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Posts Tagged ‘Sefer Torah’

A Place To Call Home

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Coming to Kever Rachel one cannot help but recall the traditional domed structure that once stood as a humble memorial to the greatest of women. Unfortunately a fortress like edifice of towering large concrete slabs has now replaced that familiar picture. It was here, at this holy site, that I first met Evelyn Haies, an American mother, grandmother, and globetrotter.

Evelyn spends the better part of each year in Israel working to improve the site. In fact, as soon as we met she invited me to attend a shiur she had arranged in the adjacent previously-owned Arab home.

But first I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what possessed an American mother of five, and grandmother, to leave her family in the U.S. to come to Israel and devote so much time to Kever Rachel.

In lieu of answering, she beckoned, smiling broadly. I followed her into the adjacent structure (the only other building in the complex) where she pointed to a bullet hole in the glass of the window on the second floor. “Arab sniper fire,” she explains.

“I bought this house a number of years ago, in an attempt to increase awareness of the importance of this site, to encourage people to visit, and to learn more about Rachel herself.” She points out the pictures her granddaughter had drawn to hang on the wall.

In a large room on the first floor there is a learning session in progress. A group of avreichim are poring over their sefarim.

In an entirely separate room a shiur for women is about to take place.

“And so what’s a grandmother like you doing here?” I asked, still wondering what it was that first triggered her interest.

And Evelyn, who for years has worked as literature teacher and has published a very popular songbook, took the plunge the year the Twins Towers came down.

“I was part of a group of women from Brooklyn who were looking for ways to help Klal Yisrael, especially our brethren in Israel. We wanted to prove our connection to the land and to our people. We met monthly and I recall one meeting in which we decided to adopt a sister city. Ariel was on our list, as were other cities. And then I had this sudden drive to adopt Kever Rachel. I took the floor and threw my suggestion out to the ladies.

“They loved it and agreed immediately.

“The year was 1995 when the die was cast; thus began my personal lifelong connection with Rachel Imeinu.

“So while I had had this brainwave I wasn’t quite sure how to actualize it. Together we decided that the first way to proceed was to raise public awareness of who Rachel actually was, and her relevance today. To do this we wanted people to research all the relevant sources in Tanach. Thus began the Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation.

“We began with the children first, going around to the Jewish girl schools in Brooklyn and advertising a writing competition on the subject of Rachel Imeinu. The best compositions would receive cash prizes.

“The contest was a massive hit. My mailbox was jammed with hundreds of stories; the creativity was simple astonishing and the feedback overwhelming. Teachers and principals offered their thanks and the girls themselves appreciated their new awareness and connection to Rachel.”

Later that year, Evelyn received an excited phone call from a woman who had decided that in honor of her granddaughter’s bas mitzvah the two of them were going to go to Israel and visit the holy sites, especially Kever Rachel.

Evelyn thought that this was a great idea and decided that she too would do the same.

“But I wanted to do more and more and I didn’t know what or how. So I bought a lottery ticket,” Evelyn laughs heartily. “And guess what? I won!”

Evelyn was the lucky winner of $26,000, which she used to finance the writing of a Sefer Torah for the Kever Rachel complex.

The day Evelyn approached a sofer and commissioned him to write the Sefer Torah was one of the most exciting ever. And when it was finally completed her excitement knew no bounds.

The Sefer Torah merited a double “send off” – one in Brooklyn and another in Israel. The U.S. one was scheduled for a rainy day during the week of Parshas Lech Lecha. Amazingly the rain held off while the dancing and singing crowds escorted the Torah to the shul; the minute it was indoors the rain fell once again. Evelyn’s eyes light up at the memory.

The Last Command

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

By now Moses had given 612 commands to the Israelites. But there was one further instruction he still had to give, the last of his life, the final mitzvah in the Torah:

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be My witness against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31: 19).

The oral tradition understood this to be a command that each Israelite should take part in the writing of a Sefer Torah. Here is how Maimonides states the law:

“Every male Israelite is commanded to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it says, ‘Now therefore write this song,’ meaning, ‘Write for yourselves [a complete copy of] the Torah that contains this song,’ since we do not write isolated passages of the Torah [but only a complete scroll]. Even if one has inherited a Torah scroll from his parents, nonetheless it is a mitzvah to write one for oneself, and one who does so is as if he had received [the Torah] from Mount Sinai. One who does not know how to write a scroll may engage [a scribe] to do it for him, and whoever corrects even one letter is as if he has written a whole scroll” (Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah 7:1).

