu

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fast of the Firstborn-Siyyum Masechet Shabbat Yerushalmi

It seems that we Jews cannot celebrate a holiday without mourning or fasting first. Before Purim there is Ta'anit Esther. Before Sukkot there is Yom Kippur and before the modern yom tov of Israeli independence day there is memorial day..Last week the day before Pesach was ta'anit  Bechorot-the fast of the first born, commemorating that terrible night in Egypt when Hashem passed over the first born of Israel and struck down the first born of Egypt. It is customary for all first born and fathers of first born sons to participate in the festive meal in honor of the completion of a tractate of the Talmud and therefore be exempt from the fast.

This year I made a siyyum on the completion of  massechet Shabbat of thr Talmud Yerushalmi.. The siyyum was also in honor of the yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, Abe (Avraham ben Efraim) Rich Alav haShalom who passed away on Erev Pesach twelve years ago..

On page 91B the last Mishna in the Yerushalmi Shabbat deals with the laws of moving forbidden objects on Shabbat. We learned that is  forbidden to arrange the straw on a mattress . Straw is muktzeh (a forbidden object) since in general there is no use for it on Shabbat. It is permitted however to lie down on the straw and move it with your body. This is tiltul muktzeh keliachar yad ie moving a forbidden object indirectly. Also if the straw can be used as fodder, or if there was a pillow on it before Shabbat it is not considered  muktzeh.
We also learned that a householder's press ( used for smoothing wrinkled clothing) may be dismantled on Shabbat but it is forbidden to dismantle a professional launderer's press. Rabbi Yehudah says that in any case if the press was loosened before Shabbat it is permitted to remove the clothes.

The Gemarra Yerushalmi says that the law of the Mishna is only relevant where the straw was never used before for a mattress, but if it had been used before it is considered to be part of the mattress and is permitted. R' Ya'akov bar Iddi said that earlier authorities asked if the straw could be moved using the elbows. R' Yannai, one of the foremost Amoraim of the Yerushalmi., said it is forbiddento do so, and added a curse upon all who are lenient  in this ruling saying "May his house fall upon all who rule leniently in this case."  R" Chiyya said that one must differentiate between the rich and the poor since straw is the only mattress that the poor man has while the rich can afford soft feather beds and pillows.
In another case chachamim agreed with R'Meir that the lids of cisterns can be untied or cut open on Yom Tov but not on Shabbat. But there is a kushia-In principle the laws pertaining to building or taking things apart do not apply to recepticles.(binyan vestira be kelim)  The answer is that cisterns are dug out or built into the ground therefore the laws  of building and demolition apply.Similarly the launderer's press was a built in contraption and therefore cannot be dismantled. R' Yossi added that there is also a question of  tiltul machmat chesron kis  that is since the launderer's press is an expensive piece of machinery it is forbidden to move it or touch it on Shabbat.

הדרן עלך פרק תולין וסליקא לה מסכת שבת

Monday, April 2, 2012

Forty Years Together-Bashert

Exactly forty years ago 12 Nissan we stood on the roof of a building  overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. We stood under a chuppa that was my tallit and I said "harei at mekudeshet li", you are consecrated to me with this ring according to the law of Moshe and Israel..

So much has happened in those four decades. Twenty years of raising six children and  settlement building in the Golan Heights. Then moving to Rechovot where I dedicated myself to learning Torah while Risa continued  taking care of the home and supporting the family.

There is a Yiddish expression-"bashert" which roughly translated means "destined". It is often used to express the idea that this couple wasw "meant for each other". That is how I always felt it was with Risa and myself.. We have been together from the first time we met on a Shabbat afternoon in Ellul. It was clear to me from the very beginning that this was bashert. As Chazal said, "Forty days before conception a heavenly voice proclaims'The daughter of so and so is meant for the son of so and so.In this case the daughter of Avraham Ben Efraim for the son of Elchanan ben David.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Baruch Dayan Haemet

This week was the yohrtzeit of the Fogel family of Itamar in the Shomron, mother and four young children who were brutally murdered by Arab terrorists one year ago. I have always said that the greatest test of faith is when we are confronted with the death of an innocent child. The vast numbers of the Holocaust can be understood perhaps in a historical context. Perhaps the Jews of diaspora Europe were doomed to be devoured by the German Amalek. Perhaps there was  hester panim. But how do we understand the murder of a baby in his crib in the very heartland of Eretz Yisrael?

This year we witnessed a number of  perplexing tragedies including the murder of the heavenly mystic Baba Elazar in Beersheva and the death of Rav Ehud Barzilai of Mitzpeh Ramon who died at a young age of brain cancer. After hearing of these tragedies I said to myself, automatically, "baruch dayan haemet" blessed be the true judge. The truth is of course that I can see no justice in these events. .While I believe that nothing in this world is arbitrary, I cannot fathom the justice in these tragedies

I spoke about this with one of  my Rebbes and he told me to concentrate on the idea that the tribulations of this world are only transitory. When we hear about the death of a child we mourn because we have no idea of the purpose for which his soul was brought into this world and even less the reason that soul was taken from this world.

Next shabbat is parashat Parah which deals in the purification from tumat mavet,  the impurity of death. Harav Kook` wrote that the point of this parasha is to understand that death is the ultimate illusion and that life as imbodied by the divine soul is everlasting.

                                           Baruch Dayan Haemet