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Interview: Prominent Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein speaks about Jewish Education on the Internet
by Peter Menkin
5/14/2012 / Education
by Peter Menkin
This energetic man is a teacher and interfaith leader who as part of Torah.org agreed to be interviewed about the computer organization for Religious Education, and his own work as a teacher with that Orthodox Jewish group that serves 78,000 people worldwide.
This is the third interview in three that constitute the final article-interview on Religious Education. The unique aspect of this interview has to do with the success of internet education and its use in the teaching of Torah and Jewish learning , as well, of Orthodox Jewish adult education. In this interview with Religion Writer Peter Menkin, The Rabbi who also works for Simon Weisenthal Center, spoke over a period of a few months, from December, 2011, through the April 24, 2012. The phone conversations held from Peter Menkin's home office in Mill Valley, California with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein were held with him while he traveled in his car, speaking from a cell phone. This warm and learned Rabbi with special and recognized experience in the areas of interfaith matters, was spontaneous and sometimes amusing with his kind sense of humor and effective methods of relating to othersothers of another faith, too. He asked at one time, Why do Christians want to know about this kind of Orthodox Jewish education? or words similar. Having raised the good question that asks of the Religion Writer, State your business, the reply went something specific that this was part of a way to get a sense of Religious Education in general, and also to find relationship with the Jewish community through understanding and communication. There is no doubt, too, that many people, regardless of religious persuasion and outlook will find this an interview of interestespecially those of the Jewish faith.
Biography of the Rabbi as it appears on www.torah.org:
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He also serves as a faculty member at Yeshiva of Los Angeles and its high schools, and holds the Sydney M. Irmas Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School.
1.1. As a teacher for Torah.org you not only talk to students via internet, so I think. Please let me know if that is so, and how you talk to them. On the website I note you, Rabbi, do a lot of writing and three topics caught my eye. The three are: "The Baxos of inner Purity; The Trembling of the Angels, and the third Vayeilech (?) Torah. Please tell us a little of how you come to these topics, what level students must achieve to follow your writing for there are many Hebrew words and elegant Biblical references.
I do interact with students, but probably less than other teachers. There are people around who do live interactive teaching with students There are some questions that require answers that are too long to make, and I often reply with short text. Sometimes phone has to be the way to go. The offerings of Torah.org are segregated by beginner, intermediate, and advanced. [Regarding understanding]there is jargon and it demands background. It does require some formal education to pick up vocabulary and general information. I write in a way that assumes people are familiar with basic texts. If I changed the style, I would lose those people who are better experienced.
[By the way]we do blend our teaching to teaching levels.
All three [lessons] come from a two year cycle that I did in adapting the works of a 20th century master who is extremely popular under Orthodox life, the Hasidic Slonimer Rebbe. The work is called, Nesivos Shalom. What I did each week of the yearly cycle of classes, the first of his pieces that was keyed to the weekly Torah readings. The second cycle took his material on the holidays and special occasions. I found one that through my own reading would be most interesting and useful to an American audience. The fact that I found a couple of interesting lessons validates my hunch that his name was that which American students will find interesting. On any Parsha he has three or four offerings. I took any one of them and turned it into that week's lessons. The second year I didn't follow the Torah readings, but went to one that dealt with the holidays: Rosh Hashanah; Yom Kippur; Passover; Purim; Chanukah; ShabbatSuccot; Shavuot.. [These are]basic topics.
Questions from students can be found on my blog. Students will share lessons and that is generally true of students. No matter what the internet stats tell you, they don't reflect how many people are sharing it or mailing it to people on their mailing list. The number of people who get to my blog are astronomically greater than my site.
I do think that in this kind of material, whatever criteria advertisers may makein the Jewish community the numbers will be different than their analysis.
My blog can be found at: www.cross-currents.com .
1.2. Speak some to us about the goals of Jewish Religious Education, especially in light of the reach and
Religion Writer, Peter Menkin in Mill Valley, California
effectiveness of internet education. Can you tell us what limitations you find in this system, and more, some of the general rules of purpose of your internet teaching?
