We began this week by welcoming our new class of students. This year we are blessed to have 12 new students studying here, and two in Israel. We welcome Raif Melhado, David Bookbinder, Joel Dinin, Ben Ricciardi, Daniel Silverstein, Ari Weber, Samuel Klein, Haggai Resnikof, Koby Geller, and Jon Leener to our student body. It is truly an amazing group of students, each one bringing his own unique talents and passions to his learning, the yeshiva, and to growing to becoming a rabbi to serve Klal Yisrael., Many come here having already made their marks in the Jewish and larger community in a lay capacity - running a Hillel, creating and running programs of interfaith understanding, Jewish rappers and poets, and serious learners and scholars. We also welcome (Dr.) Ben Elton, who is in the States on a post-doc from Cambridge and will be learning with us in the mornings, and Matt Levee, who is learning with us for Elul zman, and is on his way to spending the rest of year learning in Israel. We are looking forward to a year of learning from and being inspired by one another, a year of intense Talmud Torah and of meaningful religious growth.
This Elul zman we are learning the fourth chapter of Gittin in the morning - HaSholeach. This chapter (and the following one) are devoted to a range of different takanot, or edicts/measures that Chazal instituted for the sake of tikkun ha'olam, literally, fixing the world. This chapter covers a wide range of topics - from annulling a get and annulling marriages, to the erasing of debts during the Shmita year and the work-around of Hillel known as the pruzbol, to the status of slaves and the redeeming of captives and of stolen sifrei Torah. Our learning opened with a shiur klali that I gave on the concept of tikkun olam, which has become a ubiquitous phrase in Jewish social action. We explored what the meaning and function of this phrase was in the mishna - what common denominator could be identified in the takanot that would explain this characterization, and, further, whether this categorization served a particular purpose or function in the mishna.
The first two afternoons this week were devoted to orientation and chevre building exercises, and we began our regular afternoon classes at the end of Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Marc Shapiro gave his first class on Great Sages of the 20th Century on Wednesday. On Thursday, Dr. Zvi Zohar, a renowned visiting scholar from Israel, gave his first class on Sephardi Poskim and Responsa, and Rabbi Shmuel Hain gave a class on Preparing and Writing Shabbat Shuva sermons.
Finally, on a personal note, yesterday, Thursday, was my mother's yahrtzeit, Annette Linzer, Chana bat Mordechai Eliezer, zikhrona li'vracha. This morning I will be giving a shiur in her memory on the topic of "Social Justice for Whom: Priorities and Circles of Responsibility." On Thursday, the day of yahrtzeit itself, I spoke after mincha, sharing some reflections on the parsha. I noted the strong disciplinarian approach of the parents in the case of the rebellious son, and spoke about how my mother embodied the opposite - someone who embraced not only her family, but everyone in the community, friends and strangers alike, with caring, nurturing, and welcoming, so that each person knew they were loved and cared for. And this was a caring that was extended even to those who were no longer living. One of my most vivid memories is her getting up at all hours of the night to do a tahara or to arrange a tahara, toiling into 2:00 or 3:00 AM, because other people needed her help. May her memory be for a blessing.