We are taught that everything we go through in our lives is found in the text of the weekly Torah portion. How fitting it is to finish reading the fourth book of the Torah, the book of Numbers, which reminds us of all the journeys we have walked, and continue to walk on. Rabbi Shlomo Katz and Ari Abramowitz discuss the question, how does one learn to walk the streets of the world?The Land of Israel
Posts Tagged ‘TORAH’
More than seven decades after the devastation of the Jewish community of Poland, there are still new discoveries being made on a regular basis.
Recently a genizah of old Torah fragments called yeriot was discovered in the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw. The Nozyk Synagogue was the only synagogue out of some 400 in Warsaw to survive the Shoah because the Germans decided to desecrate it by turning the beautiful, sacred place into a stable for their horses.
“We don’t know the exact origins of the genizah,” said Rabbi Moshe Bloom, rosh kollel of Nozyk, “but we can conjecture that after the Shoah the Nozyk Synagogue was returned to the Jewish community of Warsaw and it became a magnet for all things Jewish.
“Over the years, non-Jewish Poles would at times approach the synagogue, sometimes to honor lost friends, sometimes out curiosity, sometimes out of guilt. Some brought with them artifacts that they had kept hidden in their homes and felt a responsibility to return them. The Torah fragments were collected for eventual burial as prescribed by Jewish law.”
When I was recently in Warsaw Rabbi Bloom asked if I would be able to raise money to bury them with proper kavod and ceremony.
I wondered whether anybody had examined them.
“Why?” he asked.
Because, I told him, Torah scrolls from the pre-Shoah period had often been used for hundreds of years and therefore might have unique characteristics that are no longer in use. I asked Rabbi Bloom if I could examine the scrolls. He gave me permission to look them over and even photograph them.
The genizah consists of about 30 fragments (there are no complete scrolls), some only one or two columns and others much larger. Some showed signs of fire or water damage, slashes from knives, and other ravages of age and war. Almost all sections of the Torah are represented in the collection, from Bereishit to the end of Devarim.
Upon examination, I found that most of the fragments were very similar to those one would find in any synagogue today. A few of them looked to be over five hundred years old due to some of the variant letter shapes and tagim (crowns) that are no longer used.
When I returned to New York I visited with Rabbi Traube of Bais Hastam on 13th Avenue in Boro Park. An expert in the laws, and lore of Torah scrolls, he helped me understand some of the history behind the strange letter forms.
He explained that tradition tells us that the form of the Torah we have today was copied by Eli HaKohen off the stones that Joshua had set up when he brought the Jews into the land of Israel after the death of Moses.
For thousands of years these letter forms were the way all Torah scrolls were written; it was only about 400 years ago that they began to be used less and less frequently. The Chatam Sofer in his Teshuvah 265 says that Jews stopped using them after a Torah scroll from Tzefat was found without them. He explains that the special letters and tagim were used to remind people of certain lessons in the Torah but since we do not learn from Torah scrolls (other than during prayers) they should no longer be used.
There are many books that describe the different letters and tagim. Torah Sheleimah by Menachem Mendel Kasher covers many of the letter forms and lists many sources. Sefer Tagi lists different letters and reports that the letter peh with the special shape can be found 191 times, the letter lamed 26 times, and the letter ayin eight times.
The final disposition of the Nozyk genizah is still being decided. Many of the badly damaged yeriot will be buried while some of the others will be put on display thanks to generous support from Monika Krawczyk of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (www.fodz.pl). The proposed exhibit will be located in the synagogue in the town of Leczna and hopefully include the complete story of stam — the writing of Torahs, mezuzahs, and tefillin.
Rabbi Traube of Bais Hastam was excited about the exhibit and is looking forward to making a special trip to Poland to examine the fragments for himself.
“It is rare enough to find a genizah,” he said. “We would be lucky to find one or two interesting items in a genizah but here they have so many it is truly a historic find.”
Editor’s Note: For more information, to organize a lecture, or help support the genizah project, contact Shmuel Ben Eliezer, who serves as the project’s director of research and development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.Shmuel Ben Eliezer
One look at her face reveals Yael Eckstein’s passion for a world of kindness. Her face also reveals her fiery resolve to help make this world, especially the Jewish world, more embracing and generous. Her methods are manifold: teaching in schools, lecturing to international audiences, personally visiting the elderly and providing vital supplies to the needy.
Yael is the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which provides great financial assistance to Israel.