Jewish Religious education has a number of goals. The two chief goals are to create a new generation of informed, loyal and enthusiastic, committed Jews. That's a tall order. For many people that would suffice. There is a second level to Jewish Education: the tradition of Judaism is a system of law, not a system of faith. There are 613 Commandments. One is Torah study itself.
Besides [aiding in the making of] the question of Jews who can function well as Jews, [which are]those who know the function of the law and philosophy. There is a mitzvah of studies for its own sake.
There is a mitzvah of teaching in God's Torah. So the goals are to maximize on both of those. All the practical things to function as committed Jews, to function for Torah itself, to study for its own sake. There is a mitzvah of immersing oneself.
The issue of Internet education is related to another group of questions. What are the methodologies in general? We understand there are some disciplines that lend themselves to impersonal types of learning. You can sit in Harvard with stars and learn with 350 people in that hall and learn without limitation. You can get 3500 or get people at home to listen, and that works very well for some disciplines. Regarding Online Learning When you still need eyeball to eyeball contact, you need person to person interaction all the time. That's where internet study gets dicey.
There are some kinds of study where the Harvard hall works well. Some kinds of Torah literature works better and at all on the spot in real time. I believe there are some parts of education and Torah education that are in the middle. That's where innovation comes in; they don't have to act 100 percent in real time all the time, if given access to some of the instructors or teachers after the lecture. That can also work. There are some people carving out programs that are quite effective and reaching large number of teachers to reach large numbers of people: skill sets as one examplealso technique.
Talmudic literature is best done one on one, in real time. [So you see]. I don't teach Talmud as Talmud; I'm doing another part of Jewish learning in general.
You have to know about grammar and language and words to deal with Talmudfor you need real time interaction. To this writer that is literal.
Approximate quote regarding the prevalence of Jewish teaching and availability of teachings in the contemporary internet world: There are quality Yashiva's today where everything that's done is recorded, at least on mp3s, and disseminated. The more traditional religious groups on the ideological continiuum. (This expanding interest and use is widepeople have access to a wider variety of source materials and personality.)
Here are concrete examples of something that works at Torah.org: One kind of learning and there are literally dozens of topics and subtopics in Torah learningthere is the study of weekly Torah learning. The five books of Moses have a weekly cycle. For hundreds and hundreds of years Jews have looked at that reading, looking for different insights and styles. There are hundreds of different works out there. Some are deep; but people distill some of that teaching and go back to the original, adapt, paraphrase and present them texturally or orally once a week. I have done the oral presentations much more often. Each year I take a different important text and some attract more attention than others. I will take a couple of points of the weekly portion and convey an adaptation of one of these authors. I've done that for a good number of years.
1.3. In a phone conversation with you, this paraphrase of one remark by you, Rabbi: "There are quality Yeshiva's today where everything that's done is recorded, at least on mp3s, and disseminated. The more traditional religious groups on the ideological continuum. (This expanding interest and use (is) a wide (kind of phenomenon)(that is) pleased still have access to a wider variety of source materials and personality." Has Torah.org this kind of resource or offer links to such material. Do you offer such material in your internet teaching, and will you tell us a little about some of these resources in specificboth as example and explanation?
[From the Rabbi's car while talking via phone on the road home, again the way most of this interview was conducted.]
People 20 years ago had to access [to learning only] by traveling hundreds or thousands of miles. You can get access through mp3s and video recordings. The particular classes I've given on Torah.org have been text based and not mp3. I've done mp3 and have plans for interactive video teaching.
Strictly speaking on Torah.org, I every week prepare a kind of a class to send out a text. Which is also available on archive. I've been giving classes in a variety of institutions for 30 years, and they are now available. People are gathering up old classes and making them available. If you don't like one, you can go to another. If you want a school that is taping and taping, there is http://www.yutorah.org/index.cfm that has thousands and thousands of classes, mostly by their faculty and alumni. It is very user friendly.
You can see by the index the kinds of things you would like, some of the most sought after people on the internet today: Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rabbi Willig, Rabbi Dovid Bleich. These are three superstars of Jewish learning.
