Thursday, May 28, 2015

Return of the Nazir- Audio shiur

In this week’s shiur we explore the meaning behind the mitzvah of Nazir. We consider whether the Torah and the chahchamim consider to be a positive step for a person to become a nazir. Finally, we offer a novel suggestion about the goal of becoming a nazir.

The shiur can also be listened on YouTube by clicking here

Running Time: 1 hour

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Naaseh V'Nishmah- Audio shiur

In this week’s shiur we discuss several approaches to the unique phrase “Naaseh V’Nishmah”. We examine this phrase from several different angles, and focus primarily on the Nesivos Shalom’s beautiful understanding.

The shiur can also be listened to on YouTube by clicking here.

Running time: 56 minutes

Highs and Lows- A message to a bar mitzvah boy and all of us

Dear Caleb,

Although I don’t know you, I know your dad and rather than give a plain-old Mazal Tov, I want to share some thoughts with you as you approach your big day.

It seems so appropriate that you are celebrating your Bar Mitzvah in Israel, right by Shavuos, and as we begin Sefer Bamidbar. I’d like to suggest a connection between the three.

Perhaps the most famous words from Mattan Torah are the words Na’aseh V’Nishmah. There are many questions that can be asked on these words, but I will just ask one. Why do we need two words to say we accept the Torah and mitzvot? I’d like to share a beautiful idea I saw in the Nesivos Shalom. He points out that for everyone, not just the regular people, but the greatest tzaddikim as well, there are times we feel close to HaShem and times we feel distant. During the times of closeness, it is easy to attach to HaShem. When everything feels great, it’s easy to daven. When tefillin are new, it’s easy to be excited to put them on. Those moments are the “Nishmah” part of life. The part of life when we get it. There are also “Naaseh” moments. Moments of sadness and difficulty when we feel distant from HaShem. There too, we commit to attach to HaShem, even though it’s hard. The Slonimer Rebbe is sharing something important. The high moments are great, but for all of us, they are followed by lows. We can attach to HaShem during both.

This very much connects to Megillas Rus. A student at my shiur last night, pointed out that the term Davak, to attach, is used multiple times in Rus, highlighting this point of attaching to God during the good and bad times. Perhaps that is why we read this megillah on Shavuos.

We also see this in Sefer Bamidbar. The first half of the Sefer reads like a plan. Here’s how we get to Israel. All details. No worries about what might go wrong. Then real life happens and... kablooey!!! Everything falls apart, and all of a sudden there is a 40 year detour. Again, it’s easy to feel close to God when everything goes as planned. Bnei Yisrael had to stay in the Midbar to learn to trust and stay close to HaShem, even when things are dark.

Which brings us to Israel. There are so many wonderful things going on there. I told your father how jealous I am of you for having your bar mitzvah there. So much better than any party you could have in the US. Israel however has lots of challenges too. Even in the holiest place in the world, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the light and the dark mix. There, we have the greatest opportunity to stay close to HaShem through it all.

As I said, I don’t know you, but I know your dad. I know that I am not the only one inspired by his passion for Torah, and the efforts he makes to stay close to God through all of life’s challenges. You couldn’t ask for a better role model.

Mazal tov and enjoy!

Pesach Sommer

Monday, May 18, 2015

Place, Show, and Win- Why I'm excited to be part of Project Makom

I’ve been thinking about the reason that I had a panic-dream about a speaking opportunity that is about a month away. I have no problem doing things last minute. Heck, I thrive under that pressure. Back in  my college days, I was able to write a paper and complete a project two hours before they were due (I got a B on each, thank you very much). I love public speaking, and, on the rare occasions when I’ve had panic dreams, they’ve come the night before, rather than many weeks in advance. So why am I a little nervous about my opportunity to speak at the Project Makom shabbaton?

As soon as I heard about Project Makom, I volunteered. Having heard about, and witnessed the serious challenges involved in moving from one’s religious community, I was excited about the opportunity to be part of an organization that makes such a transition easier. Regardless of the destination of the person who chooses to leave the charedi community in which they grew up, it seems obvious to me that, we, both as individuals and as a community, should want them to land on their feet. As such, and I hope this is not too shocking, in some ways I see Project Makom and Footsteps as being two sides of the same coin, in that we both want to help former charedim transition to a healthy and productive life.

