Monday, August 17, 2009

Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva - June 19, 2009

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The school year draws to a close this week, as students finished reviewing their Shabbat learning, and began taking their final tests, and we all prepared for our semikha ceremony this coming Sunday.

We are very excited about our upcoming semikha ceremony, where we will be ordaining 11 new rabbis:

Maurice Appelbaum
Benjamin Berger
Kenneth Birnbaum
Steven Exler
Daniel Braune Friedman
Benjamin Greenberg
Drew Kaplan
Michael Katzman
Benjamin Shiller
Devin Villarreal
Eric Zaff

I would like to invite any of you who are in the area to attend our semikha ceremony, which will take place at 10:30am at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th Street (between Park and Lexington).

We should all take pride in this wonderful new group of YCT musmachim, in the hard work that they have put in for the last four years, in their dedication to Klal Yisrael, and for the wonderful work that they will be doing in the larger Jewish community, in harbatzat Torah, halakhic and spiritual guidance, pastoral counseling, and religious leadership. Kol HaKavod and Mazel Tov to this wonderful group of individuals and soon-to-be rabbis.

Happenings at the Yeshiva

In addition to the final push of chazara and test-taking, we had the opportunity for some special simchas, sichot, and events. On Monday, we hosted a sheva berakhot for our student, Mordechai Harris, and his wife, Nisa (Davidovics) Harris, of Teaneck, who were married on Sunday. We enjoyed the lovely weather, and had lunch on the porch, with singing, music and divrei Torah.

Prior to the sheva berakhot, Josh Frankel shared briefly with students some of his experiences on his recent trip with other rabbinical and Protestant seminary students to Israel to engage Israelis and Palestinians, run under the auspices of the Auburn Seminary (see 9/News/New_York.html). We hope to hear more from him and from Jeremy Baruch, who participated in the program together with him, when we resume in Elul.

Both Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Blanchard gave sichot this week as final reflections before the summer break. Rabbi Blanchard asked students to reflect on what religious lessons they learned from the halakhot of Shabbat that they could apply more broadly towards other areas of life. Answers were thoughtful and varied, ranging from the importance of kavvana, intent, and how intentionality can transform the meaning and significance of an act, to the significance of borer, the prohibited act of selecting, from which we can learn that when we encounter complex situations in our lives, ones which are mixtures of good and bad, we have to determine how to take the ochel, the food, from the psolet, the contaminant, and not the reverse. The take-away from such experiences - whether good or bad - is in our hands.

Rabbi Weiss spoke about the trait of humility as an honest recognition of one's abilities, coupled with a recognition that these talents are a gift from God. As such, we have an obligation to use them to the best of our ability, and to serve God and Klal Yisrael, as best as we possibly can, but each one of us in his or her unique and individual way. Thus, we should all take pride in the wide-ranging and varied leadership that our students and musmachim are brining to the Jewish community, each one utilizing his distinctive talents to the benefit of Klal Yisrael. He ended by encouraging the students to seek out opportunities for using their talents in such ways in their many activities over the summer.

Rav Nati also spoke this Wednesday, on the topic of "The Halakhic Date of Shavuot," a special shiur in memory of his father, Shlomo David ben Moshe, and Dina Rachel Helfgot, z"l. May his father's neshama have an aliyah.

It has been a wonderful year at Chovevei this year, with the entire yeshiva learning hilkhot Shabbat together. Students applied themselves to their learning with hatmada and seriousness, and there was great growth in learning and a strong kol Torah in the yeshiva throughout the year. They have also excelled in their activities outside the yeshiva, from teaching shiurim in shuls, to Torah classes at the Skirball Center, to teaching chatanim and kallot, to chaplaincy work, to social justice work, and to Israel advocacy. We eagerly look forward to seeing our fourth year students become rabbis this Sunday, and to welcoming back all the younger years, together with next year's students, this coming Elul. They should go from strength to strength!

A Thought on the Parsha

In closing, I would like to share a short thought on the parasha that I gave at Mordechai and Nisa's sheva berakhot.