You have access to hundreds of their tapes. There's no charge. Some are thirty minute classes, some an hour, some multi hour. You can listen to them online, you can download them. For any individual recording they give you the downloads and how many have listened to them. There are dozens of sites like it. I like yutorah,org because I keep going back to the people with more advanced material. There are other sites both here and in Israel. Some of the greatest scholars alive and inspirational speakers. We are talking about tens of thousands of hours available who can download from any place on the earth. Much of it is in English.
There is a program called Baf Yomi (The Daily Page) that goes through the entire Talmud in 7 years. This August will mark the worldwide conclusion of an entire cycle of the Talmud. There will be celebrations all over the world. There will be one in Meadowlands Stadium, New Jersey. Many people go to a class on a car or a plane.
1.4. If there is something I've missed, or you want to add or say, please do so before we end our interview. Thank you for your willingness to talk about Religious Education. I am glad again for the opportunity to talk with you by phone.
I do have to stress one thing that I hope you caught along the way. It may not be obvious and certainly won't be obvious to readers. When most Americans think of religious education, it might be philosophy or a catechism. Jewish Education is so different from that. There are 316 laws in the Torah. Study for Jewish education is not just the study of living in the community. Jewish education is getting as close they get to the mind of God. It is as close as you can get Torah study is put on a pedestal to come to the limits and depth of a person. When we talk of the internet, we aren't talking about preparing them for life within the Church. We are trying to get them to get familiar with [a relationship with God].
The Torah is for lifelong learning. The most important that is of interest to people who practice and teach the Torah, is that it is vastly more complicated than in other faiths.
[Regarding what is known as]the sea of the Talmud, no one gets to immerse themselves with a small part of the ocean. We want to get to people within the visual field of people,,,that the internet is proving to be another tool in the mitzvah of Torah study, and hopefully something people will want to spend more time on.
RABBI WRITES A LETTER TO A STUDENT IN ANSWER TO A QUESTION
Is Turkey Kosher? [An American question re Thanksgiving]
Circa 2007, Thanksgiving turkey
A small contribution to the discussion regarding the kashrut of turkey. It is true that the Gemara describes the features of non-kosher birds. It is also true that the majority of bird species should be kosher by using these criteria. However, this is precisely what we do not do, having lost our confidence in properly understanding the Gemara's yardsticks. We therefore only eat species for which there is a tradition.
Readers were puzzled as to where such a tradition could have gotten started for a bird entirely unknown in centers of Torah scholarship until colonial American times. The answer is possibly given by Darchei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah, 82:26 He argues (actually citing Arugas Habosem) that we only require a tradition for a bird that we don't know too much about. In such a case, we do not rely on the presence of the kosher signs. On the other hand, we are permitted to rely on such signs if they are present in many samples of a species we have observed over a long period of time, and have overwhelming evidence that it is not a bird of prey.
Yitzchok Adlerstein Los Angeles
Elul The Context of Evildoing1
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
"Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous man his thoughts." What makes the sinner wicked, if not his actions and deeds? What should the sinner be asked to forsake, if not his evil actions? Why speak about some nebulous "way" rather than his concrete failings?
The road back for the sinner begins with his abandoning his old way, the way that led him so often to evil. Similarly, he must give up the thoughts the patterns of thinking and outlooks that form the backdrop and context of his transgression. This is consistent with a theme of the sefarim ha-kedoshim, that the yetzer hora need not lure a person anew for each aveirah, but simply move a person to its territory and turf, an entire world that is a "place" of easy aveirah.
What is the context of evildoing, this "place" of easy wrongdoing? "See, I have placed before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil.And you shall choose life so that you and your offspring shall live." Once we can recognize the difference between life and death, do we still need to be urged to choose life?
Indeed we do. Since Hashem wills it that we be given the opportunity to exercise free-will, we must always have competing alternatives. We experience satisfaction in positive building and creating that gives life; there must also be a countervailing pleasure in tearing down and destroying. The yetzer hora can influence a person to enjoy destruction, to find joy in activities that harm him and reactions like anger and tear him apart. Even worse, it can persuade him to enjoy destroying others.
We watch curiously as toddlers seem to delight in breaking things, and do not realize that adults are not entirely different. They, too, enjoy causing havoc and chaos. This carries over to the community as well. We observe nations gleefully dedicated to nothing more than the destruction of other nations, investing enormous energy into the development of greater destructive capacity against the other. Destructiveness has become, as it were, a vital force within human civilization.