From among three sisters, Yael was picked and groomed by her father to assume a leadership position in the Fellowship. In 2010 she was appointed director of program development and ministry outreach. In 2011 she was promoted to senior vice president.
Yet, she considers motherhood a top priority among her activities. Yael is a mother of three and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children, where, although she is admired as a high-ranking leader of a major organization and a published writer, she delights in living a family life. As an academic, teaching Judaic Studies, she exclaims with joy: “We not only study the Bible here in Israel, we get to see it come alive.”
Yael Eckstein put into writing her ecstasy at having made aliyah. Her book Holy Land Reflections (2012) is a collection of inspirational insights. Two years later she wrote Spiritual Cooking with Yael (2014). “Any physical act can be transformed into a spiritual experience with the proper thoughts and intention. In this book you will get the simple and healthy recipes to all of my favorite dishes, and learn how to integrate Bible verses, teachings, and meditations into the seemingly mundane act of cooking. After experiencing this new spiritual cooking experience, not only will cooking become an enjoyable and meaningful experience for you, but the food that you make will be embodied with good and holy energies,” Yael declares with enthusiasm.
In addition, she regularly blogs and writes op-eds for The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Yael had an amazingly extensive education both in Jewish and secular studies from American and Israeli institutions. She took Jewish and sociology classes at Queens College in New York, and biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
As senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Yael Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the $100-million organization. She has also addressed international events, including a Briefing and Panel Discussion on Religious Persecution in the Middle East in Washington, D.C.
In 2014, Eckstein was named “One of Israel’s 100 Most Influential Women” by Makor Rishon, a conservative Israeli newspaper, and in 2015 she was featured on the cover of Nashim, a prestigious magazine.
“Yael Eckstein is a uniquely gifted professional who has been called to be an ambassador for The Fellowship, an advocate for those in need, and a passionate voice for the vision and mission originally bestowed upon Rabbi Eckstein, the IFCJ’s founder and president, some three decades ago,” said board chairman John French.Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson
One can find a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary almost anywhere in the world — but how many viewers expect to find a rabbinical expert on kosher laws competiting for the top prize on the Food Network’s ‘Chopped‘ show?
The irrepressible Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, 31, actually won second place as a contestant on the popular program, in an episode titled “Leap of Faith” in which he competed alongside a priest, a pastor and a nun.
Hecht grew up in Brooklyn, NY as one of 10 children and told Chabad.org that he managed to stay in his mother’s good graces by helping his mother in the kitchen. Those skills came in handy later in life when he began whipping up Sabbath meals at home with his own wife, Tzivie; the two are co-directors of Chabad Dutchess-Rhinebeck Jewish Center in Upstate New York.
The clerics were tasked with preparing an appetizer, entree and dessert using secret basket ingredients revealed at the start of each round, timed in 20, 30 and 30-minute increments.
It was the rabbi’s expertise in kosher laws that he said brought him to the show, which he saw as an opportunity to educate millions about kosher food, and to debunk some myths about it as well.
“The experience was phenomenal,” Hecht said. “The producers were very accommodating and sensitive to my needs and requirements.”
Those requirements were part of the agreement for the rabbi’s participation on the show, which found him due to his role as a guest lecturer at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. It was one of CIA’s professional chefs that nominated him to appear on “Chopped.”
Hecht said he’s “always enjoyed cooking,” so before he appeared on the show, “some of the chefs at CIA coached me and gave me lessons” as a way to reciprocate for his lectures of past years.
The rabbi noted that the experience emphasized for him “how no other religion requires both the ingredients and food preparation to be within certain guidelines. The other contestants didn’t have the same restrictions… [It] helped me to appreciate even more the responsibility and reward of keeping kosher.”
One of the biggest challenges, of course, was the fact that because the studio kitchen was not kosher, the rabbi could not taste any of the food. To compensate, Hecht asked the pastor to sample the condiment levels in his dishes for him.
For those who are wondering what a Chabad rabbi might create as a gourmet chef for the Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ competition, the episode (Season 28, Episode 13) aired on June 21 and is set to be rebroadcast. It is also available on demand.
Rabbi Hecht created a salmon stew for the appetizer that included raw white honey and Ezekiel bread. His entree was a Lebanese-style lamb and rice dish with a jalapeno-based relish he called “the rabbi’s heat.” But his most successful dish was the dessert — a rugelach made with fig, macadamia nut and hamantash filling (the latter was a basket ingredient), alongside a rainbow carrot tzimmes and fresh non-dairy whipped cream (since meat was served in the main dish).