There is something poetic in the fact that Moses left this law until the last. For it was as if he were saying to the next generation, and all future generations: “Do not think it is enough to be able to say, ‘My ancestors received the Torah from Moses.’ You must take it and make it new in every generation.” And so Jews did.

The Koran calls Jews “the people of the Book.” That is a great understatement. The whole of Judaism is an extended love story between a people and a book – between Jews and the Torah. Never has a people loved and honored a book more. They read it, studied it, argued with it, lived it. In its presence they stood as if it were a king. On Simchat Torah, they danced with it as if it were a bride. If, God forbid, it fell, they fasted. If one was no longer fit for use it was buried, as if it were a relative that had died.

For a thousand years they wrote commentaries to it in the form of the rest of Tanach (there were a thousand years between Moses and Malachi, the last of the prophets, and in the very last chapter of the prophetic books Malachi says, “Remember the Torah of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel”).

Then for another thousand years, between the last of the prophets and the closure of the Babylonian Talmud, they wrote commentaries to the commentaries in the form of the documents – Midrash, Mishnah and Gemara – of the Oral Law. Then for a further thousand years, from the Gaonim to the Rishonim to the Acharonim, they wrote commentaries to the commentaries to the commentaries in the form of biblical exegesis, law codes and works of philosophy. Until the modern age virtually every Jewish text was directly or indirectly a commentary to the Torah.

For a hundred generations it was more than a book. It was God’s love letter to the Jewish people, the gift of His word, the pledge of their betrothal, the marriage contract between heaven and the Jewish people, the bond that God would never break or rescind. It was the story of the people and their written constitution as a nation under God. When they were exiled from their land it became the documentary evidence of past promise and future hope. In a brilliant phrase the poet Heinrich Heine called the Torah “the portable homeland of the Jew.” In George Steiner’s gloss, “The text is home; each commentary a return.”

Dispersed, scattered, landless, powerless: so long as a Jew had the Torah he or she was at home – if not physically then spiritually. There were times when it was all they had. Hence the lacerating line in one of the liturgical poems in Neilah at the end of Yom Kippur: “Ein lanu shiur, rak haTorah hazot – We have nothing left except this Torah.”

A Megillas Esther In An Ir Hanidachas

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In this week’s parshah the Torah teaches the halachos of an ir hanidachas – a city where a majority of the inhabitants serve avodah zarah. The halacha is that all of the city’s inhabitants are killed and all of their possessions are burned.

There are several criteria that must be met in order for a city to attain the status of an ir hanidachas. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 71a quotes the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer: if there is even one mezuzah in the city, the entire city is not an ir hanidachas. This is because of the earlier words in this week’s parshah: “lo sa’asun kein l’Hashem Elokeichem – [destroy avodah zarah] but do not do so to Hashem your God.” We derive from here that one may not erase Hashem’s name. A mezuzah, which contains Hashem’s name, may not be destroyed. Thus the entire city cannot be burnt since this one article cannot be erased. (We do not pasken in accordance with this opinion; rather, we pasken that the holy writings are to be buried.)

The Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:2 says that erasing seven names of Hashem will cause one to receive lashes for having committed the transgression of erasing His name. There are other categories of things – kisvei hakodesh (holy writings) – that may not be erased, and similarly one may not destroy the Mizbeach or any part of the Beis HaMikdash. In the latter category, however, one may destroy them if it is for the purpose of reconstruction. One only violates this lav if one destroys it and does not intend to rebuild it.

It is for this reason that when one makes a mistake when writing a Sefer Torah, he may erase the mistake – except if the mistake is in the name of Hashem. Any other part of the Torah besides the name of Hashem has the status of kisvei hakodesh; hence it may be erased for reconstruction purposes. However, none of Hashem’s seven names can be erased, even for reconstruction purposes. Therefore, if a mistake occurs in the name of Hashem, a patch must be placed over it and one may write on the patch.

Several Achronim raised the following point and question on the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, cited above: How would Rabbi Eliezer hold if the ir hanidachas contained not a mezuzah or another article with Hashem’s name on it, but only kisvei hakodesh? For example, if only a Megillas Esther were present, would that make the city an ir hanidachas or would kisvei hakodesh also prevent the burning of the entire city — since it can only be destroyed for reconstruction purposes? Perhaps since the burning is a mitzvah, then that too is considered reconstructive and not destructive, and the city along with the Megillas Esther would be burnt.

