Friday, December 13, 2013

Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva


Greetings from the Holy Land!  Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Katz and I spent last week in Israel. Our trip here went very well. We were warmly greeted by the Chief Rabbi's office and by the Chief Rabbi, himself, Rabbi David Lau. Rabbi Katz and I also had opportunities to share Torah with American and Israeli yeshiva students, giving shiurim at multiple yeshivot including Yeshivat Petach Tikvah, Orayta, and Eretz Ha Tzvi. We also met with our current students in Israel and our musmachim who are here, and talked to a number of potential students.  And Rabbi Katz and I had the zekhut to be here for one of the rare December snowfalls in Yerushalayim!

I'd like to share a dvar Torah that I shared with our students and musmachim in Israel when we gathered for a dinner together. The daf a few days ago dealt with the requirement that everyone who enters the Mikdash must do a tevilah, an immersion, first, even if they are tahor, even if they are pure. There are two, or more precisely three, opinions why this is. Either it is to make the person think hard about whether he or she is really tahor, and not enter if they remember that they are actually tamei, impure, that some old tumah of the past has not been taken care of. Or it is a ritual learned from the Kohen Gadol's immersions that took place between every change of clothes on Yom Kippur. This last reason breaks down to 2, for as Tosafot explains, the immersion of the Kohen Gadol was a preparation for the avodah, the Temple service, whereas here it is required before entering the Mikdash, even if one is not a Kohen and will not be doing an avodah. From this it emerges that there are two reasons to immerse - a perpetration for the avodah and a preparation for entering the Mikdash.

These three reasons parallel the three reasons at the beginning of Yoma for why the Kohen Gadol separates himself for 7 days prior to Yom Kippur. One reason is the concern of tumah - and during these 7 days he will purify himself from all and any impurities (7 days is specifically needed for the process of the sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah). The second reason is that it is based on the 7 day separation that Aharon and his children underwent during the period of the miluim, the initiation into the priestly service. That is, it is a seven day preparation for the service that is to be done. The third explanation relates not to the service, but to the place. Just as Moshe spent seven days in the cloud before ascending to the top of Har Sinai, so the Kohen Gadol must separate himself seven days before entering into the place of the most intense and intimate encounter with God, the Holy of Holies.

These three models can be applied to anyone who enters into a position of religious leadership.  First, there need for a process of purification. Even if a person believes himself to already be pure, he must undergo a serious process of introspection. He must assess what are those things in the past that he still needs to purify himself from, what are those shortcomings in his personality, character and behavior that he must correct before he undertakes this weighty responsibility. And then one must undergo the period of preparation for the work, for the holy service. A period of learning the knowledge, the skills and the dispositions that are necessary for doing his service properly.  Finally, there is the process of transformation, of not only have the right skills, but of becoming a person who has changed through the process, who has become sanctified and is now ready to stand in God's presence and to represent God and God's Torah to the people.

And so it can be said regarding every person. We start each day with a washing of our hands. What is the purpose of this? According to Rashba it is an act of cleansing, cleansing our hands which may have touched parts of our body during the night, so that we may pray in a state of cleanliness. Rosh disagrees and explains that we wash our hands at the beginning of each day just as the Kohanim washed their hands before entering into their daily service in the Temple. For us, the entire world is our Temple, it is where we will find opportunities to serve God each day, and we thus wash our hands to prepare us for our daily service of God.  Full transformation - the third reason for the immersion - is a bit much to ask from us on a daily basis.  But we can all work each day to let the ritual of washing our hands focus us on the work we need to do to cleanse ourselves, inside and out, and to dedicate and elevate all that we do to the service of God. 

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