Friday, March 18, 2011

Happenings at the Yeshiva

This week began with an amazing program sponsored by YCT, JOFA, and Yeshivat Maharat - the second Kallah Teachers Workshop called "Demystifying Sex and Teaching Halakah." We had 18 kallah teachers from the US, England and Israel with us for 3 and a half days, which they spent in intensive and back-to-back classes, learning the halakhot, in a nuanced and detailed way, from original sources, discussed the Jewish approaches to sex, halakhot of sex, learned about sexual function and dysfunction in men and women, and reflected on their own biases regarding different forms of sex and sexual activities.  The goal of the program was to create a more sophisticated, educated cadre of kallah teachers, teachers who understand the halakhic nuances, and who will be able to play a critical role in preparing the kallah not just for her time as a niddah, but for her sexual life as well.    I taught the majority of the halakha classes, including those on the halakhot of sex, and distributed to the participants a large binder of all the relevant materials, with translation, and including supplemental materials.

The is the second cadre of teachers that we have taught, and we know have a wonderful community of 40 kallah teachers who can turn to each other and their instructors from this program for advice, suggestions, and direction.  A big thank you to Batsheva Marcus, who taught the classes on sexuality and was a driving force in bringing this program to fruition; to Rabba Sara Horwitz, who taught the practical end of things, and how to structure a curriculum and classes, and whose brainchild this all was; to Rabbi Yaakov Love, to Dr. Valerie Altmann, Dr. Michael Werner, Ms. Shoshana Bulow, Ms. Devorah Zlochower, and to all the other teachers for giving so freely of their time and expertise.    And, a huge thank you to Pessy Katz who made sure that every single detail was attended to and that the program went so smoothly that everything seemed to flow completely naturally. 

Students continued learning Shabbat and Kashrut, and we had an important chaburah on Monday, led by Seth Winberg, on the topic of dealing with different kashrut standards in the homes of friends, family, and congregants. 

We also had two special Purim learning opportunities.  On Monday, Rav Yehudah Gilad, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Ma'aleh Gilboa, visited the yeshiva and spoke to the students about the logical problems in the Purim narrative: why did Mordechai emphasize to Esther the offer of money that Haman made to Achashveirosh?  Why did Haman try to appease Esther and not Achashveirosh, who had originally been part of the edict?   He also discussed the different stances of Mordechai - the proud Jew who refuses to bow down, and perhaps is the catalyst for Haman's plan, and Esther, the more submissive Jew, who falls and cries and begs Achashveirosh to relent the decree.  What, he asked is the message here?  That it is better to be submissive?  To this he said that the Megillah is a subtle indictment of galut Jews who stayed in Persia rather than return to build the Beit HaMikdash.  Even the salvation of Purim was not complete - we are still the slaves of Achashveirosh.  When one is in exile, you don't control your own destiny, you never know where or when the next decree will come, and you have to act submissive, like Esther did, if you want to get along with the ruling power.  If one wants to be a proud Jew, like Mordechai, then the place to do so is in the Land of Israel.  It was truly wonderful to have Torah from Eretz Yisrael - in this double sense - and to have Rav Gilad at our yeshiva!

On Thursday, Ta'anit Esther, we had our second opportunity of Purim learning.  Students devoted the morning to studying key sugyot from the first daf of mesekhet Purim, and hearing a shiur on them from Rabbi Katz.  Then, at 11:00 AM, we all went down to Kehilat Jeshurun for a prayer vigil for the Fogel family.   Over 2,000 people attended, and it was a very befitting way to spend this Ta'anit Esther.

Finally, on this Shabbat Zakhor, I wanted to share with you a wonderful drasha of Rav Yehonatan Eibushitz that was pointed out to me by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller.  This drasha, from יערות דבש, drasha 9 (attached) talks about the need to live up to a universal morality, and to forgo hurt and insult rather than hold on to the hatred.  He then has the following amazing statement (page 8 of the attachment):
ולכן אחיי למדו הטוב מבלי לנטור איבה ואדרבה להיטב לשונאו וכך יפה לפי מידת אנושי ולפי גדר התורה וזהו תפארת ישראל מבלי לנטור איבה וכך יהיה מדותיו מיושרים שבטבע לא ינטור ולא ינקום.  ולכך אמרו חייב אדם לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע וכו' והיינו דישכח לרוב שתייתו מה שצוה התורה ויהיה כפי מדת הטבע ואז לא ידע מה בין ארור המן וכו' כי כפי הטבע אין לנקום ולקלל מבקש רעתו בשום אופן כלל.

Therefore my brothers, learn the good (or "learn well") not to hold on to hatred, rather do the opposite - learn to do good to your enemy.  So it is befitting according to human morality and the fence (ethics) of the Torah, and this is the glory of Israel, not to hold on to hatred.  This way your traits will be in line with nature (or "natural morality"), not to bear a grudge and not to take vengeance.  And thus they said, "A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim until the point that he does not know etc."   That is, that a person should forget, due to the excessiveness of his drinking, what the Torah has commanded [regarding destroying Amalek], and he will then be according to the natural morality, and thus will not know between the cursedness of Haman, etc.  Because according to nature (natural morality), one should never seek vengeance or curse even those who seek to do them evil, under any circumstance.

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