The spirit was congenial among the competitors and the judges, said the rabbi. As Sister Sara Marks noted, “We all have God in common.”Hana Levi Julian
“Hoy! Kol tzmaei l’chu lamaim – All who thirst, go to water” (Yeshayahu 50:1). The words of the navi refer to the concept of dedication and cleaving to Torah. For there is no thirst like that of a man parched for lack of learning and there is no water like that of Torah. This remarkable idea has been internalized by countless Jews who have done without the material benefits of life and who have suffered the pangs of hunger and destitution so that they might have the opportunity to learn the holy words of the Almighty.
And of all these unsung heroes none stands out more than the great Hillel HaZakein.
Not By Bread Alone
Hillel was a modest man living in Bavel. Poor and destitute, he desired nothing more than being close to Hashem and His teachings.
Hearing that in Eretz Yisrael, in the city of Yerushalayim, Shmaya and Avtalyon, the great chachamim of the time, had founded a beis midrash, Hillel decided to leave his home and travel there to hear Torah from them.
After saying goodbye to his father, Hillel took his family to Yerushalayim and visited the home of his wealthy brother who had established himself there years before.
“I have come to learn Torah,” Hillel said to his brother, “and I beg of you to give me a few coins a day to support my family in order that I may have as much time as I need for study.” His brother, however, who was obsessed with the idea of making money, could not understand such a request and turned him down.
Hillel realized that if he desired to learn it would be up to him to find another way. He decided to hire himself out for any available work and labor till he made one dinar a day. Half of this would go to support his family and the other half would go to pay for his place in the beis medrash.
He did this every day and never had he been so happy. If only he could do this for the rest of his life he would count himself as the most fortunate of men.
One day, however, Hillel went into the streets seeking work and there was none to be found. Desperately he went from place to place, but everywhere the response was the same, “Today, there is nothing.” Coming to the beis midrash, he tried to explain to the guard why he had no money, but his pleas were to no avail and he was turned away.
Although heartsick, he thought to himself that there must be some way to hear the words of the sages! And then he had an idea. The roof of the beis midrash was covered in one area by a skylight. If he could climb up there, he could put his ear to it and hear the lesson being given.
And so Hillel quickly climbed to the roof and, just as he imagined, by straining his ears he could just make out the words. He was delighted that he would not have to miss the lesson that day and as he became engrossed in the intricate lesson he be came oblivious to all that went on about him.
Soon, the winter sky, leaden and overcast, opened up and a heavy snow began to descend. It quickly covered the ground and the people in the marketplace and the streets hurriedly gathered their belongings and rushed to the comfort and safety of warm houses. Not so Hillel. He was not even aware of the cold, wet snow as he lay enraptured by the sweet words of Torah.Rabbi Sholom Klass
On Shavuos we will once again commemorate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai some 3,300 years ago. The holiday is celebrated with great joy, as we remember this most seminal and transformative moment in our nation’s history. We appreciate the tremendous gift that is the Torah, and reflect upon the unbroken chain of mesorah (tradition) that has spanned all the generations from Sinai to our day.
This tradition was often transmitted and preserved amid great difficulty and persecution. There were many giants of Torah who lived their lives under the most oppressive of circumstances, including torture, forced relocation, and worse.
In most cases, these challenges to Torah study came from without. However, there have been times in our history when our worst enemies came from within.
Such was the case during the reign of Alexander Yannai, a Hasmonean ruler during the first century BCE. It was only through the heroic actions of a few great leaders that the Torah again reoccupied its rightful place of eminence.
* * * * *
Alexander Yannai served as king and kohen gadol for twenty-seven years, from 103-76 BCE. He was a member of the Tzadukkim (Sadducees), a prominent group during the Second Temple period that rejected the authenticity of such basic Jewish tenets as the Oral Law, reward and punishment, and olam haba. Yannai was married to the righteous Shlomtzion, who prevailed upon her husband to deal kindly with his opposition, the Perushim (Pharisees).
Shlomtzion’s brother, Shimon ben Shetach, was the leading sage of the time. Yannai conferred with Shimon on both political and religious matters. However, this peaceful, productive arrangement would not last long.
Foremost on Yannai’s mind was a desire to expand Judah to an even greater extent than his predecessors had done – the Hasmonean state would reach its largest territorial size and political power during his reign. He was particularly focused on securing the Mediterranean coast and its port cities, which included Acco in the north and Gaza in the south. He also aimed to expand Jewish holdings in Transjordan.