The Mishnah in Sanhedrin 111b says that if there is kisvei hakodesh in the city it is buried, and that the rest of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions are burnt. The Gemara there (113a) says that this Mishnah is not in accordance with Rabbi Eliezer’s view. The Gemara seems to equate the halacha of when there is one mezuzah in the city to that of when there are any kisvei hakodesh.

Rashi, on Sanhedrin 71a, explained Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion this way: one mezuzah prevents the burning of the entire city because a mezuzah contains Hashem’s name that cannot be erased. Based on Rashi’s explanation, the halacha should not be the same regarding kisvei hakodesh since they can be erased for reconstructive purposes. This is evidence that the burning of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions is considered destructive, and thus the halacha of burning Hashem’s name is comparable to burning kisvei hakodesh.

The Minchas Chinuch explains that the reason that the burning of the possessions is considered destructive, even though it is a mitzvah, is because the mitzvah in this case is to destroy. Therefore, even kisvei hakodesh would prevent the entire city from being burnt since in this case they cannot be burnt.

I would like to suggest that perhaps the Gemara in Sanhedrin that equates kisvei hakodesh with Rabbi Eliezer’s view of a mezuzah is referring to kisvei hakodesh that contain Hashem’s name. However, kisvei hakodesh that do not contain Hashem’s name, i.e. Megillas Esther, would not prevent the burning of the city, and it would be burnt along with the rest of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions. The reason is that in this case, even though the mitzvah is to destroy, it nevertheless is considered reconstructive. As the pasuk in the Aleinu tefillah says: “…leha’avir gilulim min ha’aretz, vehaelilim karos yikareisun, lesakein olam bemalchus shakai – to remove detestable idolatry from the earth, and false gods will be utterly cut off, to perfect the universe through the Almighty’s sovereignty.” The destruction of avodah zarah is considered a tikun for the world. Therefore, as the mitzvah is to destroy and since it is avodah zarah that is being destroyed, it is considered a tikun.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Five: A Husband For Ruchel

Monday, July 16th, 2012

The next morning, Hevedke was waiting out on the road when Tevye and his Zionist entourage took up their journey. The two men stared at one another in silence.

“He has more guts than I thought,” Tevye brooded, giving the reins of the wagon a whip.

Hava was hoping that her father would give Hevedke a chance to prove his sincerity, but there was no sign of conciliation in her father’s angry expression. Hava herself was confused. Her heart was torn between a man she still loved, and the realization that the bond between them could never be sanctified as long as he belonged to the tormentors of her people. It wasn’t enough that Hevedke was ashamed of the evil decrees of the Czar. Unless he tore up all ties to his religion and his past, he would always remain one of them. Even if he were to fast a hundred days to prove his love for Hava, that would not be enough. Hava knew that he loved her. He had to prove he loved God by taking on the yoke of her people. Though Hava felt compassion and pity for Hevedke, she didn’t plead with her father to accept him into the fold. If she had listened to her parents in the first place, the whole painful situation would never have occurred. Now she wanted to make amends for the breach she had rent in the family. She wanted to be faithful to her father. She wanted to show her mother in Heaven that she was sorry for the pain she had caused. So sitting beside her father as their wagon drove down the road, Hava fought off her desire to gaze at the man she had lived with only a short time before. She stared forward at the future as if Hevedke did not exist, as if they had never crossed paths, trusting that one way or the other, God would restore peace to her torn, aching heart.

That evening they reached the Jewish shtetl of Branosk. The ultra-religious community was smaller than the Jewish community of Anatevka, but the sights, sounds, and smells were the same. The same wooden porches, tiled roofs, and shutters. The same sagging, weathered barns which stood erect by a miracle. The same aroma of horses, chickens, and soups. The same beards and black skullcaps on the men, and kerchiefs and shawls on the women. Even the fiery red sunset had been stolen from Anatevka and pasted over the Branosk forest.

The villagers rushed out of their houses when they heard that pioneers on the way to the Promised Land had arrived in the shtetl. Children and teenagers crowded around Tevye’s wagon. They all wore the caps and long curling peyes sidelocks which distinguished the Branosk community. Apparently, they had seen other Zionists, but the sight of Tevye, a bearded, God fearing Jew among them, was a novelty to be sure. Ben Zion jumped up on a porch and tried to deliver a spirited harangue, inviting the townspeople to throw off the yoke of the Russians and join them in rebuilding the ancient Jewish homeland, but he only drew heckles and a rotten tomato. Tevye and his daughters attracted a far larger crowd.