Ramban raises an important and central question regarding the mission of the spies and their report. Why were they punished, he asks, if all they did was report accurately on what they saw? Ramban focuses on the word efes, "however," and what that signified of their lack of faith in God. I would like to suggest that the key is a different word, not one that they used, but one that they failed to use, tova, "good". Moshe instructed them to search out the land, in particular to assess the military strength of the inhabitants, and the best tactics for invading and conquering the land. God had promised to give them the land, but it was their responsibility to wage the war as strategically and intelligently as possible. However, there is a troubling phrase in Moshe's instructions: "And what of the land, is it good or bad?" This is not a question of description and facts, but calls for an evaluative assessment, and one that seems to be unrelated to questions of military strategy. Is this land that God has promised us good or not? That is quite an astounding question, given that God had explicitly told Moshe earlier that God would bring them to a good land, one flowing in milk and honey (Ex. 3:8). As a result, a number of commentators explain that this was really also a question of a military assessment, and not meant as one of overall judgment. Be that as it may, when the spies came back, they accurately reported that the land was flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27), but they failed to say that it was "good." They refused to give it their approval and to affirm God's promise.

This was the crux of Calev and Yehoshua's response, "the land that we have passed through to spy out is exceedingly good." The spies saw their mission to evaluate whether the endeavor was worth it. They used their findings to determine if the land - and the enterprise - was a good one or not. Calev and Yehoshua, on the other hand, came in committed to the goodness of the land and the rightness of the enterprise, and their mission - as they properly understood it - was only to determine how to make this enterprise succeed. If one is not a priori committed to an enterprise, if one does not believe that the land is good, then every problem looms large, every challenge becomes an obstacle. However, if there is a fundamental belief in God's promise and in the goodness of the land, then whatever the problems and whatever the challenges, they can be met and dealt with - "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!"

The Gemara (Berakhot 8a; Yevamot 63b) tells us that when a man got married in Israel, they would ask him "matza or motzei" - "found or find?" Matza, as the verse states, "matza isha matza tov" -" a man who has found a woman, has found goodness," or motzei, as the verse states, "u'motzei ani mar mimavet et ha'isha" - "and I find more bitter than death, the woman." On the face of it, this was a roundabout way of asking the man if his wife was a good match for him or not (bracketing the harsh nature of the second verse). However, a wonderful explanation I once heard is that the question was not about his wife, but about him. Is he a matza or a motzei, one who has found, or one who is always finding? Is he the type of a person that once he finds something, he has found it, he recognizes what he has found as a metziah and he is happy about it? Or is he a motzei, one who even after he has something is still in the process of finding and of looking, of assessing if the thing that he has is good enough, what are its problems, and if there is perhaps something better waiting to be found? If he is a motzei, then he will never be happy, there will always be some imperfection, something that needs to be better, and a constant dissatisfaction with the present and a desire to find the next thing - no matter how good his wife or his lot is, he will be bitter. If, however, he is a matza, then he will recognize the gift of what he has, that God has given him a metziah, as a find, and whatever problems arise, they will be addressed and taken care of, but will not impinge on the basic happiness and recognition of the goodness of what he has - matzah isha matzah tov.

Had the spies recognized, as Calev and Yehoshua did, that the land was a gift from God, that the land was good - had they been fundamentally committed to the enterprise - then the challenges would not have become obstacles. If we are able to embrace this attribute of matza, to see the blessings in our lives, to see the Land of Israel and the State of Israel, to see our spouses, our children, our parents, and our friends, as metziot, and gifts from God, to see them as tova, as good, then whatever bumps we encounter and problems we face, we will be able to address them and deal with them. They will not loom large, they will not undermine us, for we will know that matza isha matza tov - it is good, and it will be good. "For surely we can do it."

Until Elul

This will be my last email until we resume this coming Elul. I hope all of you have a wonderful, enjoyable, and (if possible) relaxing Summer.

Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful Summer to each one of you. It has been wonderful staying in touch this way, and I look forward to continuing it next year, starting in Elul.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Dov Linzer

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