Early on, Yannai had much success. Between 103 and 95 BCE he used an army consisting primarily of foreign mercenary soldiers, as well as an alliance formed with Cleopatra III of Egypt, to secure the entire coastal region from the hands of her son and rival, Ptolemy Lathyrus.
Hasmonean territory soon extended all the way south to the Egyptian border. Yannai was also victorious over numerous Greek cities in Transjordan known as the Decapolis.
Despite his numerous military accomplishments, Yannai failed to garner the support of the Perushim for his ambitions. They were unimpressed with his selfish goals of personal triumph and glory. They further resented his use of mercenaries, who drained the Judean economy. Many also found fault with Yannai’s insistence on occupying the positions of both king and kohen gadol.
Over the next twelve years, a sizable rift developed between Yannai and his people, one that would lead to internal violence, bloodshed, and civil war. Many sages were tortured and killed. Others were forced to seek refuge, either by fleeing the country or going into hiding.
The Tzadukkim took advantage of the situation. Using their close relationship with Yannai, they secured practically every significant political position for their party. Even the Sanhedrin came under Sadducean control, and their insistence on a literal interpretation of the Torah guaranteed errors in judgment. It also resulted in the appointment of ignorant men to the role of kohen gadol.
Ignorance and spiritual decline were becoming a real issue for the Perushim as well. Too few teachers remained active in the land to adequately teach Torah to the next generation of students. In the words of the Gemara (Kiddushin 66a), “The world was desolate” from lack of Torah.Rabbi Dr. Naphtali Hoff
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes that the absolute unity of the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel can only be fully understood by the deep and holy thinkers amongst the Jewish People. Obviously, Avigdor Lieberman is not among them. In his first address as Israel’s new Minister of Defense, he stated, “When there is a conflict between the values of the unity of the Nation or the wholeness of the Land, the unity of the Nation comes first.” He said this to justify his support of a two-state solution. Besides showing his disdain for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who fervently believe that all of the Land of Israel should be under Israeli sovereignty, he doesn’t understand the deep spiritual connection between the Nation and the Land.
Just as Hashem is One, the Land of Israel and the Nation of Israel are one. Just as you cannot divide the Torah, you cannot divide the Nation, nor the Land. If you do, G-d forbid, you shatter the light of Hashem in the world. The wholeness of the Torah and the wholeness of the Nation, and of the Land of Israel, go together, like the wholeness of Hashem.
Rabbi Kook chose to begin his book, “Orot,” his classic study on the Nation of Israel in our time, with a chapter on the Land of Israel. In his very first sentence, he writes:
“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the Nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual.
“Eretz Yisrael is an independent unit, bound with a living attachment with the Nation, bound with inner Segulot with the Nation’s existence.
“As a result, it is impossible to comprehend the essence of the inner Segula of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and to reveal the depths of its love, through any form of human conceptualization; but only through the Spirit of Hashem which acts on the Nation as a whole… and which beats in the hearts of the holy thinkers and those who are involved in the deep contemplations of Israel.”
In this essay and our next, we will try to explain this very deep concept, which is explained in greater depth in our book, “Eretz Yisrael,” which I wrote with Rabbi David Samson. https://www.createspace.com/3604549
To comprehend the depths of Rabbi Kook’s writing, we first must recognize that the world has both a physical and spiritual dimension. A world perspective encompassing the physical and spiritual worlds does not come easily. Much work is needed to activate our inner natures, and to cultivate our spiritual powers. This is our task as Jews and as a holy Nation – to link the physical world with the Divine. As Rabbi Kook makes clear, Eretz Yisrael is the G-d given place ideally suited for this task.
Upon a superficial examination, one might think that our attachment to Eretz Yisrael is based merely on a historical relationship, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. Rabbi Kook rejects this understanding outright. He calls upon us to probe beyond surface explanations toward a much deeper contemplation. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. The connection is a deep spiritual bond. Rabbi Kook tells us that Eretz Yisrael is an intrinsic and inseparable part of the Nation, a deep inner root of the Nation’s existence – and not merely a branch.
For instance, our connection to Eretz Yisrael is not dependent on history. Eretz Yisrael was given to Avraham Avinu without previous historical connection. The bond between Avraham and the Land was
not based on any external reason. The Brit between Avraham and the Land was Divine. Only in the Holy Land can the NATIONAL life of the Chosen People be totally uplifted to G-d. Prophecy, and the many mitzvot which are unique to the Land, and the Beit Hamikdash’s exclusive location only in Jerusalem, are all manifestations of this Divine connection. It is an attachment based on Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, beyond scientific inquiry and rational explanation. This first essay of Orot introduces us to this higher vision and to the need to perceive Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael in a deeper, more poignant light. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
“Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter.”