Where was he going, they wanted to know? To Eretz Yisrael, he answered, the Land of Israel. With the heretics, they asked? Tevye said that by accident they were traveling together, for safety along the way. But, Tevye assured them, his family was headed for a settlement more religious than the city of Vilna – in God’s Chosen Land. What could be better than that? For hadn’t they heard? The great Baron Rothschild, may he live several lifetimes, was building “frum,” God fearing communities throughout the Holy Land. Everyone who came got a villa and acres of orchards bursting with olives, pomegranates, fig trees, and dates.

People bombarded Tevye with questions. He answered with authority, as if he truly knew, as if he were the Baron’s agent, auctioning off parcels of land. When a question came his way for which he did not have an answer, he responded with a verse or two of Torah. One thing was clear – the expulsion which had hit Anatevka was sure to reach Branosk. Surely they had heard that the Czar’s Cossacks had been thundering throughout Russia, slaughtering thousands of Jews. Now was the time to flee for their lives. Now was the time to stop praying for God to take them to Zion, and let their feet do the talking instead.

Your Tax Dollars in Action

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Left to right, at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, Naval Station Pearl Harbor, are Susan Hodge, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Timothy Koester, Chaplain, Capt. Donald Hodge, chief of staff for commander, Navy Region Hawaii and commander of the Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific and Rabbi Moshe Drum, writing the last letters in a new Sefer Torah during a Torah dedication ceremony, Oct. 26, 2008. The new Torah is being used by military families stationed in Hawaii.

The Three Weeks And The Nine Days

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

One does not have to be superstitious to recognize facts. It is a historical fact that the period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Tenth of Av was plagued by recurring tragedies.

The door to our troubles first opened on that Seventeenth day of Tammuz when Moses walked in on the worshippers of the golden calf and shattered the tablets of the law. On the same date, both in the era of the First Temple and Second Temple, the daily sacrifice, known as the Tamid, which expunged the sins of the Jews and granted them divine amnesty, was brought to a halt. On the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the walls of the Second Temple were breached by the enemy that ultimately razed the Temple to the ground on Tisha B’Av. Again, on the same date, Apustomus (circa 150 BCE), one of the Syrian leaders with whom the Hellenists collaborated in the persecution of religious Jews in Israel, publicly torched a Sefer Torah. And on the seventeenth of Tammuz, Menasheh, king of Judah, erected an idol in the Temple. For these reasons, this period is called “Between the Straits” (“bein hametzarim”), based on the verse in Lamentations that “all [Israel’s] persecutors overtook her between the straits.”

Thus, based on the laws of personal mourning, the Three Weeks, from the Seventeenth of Tammuz to the Tenth of Av, are observed as a period of national mourning. In the case of a personal tragedy, such as the death of a relative, the mourning commences after the event, with the observance of the most severe restrictions of the shiva, followed by the less severe restrictions of the shloshim, followed by the least severe restrictions of the eleven months.

In the case of Tisha B’Av, the reverse is true. The mourning commences before the event, with the observance of the least severe restrictions (akin to the eleven months) during the First Period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Rosh Chodesh Av. Stricter restrictions of mourning follow during the Second Period between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’Av. The strictest restrictions of mourning are observed on Tisha B’Av itself.

Accordingly, commencing with the First Period, between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Rosh Chodesh Av, the following are some of the activities that should be avoided: Weddings; playing musical instruments for pleasure; and reciting the blessing (“Shehecheyanu”) in connection with the wearing of new garments or the tasting of new fruit. Some practice the custom of refraining from shaving or cutting hair even during the First Period.

The following activities may be indulged in during the First Period: Engagements, with or without a festive meal, until Rosh Chodesh Av; pidyon haben (ceremony of redemption of a firstborn), even after Rosh Chodesh Av; and attending a brit with a festive (milk or meat) meal up to noon on Erev Tisha B’Av. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, the First Period commences on the morning of the Seventeenth of Tammuz rather than the night following the Sixteenth of Tammuz.

Commencing with the Second Period, between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’Av, the following are some of the additional activities that should be avoided: Consumption of meat and poultry; drinking wine; laundering or wearing freshly laundered clothing; swimming; painting or other forms of home decorating; planting flowers and plants; as well as any risky activity (such as lawsuits, scheduled surgery, and travel, to the extent it can be postponed without adverse effect).