Which brings me back to my speech. What is it that I would like to say? Most obviously, while the people involved in Project Makom are, more or less, Modern-Orthodox (I wish we could move past labels), it is important that we recognize that we have much to gain, and not just give, by welcoming former charedim into our community. While there is much that is positive in the MO world, like all communities, it is far from perfect. To cite just one example of many, I have many times been moved by the warmth and passion that I have found when davening, or having shalosh seudos with various chassidic communities. It is my hope that by welcoming more people who come from chassidic communities into our community, that our davening and zemiros will get a much needed boost.

It is in thinking about the gains that both sides will make, that I start to get a slightly mischievous thought in my mind. Perhaps what we are really doing at Project Makom is not welcoming former chassidim into the Modern Orthodox world. Perhaps we are really all just joining together and going back to the roots of the chassidic world. A world where there is little need for hierarchy. A world where “B’chol drechecha da’eihu” is truly a guiding principal. A world where Jews of all types and stripes can learn, sing, and speak together. If that is what we are able to do, I am hopeful that HaShem, who is the true Makom, will bless Project Makom with success.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chasdei HaShem- Getting things right with the Ethiopians in Israel

For most of my life, my connection to Tehillim has been tenuous. Of course, I am familiar with sections of it due to the fact that I daven three times a day. Still, perhaps partially due to my discomfort with Tehillim being recited in ways that seem, to me at least, more magical than theological, I have spent little time studying, or even considering most of the perakim of Tehillim. Recently, for reasons I can’t explain, or perhaps, won’t share, that has begun to change. So when I had the opportunity to take part in a project spearheaded by Yeshivat Har Etzion to study all of Tanach and Shas by the shloshim of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l, I decided to sign up to study a perek of Tehillim. Given the available perakim, and the desire to study a perek where I lacked familiarity, I ended up with perek 107.

This perek discusses those who have been saved by God and invites them to praise Him. After a brief general introduction, the Psalmist discusses those who have crossed the desert:

2 So let the redeemed of the LORD say, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary.

3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the sea.

4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; they found no city of habitation.

5 Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.

6 Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.

7 And He led them by a straight way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
8 Let them give thanks unto the LORD for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

9 For He hath satisfied the longing soul, and the hungry soul He hath filled with good.

As I read these pesukim, I immediately thought of the Ethiopians who were brought to Israel decades ago, in what felt like the latest demonstration of  the gathering of the exiles. I recalled reading of the dangerous trek that the Ethiopian Jews had to make to get to Adis Abbaba, where they were flown to safety in Israel. It was not hard to imagine the joy they would experience in living in the land of their dreams.The Psalmist seemed to be discussing the very experience of the Ethiopian Jews. Of course, once the Ethiopian Jews came to mind, I began to think of the protests currently taking place in Israel, where Ethiopian Jews are protesting against police brutality and the general inequality of how they have been treated by their fellow Jews.

One of the big things that I have taken away from the eulogies for Rav Aharon, is the focus he placed on humanism. When he saw suffering of any kind in the world, it pained him. Although I am not aware of anything he said or wrote about the Ethiopians, it is not hard for me to imagine that he would have identified with the pain they are feeling.

Perhaps it was naive to believe that Kibbutz Galuyot would happen smoothly, and bump-free. Still, even if I move past my naive dreaming, I am saddened as, once again, a group of Jews miraculously brought to Israel, are mistreated. It seems like the lessons that should have been learned from how the various Sefaradi communities, and the Teimanim were treated, have not been learned.

At the same time, it is heartening to see that protests are not being ignored, and that the Ethiopians are being heard. Perhaps, now is the time to when a major step will be taken in creating the type of community that can truly be a lesson to the nations of the world. If we can finally take steps in that direction, we will be able to join with the Psalmist and say

42 The upright see it, and are glad; and all iniquity stoppeth her mouth.

43 Whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them consider the mercies of the LORD.