Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Table Talk - Ki Tavo 5767

When the Torah introduces the commandment of the recitation of the Bikkurim (first fruits), it seems to employ some repetitive language. The parshah begins, וְהָיָה, כִּי-תָבוֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ, נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה; וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ – “And it shall be, when you come into the land which Hashem your God gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it.” Rabbi Simcha Raz wonders about the double language of this first verse: If God gives it to us as an inheritance, then why of course it belongs to us. Why then must the Torah add that we must also “possess it, and dwell in it?”

Rabbi Raz suggests that we must acquire the Land of Israel in two ways. First and foremost, the Land of Israel belongs to us because God gave it to us; it is our eternal homeland. But, at the same time, the land becomes our only through our sweat and hard work. In Rabbi Raz’s words, “A man does not merit inheritance and dwelling in the Land unless he worked and acted and sacrificed for its settlement. It is not enough that God gave it to us. Rather, we must also ‘possess it and dwell in it.’”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Table Talk -- Ki Tetze 5767

I recently saw an Internet poll that asked the following question: “Would you pay higher taxes in order to preserve a species from extinction?” To be honest, while I didn’t click on the poll (I hate those things), in my mind I answered “I doubt it.” After all, after being indoctrinated by right-wing talk radio for too long, environmentalism and environmental protectionism are creations of the liberal left-wing. Right? Not according to Rabbeinu Bechaya they’re not.
Among the numerous commandments we find in this week’s parshah, the Torah forbids us from taking both a bird and her eggs from the same nest. Rather, שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת-הָאֵם, וְאֶת-הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח-לָךְ – “send away the mother and take for yourself the children.” Many commentators, especially Rambam, see an ethical imperative in this commandment. After all, it takes a special level of cruelty to wipe out an entire family of even birds in a single moment. But Rabbeinu Bechaya (a Medieval Spanish commentator), rather than seeing an ethical commandment, finds an environmental message.
“In its simple meaning, the scripture commands us to maintain the species and not uproot it, for even though the Torah permits the slaughter of animals for the benefit of man, it does not permit the destruction and uprooting of them. And if he takes the mother with the children together, it is as if he has destroyed that entire species.”
Perhaps then, the Torah cares more about the environment, and the way that we treat it, than we might have previously thought.

YIOP Bulletin September 2007: A New Year for Torah Learning

Rosh Hashanah is a time for resolutions: we resolve to grow as people – to be better friends and relatives, more attentive and caring to those around us. We resolve to change ourselves, working harder to root out behaviors that we know we should change. And finally, we resolve to become better, more knowledgeable Jews, in order to grow closer to God.
As I have said many times before, the very best way to grow in our own Judaism is through the study of Torah. Torah study has the power to accomplish each of these goals: it can make us better, more sensitive people. It can give us internal, spiritual strength to withstand temptations and desires. And finally, the more we know about God and His Torah, the closer we can become to Him.
Because I never miss an opportunity to plug a YIOP program or shiur, I thought that I would take this space to share with you some of the new and ongoing YIOP shiurim beginning this month at the Beit Midrash program. Some shiurim are new, others have moved, while others remain the same.
Our Monday evening Beit Midrash program begins its sixth year this September with several important changes. First and foremost, instead of having a special pre-Rosh Hashanah program, we will begin the regular class schedule during September which will continue through December. In addition, we have several staffing changes. Rena Spolter will not be giving her class on Torat Nechama, and as we bid farewell to Kollel Torah Mitzion members Asaf Cohen and Shai Urim, we welcome new member Rabbi Ze’ev Friedlander, and a new shiur from a longtime community member. Please note that all shiurim are open to both men and women.

Monday Nights at 8:00pm:
Navi Melachim with Rabbi Spolter – the popular summer Navi shiur continues this year on Monday nights, as we study the Book of Kings. We will learn about the reign of King Solomon, the construction of the first Temple, and the tragic split of the monarchy. Please bring a Navi with you.
Kuzari with Kollel Torah Mitzion Rosh Kollel Rabbi Bezalel Safra: Rabbi Safra will continue his study of the Kuzari, one of the seminal works in Jewish thought, in Hebrew.
Mitzvot and the Meaning, with Rabbi Ze’ev Friedlander: While we intuitively know about many of the different commandments found in the Torah, a good number still remain a mystery. What commandments comprise the 613 found in the Torah? How can we understand the meaning behind them? Join Rabbi Friedlander to study the Sefer Hachinuch, a classic work on the commandments.
Chafetz Chaim with David Tenenbaum: Rabbi Israel Meir Hakohen Kagan (also known for his classic work called Chafetz Chaim), wrote his work to teach others about the dangers of gossip, slander and other dangerous forms of speech. In addition to studying the text, this class will offer an in depth discussion of the laws and how they apply to our every day lives and conversations, and will be a very rewarding learning experience.
9:00pm: Ma’ariv
9:10pm: Gemara Brachos with Rabbi Spolter: The Gemara shiur moves from Tuesday evening at the Kollel to Monday evening as an addition to the Beit Midrash. This weekly shiur, now in the third chapter of Brachos, offers a fascinating look at the nature of davening today, giving us a better understanding not just of how we’re supposed to daven, but how the halachic process molded the modern-day davening that we know. While you don’t need to know how to read the gemara on your own, a basic ability to follow along in Hebrew-only texts is required for this shiur.

If you’ve been a regular participant in our Beit Midrash, I look forward to welcoming you back, and ask you to bring a friend with you. But if you haven’t been to shul on Monday night, I encourage you to join us. There really is something for everyone, and I know that making Torah learning a regular part of your life at the beginning of each week will have a profound impact on the rest of the week as well.

In addition, the Beit Midrash has continued to flourish and thrive due to the generosity of our members, who have sponsored individual nights of learning in memory or honor of a friend or loved-one. Should you wish to sponsor an evening of Torah study at our shul for $54, please either sign up on the bulletin board outside the Beit Midrash, or contact me directly.

As we look forward to the upcoming chagim, Rena and I and our entire family wish you a שנה טובה ומתוקה – a sweet, happy and healthy New Year.

Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Table Talk -- Shoftim 5767

While change is often good and neccesary in life, the Torah prohibits other types of change. For example, the Torah explicitly forbids השגת גבול -- adjusting and overstepping boundaries in the Land of Israel. Put simply, I can't change the markings on the border between my fields and my neighbor's so that I get more while he gets less. Rashi explains that while moving the border of my house to overstep my neighbor's is indeed also stealing, God gives an additional admonition in this particular area. Why would the Torah need to prohibit a behavior that it already forbids?

Ramban notes that a person might come to feel that God had apportioned the Land of Israel unfairly for any number of reasons: the land tracts seem uneven; my needs are greater than my neighbor's -- or any number of other reasons. When I arrive at this type of conclusion I don't feel consider moving boundaries "stealing." Rather, I'm just setting things straight.
For this reason, the Torah adds the additional prohibition of "changing borders." God knows what he's doing. He gives every person the proper piece of the Land of Israel -- despite the fact that we may feel slighted. So even though I might feel justified, I still may not take what is not mine.

In other words, when we approach the notion of change during the month of Elul, instead of looking to change what we've been given, first we need to change ourselves. That's the best place to start.