Character flaws also populate this background of evildoing. Rambam writes, "Do not say that teshuvah applies only to sins involving action. Just as a person must repent of those, he must also examine his evil traits, and repent of anger and hatred and jealously and frivolousness and the pursuit of money and honor and gluttony." This is also implied in the phrase "Let the wicked one forsake his way," rather than his sins. So long as a person has not addressed his flaws of character, he is in the thrall of the yetzer hora even when he does nothing actively wrong. (Yesod Ha-Avodah offers a mashal of a king who seeks to prepare his son for eventual rule, and wishes to best prepare his inner qualities. While the prince is in the company of his father, the son's inner core cannot be discerned. The king sends the prince to a distant part of the realm. There, where the king's authority is present but not overt, the prince's true nature expresses itself. The prince is able to discern his own flaws. Realizing that the day approaches when he will be reunited with his father, the prince prepares for the encounter. He feels within himself that the better the job he does in improving his core qualities, the better he is able to think about and prepare for his future encounters with the king. Yesod Ha-Avodah likens the descent of the soul to this world to the prince sent from the presence of the Father.)
Another component of the landscape of evildoing is tunnel vision regarding the majesty of Creation. Animals walk on all fours. Their long axis runs parallel to the ground; their eyes are often fixed on the ground in front of them. Their world, therefore, is their feeding trough. Man, however, walks erect. He lifts up his head and sees afar. He can see G-d within the fullness of His Creation.
Some people do not escape their animal selves. They, too, live a limited existence. Grown people find it amusing when they watch a young child's attachment to a worthless plaything. If that toy is taken away from the child, he wails as if his world had come to an end. But are adults so different? With what do they preoccupy themselves? What makes them happy? About what do they fritter away valuable time worrying? Are any of those things comparable to the Torah and mitzvos that could gain them eternity? Are adults different from children, or have they merely replaced one kind of toy with another?
Chazal had this in mind when they wrote "A person does not sin unless a spirit of lunacy enters into him." This lunacy is a worldview in which the trivial and unimportant become his objects of pursuit. (The Saba Kadisha used to say that in every aveirah, the spirit of lunacy and folly accounts for 99% of his decision; concession to the yetzer hora amounts to only the remaining 1%.)
When a person lives with constricted understanding, everything surrounding him is limited and shriveled. His Torah is narrow; it fails to fill the depth and breadth of halachah. His avodah is constricted; he fails to "taste and see that Hashem is good."
There is a context and backdrop to teshuvah as well. Its most important element is the thirst of the holy spark within each person the portion of Hashem from Above for its root and source. The Jewish soul always thirsts for more, each person according to his spiritual level. Only the person whose multiple sins have done severe damage to his personality can be stripped of the emotional longing of the typical Jew. This thirst is what neutralizes the destruction-bent forces within the yetzer hora.
Making use of this teshuvah context follows a discrete pattern. The Tur begins Shulchan Aruch by reminding us how aveiros are committed: "The eye sees, the heart desires, and the limbs complete the action." Teshuvah works similarly. First, a person must turn his eyes upward, and behold Who has created everything. The heart is then aroused, and thirsts for connection with Divinity. The limbs then allow the person to right his course and become a ba'al teshuvah in the active sense.
Part of the context of teshuvah is listening. When the Torah describes national repentance, it writes, "And you will return to Hashem your G-d and listen to His voice." We would have expected the Torah to write "and you will do all that I have commanded you." Instead, the Torah instructs us regarding the first step in teshuvah, after we have moved to a teshuvah context. We first must listen to the sound of Hashem knocking on the walls of our hearts. We must realize, as the Besht taught, that the Heavenly voice which calls us each day to teshuvah may not be heard physically by us, but the neshamah does listen and takes heed.
In the final analysis, teshuvah depends upon our taking action. Placing our inner selves within the context of teshuvah, inspiring ourselves spiritually and intellectually, and taking pains to hear the voices bidden us return all these are insufficient. They cannot make us ba'alei teshuvah without concomitant action.