On Shabbat during the nine days, one may don freshly laundered clothes, eat meat and drink wine, including Havdalah wine. Similarly, the usual Shabbat songs should be sung both in the synagogue and at home. A commonly employed and permissible device regarding the prohibition of wearing fresh clothes during the nine days is to don them for a moment or two before the nine days.

Tradition has it that the Temple was destroyed due to petty hatred. Accordingly, it is particularly important during the bein hametzarim, as always, to set the record straight with kindness and consideration.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.

My Machberes

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Emergency Call From Woodbourne

The historic B’nai Israel of Synagogue in Woodbourne, New York, under the leadership of Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis, beloved Nikolsburger Rebbe, has issued an emergency call for help in finalizing its preparations to serve the Catskills region and beyond this summer.

The Department of Buildings has determined the shul’s roof, built in 1922, is no longer safe. A simple calculation of the number of minyanim daily, including Shabbos and Sunday, and the average number of mispallelim at each minyan, tells us the shul had upward of 60,000 visits last summer. With so many people using the shul, the safety of its structure is an absolute necessity.

B'nai Israel Synagogue in Woodbourne

On January 15, 1999, the B’nai Israel Synagogue, with its signature outdoor menorah, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. With its present expanded function, the shul has now also achieved a place in Jewish history as the first shul to have non-stop minyanim in the Catskills. With the shul officially recognized as a historic building, expert workmanship is required to restore the its roof to meet the necessary safety regulations.

Work on the roof work is underway. However, its cost is daunting. Though much emotional and spiritual support has been and continues to be carried by the shul and the Nikolsburger Rebbe, outside financial support is critically needed. The cost of the roof and related expenses totals more than $100,000. With summer just about here, completing the work is now an emergency.

Even the regular day-to-day financial burden of maintaining the warm setting is considerable. Those wishing to use their tzedakah dollars most effectively should consider helping to underwrite this particularly noble effort. Assisting the shul at this time is worth exertion and self-sacrifice. Assuming a share in the tefillahs and Torah-learning taking place at the Woodbourne Shul will surely be noted and rewarded by the Kadosh Baruch Hu.

* * * * *

During the summer months Woodbourne, officially classified as a hamlet of the town of Fallsburg, sees a dramatic population increase with the influx of observant Jews from all over the greater New York City metropolitan area. Businesses there thrive from the July 4th weekend through Labor Day.

This is the third summer that B’nai Israel Synagogue, on Route 52 (Main Street), will serve the entire Catskills with its 24/7 full-service open-door operations. It exerts a powerful magnetic force throughout the Catskills, with a minyan every fifteen minutes (or even more frequently) and often multiple minyanim in its main sanctuary, beis medrash, and vestibule, drawing mispallelim from the length and breadth of the vacation region and beyond. The Woodbourne Shul now ranks with such famous minyan venues as Shomrei Shabbos in Boro Park, Veretzkier in Flatbush, and Lederman in Bnei Brak.

Nikolsburger Rebbe

Prior to the summer of 2010, the Nikolsburger Rebbe formally met with the B’nai Israel administration, and with their overwhelming support assumed leadership of the Woodbourne Shul. The board of B’nai Israel must be applauded for their many years of self-sacrifice in preserving the facility. Though the shul had not been fully utilized for years, the board’s resilience in its maintenance must be recognized as an important part of its present spectacular success.

During the regular school year Rabbi Jungreis tirelessly serves as rebbe at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, where he has infused thousands of children through the years with passionate Yiddishkeit. In addition, he leads Beis Medrash Khal Chassidei Nikolsburg-Kollel Boro Park at 4912 Sixteenth Avenue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood. There, Rabbi Jungreis exercises a captivating pull on chassidishe youth at risk. This special effort continues in Woodbourne during the summer.

Chassidim of Rabbi Jungreis have again freshened and upgraded the Woodbourne Shul in preparation for the summer season. As in years past, they have rented a home across the street to serve as the Nikolsburger Rebbe’s summer residence.

With the walk-in lower level of the shul having been lovingly refurbished and turned into a large beis medrash with walls of sefarim and Judaica, the shul now comfortably accommodates more than one minyan at a time.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/my-machberes/my-machberes-22/2012/06/21/

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