The Hebrew word, “Hitzoni,” in this important first sentence has the meaning of external, superficial, peripheral, secondary; a side matter lacking central importance – something which is not integrally vital to existence. Before explaining what the Land of Israel is in positive terms, Rabbi Kook tells us what the Land of Israel is not. He first rejects the mistaken understanding which views Eretz Yisrael as a means to a goal, and not as a goal in itself. He wants to negate the opinion which maintains that while the Land of Israel has historical and even strategic importance, it is not something vital to Jewish existence. People like Avigor Lieberman who don’t understand this are willing to let foreign peoples, and enemies of the Jewish People, rule over large chunks of the Land of Israel.
A simple example will help us understand the difference between an external matter and the central matter itself. When a person wakes up in the morning, he dresses and begins his daily routines. The clothes he chooses to wear are an important part of his day, but they are not the person himself. While there is a popular expression, “The clothes make the man,” one readily recognizes the superficiality of this phrase. Though a person may feel more attractive wearing a blue shirt than a
black one, his choice of attire does not represent his essential self. Joseph Cohen remains Joseph Cohen whatever suit of clothes he wears.
In the case of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, the relationship is not an external one. The connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is not a peripheral matter. On the contrary, the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel are inseparably united. As Rabbi Kook will explain, the Land of Israel is an absolute foundation of the Jewish Nation. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel are not the essential Jewish People, but rather a mere shadow of their inner potential.
The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our Homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.
This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish People. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the Nation which brings the word and blessing of G-d to the world. As we will learn, our NATIONAL attachment to G-d, and the blessing it funnels to the world, can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.
Eretz Yisrael is the Land where the Shechinah appears, and where prophecy is transmitted to the Jewish People. Eretz Yisrael is the only place on earth where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The commandments themselves were only given to be performed in Israel (See Ramban, Vayikra, 18:25). Our Sages teach that the commandments which we perform in the Diaspora are only reminders so we won’t forget how to do them until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Sifre, Ekev, 11:18). The true value of the mitzvot is only in Eretz Yisrael. Outside the Land, the precepts have an educational value, but the Torah repeatedly tells us that Eretz Yisrael is the place for their performance. Accordingly, our Rabbis have told us that dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah, 80).
The Gaon of Vilna writes that in the Diaspora, we are like bodies lacking spirit – the physical shell of a people without inner life, scattered individuals and not our own sovereign Nation (Likutei HaGra, end of Safra D’Tzniuta. Ezekiel, 37, 12-14).
This seems preposterous. After all, the Jewish People survived in exile for nearly 2000 years. Many of our greatest Torah scholars lived in galut. Profound Talmudic works were written there. Orthodox communities thrived all over the world. How can this vast Jewish achievement be considered a mere physical shell lacking spirit?
First, it must be made clear that the lack of life and spirit referred to is not on the individual level, but in reference to our national life as Clal Yisrael. A proper understanding of Clal Yisrael, of the Jewish People as a whole, is vital to an encompassing understanding of Torah, and to the writings of Rabbi Kook. To understand the life-giving connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, we first have to comprehend who we are as a Clal. The normal definition of a Clal is a collective, a gathering of individuals for the purpose of furthering a common goal. In a partnership, when the goals have been achieved, the
partners can split up and go their own way. The partnership or collective never takes on a life of its own, but rather only exists to serve the needs of its members. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Clal Yisrael is not just the sum total of the Jewish People at any one time. It is the eternal soul of the Nation, past, present, and future. It is a Divine creation, above time and physical space, which was formed before the world came into existence. The soul of the Jewish People, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one. Their roots exist in transcendental unity in the most exalted realms of the Divine. They cannot be divided. For the Shechinah and Hashem’s blessing to appear in the world, the Torah, and the Jewish People, and the Land of Israel must be whole – all of the Jewish People, living a full life of Torah, in all of the Land of Israel.
The new Defense Minister doesn’t understand any of this, so he spouts what he spouts. Before continuing in his new job, he should sit down in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and learn a little something about the Land and the Nation he is supposed to defend – rather than being so willing to surrender our Homeland it to others. Rachmonis!
(To be continued…)