This action does not simply mean distancing ourselves from aveirah. We need to turn the inspiration into individually-tailored action, addressing the core flaws and problems of which we become conscious. The Bais Yosef, for instance, addressed stiff-neckedness not through reflection alone. Realizing the importance of bending his will to that of the Creator, it is said that he loaded rocks upon his shoulders, to physically cause him to bend. This is a perfect example of giving substance to an inner realization by coupling it with action.
 Based on Nesivos Shalom vol.1 pg. 209-212  Yeshaya 55:2  Devarim 30: 15, 19  Hilchos Teshuvah 7:3  Sotah 3A  Tehilim 34:9  Devarim 30:2  An allusion to Shir Ha-Shirim 5:2  Zohar 3:126A
Text Copyright 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org
The Basics of Inner Purity 1
Chazal speak in such powerful and absolute terms about the importance of midos, that you might think they are using a bit of hyperbole. When they look for a definite line in the sand differentiating "us" and "them," they turn to midos. ("Whoever possesses these three things a generous eye, a humble spirit, a meek soul is among the disciples of Avraham; whoever possesses [their opposite] is among the disciples of the wicked Bilam."When they attempt to paint a picture of the person who pleases his Creator, they again turn to midos. ("Whomever the spirit of the public finds pleasing, Hashem finds pleasing."
They are not exaggerating. Attaining excellent midos is not just an important mitvah, incumbent upon every person to pursue. Rather, midos are the person! They are foundational to the observance of Torah and mitzvos, and fully determine whether or not a person can be said to have accomplished the task for which he was created. (If they are so important, asked R. Chaim Vital in Sha'arei kedushah, why don't they appear on the list of the 613 mitzvos? The answer, he said, is that they are the all-important preparation for all the mitzvos. In that sense, a deficiency in midos is a more serious lapse than failure to observe mitzvos!) Without proper midos, taught Rabbenu Yonah, Torah cannot take up residence within a person. Sandwiched in between a description of the attitudinal foundations of Torah belief and his detailed listing of all the practical laws of the Torah, the Rambam found it necessary to place his Hilchos De'os, describing the midos that he saw as primary in the quest for mitzvah fulfillment.
Good midos are the wings with which a person takes spiritual flight. Without them, a person's Torah and mitzvos are not able to soar. To whatever extent a person perfects his midos, his entire being is uplifted, raising up his Torah and avodah to a higher plane. For this very reason the yetzer hora shows unusual strength and tenacity in this arena. More so than in other areas, the yetzer hora wishes to clip our wings, so that we cannot elevate ourselves. As the ba'alei mussar say, it is easier to become proficient in shasthan to uproot a single evil midah that has taken hold in our heart.
Good character is readily endorsed by most people. Those who show exemplary midos win profuse praise from the masses. Ba'alei mussar are even more enthusiastic in describing the importance of midos. To them, midos are everything: they define the person. chassidus provides the conceptual framework for building an even taller pedestal upon which to place proper midos. chassidus sees devekus as the objective of all Torah and mitzvos. Imperfect midos simply do not allow that closeness and relationship "the cursed cannot attach themselves to the blessed." 
In the way of chassidus, acquiring superlative midos is insufficient. A person must also extirpate the evil from within; he must change his very being so that these sterling midos become part of his essence. As is stated in Peri Ha-Aretz, what good is it that a person does not violate any transgression if he has not erased the source of transgression from his heart?
The gemara informs us about a survival tactic. "Whenever Yisrael [envelop themselves in a talis as HKBH demonstrated to Moshe and] perform the order of the thirteen midos, they are immediately answered." Reishis Chochmah, however, cites those who find difficulty with this claim. Do we not see many people and communities reciting the thirteen midos, without their prayers bringing them much success? They answer the question. "Performing" here does not mean reciting. It means emulating those midos of Hashem, and integrating them into their personalities.
Happiness is working on oneself and achieving pure midos. Good midos bring happiness; bad midos bring the opposite. The days of a person burdened by bad midos are full of anger and bitterness. He consumes others, and is consumed himself in the process. He is not tolerated by others, not can he tolerate the company of men. Thus, his life ceases to be one worthwhile living. One who is privileged to have purified his midos, on the other hand, is always happy. He delights in others, and others delight in him. He is a source of berachah to himself and all around him. (This is what Hashem meant when He told Avraham, "and you will be a blessing." )
Rambam provides a startling anecdote about perfected midos. "A chassid was asked, 'What was the happiest day of your life?' This is what he answered. 'I traveled by boat. My place was the least desirable, lowliest of all on the vessel. One of the passengers saw me as so insignificant and degraded that he relieved himself upon me. By the life of Hashem I was not pained by what he did, and my anger did not rise within me. I was overjoyed that the disgrace did not pain me, and that I did not sustain any hurt from it.'" Another person would have seen that day as the worst imaginable, treated in such a disgraced manner. The chassid saw his achievement of ultimate forbearance as grounds for ecstatic happiness.
The recipe for success in midos development includes an ingredient not immediately recognizable as part of the midos orbit. Ultimately all issues of good and evil revolve around a single central point: kedushah. No one can perfect his midos without having incorporated kedushah in his life. As Ramban explains, the call to kedushah includes what is permissible according to halachah, what has not been proscribed by the Torah. kedushah means elevating the arena of reshus.
The two must work in tandem. We work on perfecting our inner midos, while endeavoring to increase the kedushah of the way we live our lives. Keeping both of these goals before us, we can hope to "ascend the mountain of Hashem."
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, vol. 1, pgs. 75-77 2. Avos 3:17 3. Rashi Bereishis 24:39 4. Bereishis 12:2 5. Commentary to Mishnah, Avos 4:4 6. Vayikra 19:2 7. Tehilim 24:3
Text Copyright 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org
How Shabbos Works1
Use a word often enough and you can convince yourself that you know what it means. The Torah employs the word "kedushah" so often in regard to Shabbos, that we can easily lull ourselves into accepting it just so.
At least until we start thinking about it. Then we realize that we are more comfortable associating kedushah with objects than with time. 1 How are we to understand the Torah's designating Shabbos as kodesh and its multiple repetitions of that designation?
We could offer a suggestion. When the Torah tells us that Hashem blessed Shabbos and made it holy," it does not mean just that He turned it into a special or elevated time. Rather, it means that He made Shabbos the root and source of all blessing, and the wellspring from which all kedushah flows. From this understanding we will be able to make sense of many other phenomena about Shabbos.
Kabbalistically, there is a ready explanation for seeing Shabbos as the source of all kedushah. On Shabbos alone, the light of the three most elevated sefiros is allowed to radiate to the other seven. This light is the spiritual substance of all the kedushah we experience and it makes its way into our world specifically on Shabbos.
Some works explain the special quality of kedushah on Shabbos in terms of greater resistance to forces of evil that dilute or mask kedushah at other times. We understand that as a consequence of Hashem's insistence on creating balance between the good and evil (and therefore leaving room for our choosing between them), any display of kedushah is met with resistance from its opposite. Kedushah attracts its foil, which masks and mutes it. Consequentially, we must view good and evil as a single continuum. Where good leaves off, evil immediately begins, in the form of the ten negative sefiros of tumah. On Shabbos, writes the Pri Etz Chaim, Hashem creates a buffer between the good and the evil. Good can be manifest without being set upon, as it were, by the forces of impurity.
Alternatively, we can simply view Shabbos as a presence of kedushah (coming as it does from the three most elevated sefiros) with which tumah simply is unable to coexist, and is banished from its presence.
As the source of all kedushah, Shabbos can provide us with the beginning of a framework to solve an enigmatic problem. Meor Eynayim questions how humans can ever imagine themselves connected to Hashem. Even in our puny understanding, we realize that there should be no way for this to occur. Hashem is infinite and limitless. We are stuck in limitation and dimensionality not just different from G-d, but in a sense the polar opposite. We might yearn for connection to Him, but such attachment should be impossible. It can be poetry, but not real.
He answers that our devekus comes through something that is intermediate between the two end points, which acts as a kind of binding agent between us. This intermediate is Shabbos itself. It is not, of course, a divine being, but its kedushah does come from Him. On the other hand, it is accessible enough that we can bind to it, and through it, to Hashem.
The Torah begins a listing of holidays with a restatement of the mitzvah of Shabbos. (We pithily make reference to this in the siddur, in speaking of Shabbos as techilah l'mikra'ei kodesh the first among holy days.) People have long puzzled over this. In what way does Shabbos belong to the special, seasonal observances of the holy days, of the yearly circuit around the calendar? Our thinking thus far may provide a satisfying answer to the question. Shabbos is first and primary in the list of holidays, because all of the kedushah resident in the special days of the calendar derive from what is made available to us on Shabbos. Remove Shabbos from the picture, and you are left with a blank. There simply cannot be any holidays without drawing from the kedushah that Hashem makes available to us on Shabbos.
We could stop at this point, having found a deeper meaning to the kedushah of Shabbos, and content with the pleasure of enriched understanding. There is fulfillment to be found simply in comprehending things properly, even when those things are abstractions. We would be selling ourselves short, however. The surfeit of kedushah on Shabbos translates directly into a different experience of Shabbos. The dividends to us are practical, not just theoretical.
Toras Avos explained the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov with a mashal. Yom Tov is analogous to a king, who decides to leave the regal comforts that ordinarily surround him, in order to visit his impoverished son and spend time with him in his humble abode. Shabbos, however, can be likened to the king finding the son and transporting him to spend time together in the royal palace. In other words, on Yom Tov, Hashem illuminates the lives of Jews on whatever spiritual plane they inhabit. He comes to us, and spreads kedushah within our flawed, corrupt world. On Shabbos, on the other hand, he enables us to escape our limitations and to join Him in His inner chambers.
When we say that Shabbos is a bit of Olam Habo, we do not just mean that we find so much happiness and contentment in it, that we sense that it comes to us from a very great distance. What we really mean is that Shabbos takes us to a different world, that it transports us back to Gan Eden, where we function on a plane superior to that of ordinary existence! (Chumash alludes to this. We are aware of the tension between the Names of G-d in the story of Bereishis. Creation takes place with the Name Elokim, or din, alone, signifying the establishing of lawful and predictable Nature. With Man's formation, unvarnished judgment is an insufficient characteristic to sustain a world in which he would commit many sins. Rachamim, compassion, needed to be added; the Four-Letter Name thus appears. Looking at the text more carefully, however, we realize that the Name of Havayah is not used immediately after the creation of Man, but shows up only after Shabbos is described. Havayah, in contradistinction to the Nature implied by Elokim, refers to transcending Nature, rising above it. This happens only through the creation of Shabbos itself.)
Shabbos is very much part of the system of holidays, of the mikra'ei kodesh. As we explained above, that system would fail without it, since it supplies the kedushah to all the other special days. This is why the list of holidays includes Shabbos. Shabbos, however, is treated to a designation that the other days are not. It is called "kodesh," without any modifiers, because it is the source of all kedushah. The other days are appropriately referred to as mikra'ei kodesh, days called to kedushah. They achieve their holiness only by our calling to them, by our preparations and readying ourselves, by our isr'usa d'lesasa. The kedushah of Shabbos inheres in it. It is fully there, brought to us through isr'usa d'l'eila.
Because Shabbos does not function in this world, but takes us to a place above it, Man can achieve on Shabbos accomplishments that are beyond his ordinary grasp, above Nature. Chazal 2 describe Hashem's instructions to Moshe about relating the laws of Shabbos to Bnei Yisrael. "I have a wonderful gift in my house of treasures. It's name is Shabbos. Go forth and make it known to them!" Why is Shabbos called a wonderful gift, while other mitzvos are not? Because only Shabbos takes us elsewhere to the house of treasures, which exists not here, but in Gan Eden.
1So much of the Torah concerns itself with the Bais HaMikdosh and its attendant levels of holiness. There, we encounter holy space, holy utensils, and materials that become sanctified to Hashem. We may be conscious of the fact that the word "kadosh" means set aside, and could see kedushah as merely a description of specialness, of the way we treat something, be it objects, space or time. Our knowledge of halachah, however, has gotten us used to seeing kedushah as something substantive, as a quality that is resident in an object. It is hard to then see kedushah as applying to time. 2 Shabbos 10A
Text Copyright 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.
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