WebYeshiva spoke with her about her journey, her teaching and her thoughts for the new year:
What would you say has been the most fulfilling part of your journey learning Torah?
The privilege to have been able to clear my schedule and actually sit and learn full time for five full years. Not just doing it but thinking it, living it day and night. It brought me to where I am today and was a huge privilege not everyone is allowed, and I am very grateful. It will always be very meaningful to me.
What do you like learning most?
I love to learn halacha, specifically Hishtalshut halacha, -how it developed from the time of the Chumash down through our days. It is so fascinating to see its path from the times of the Tanach, through after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, through the times of the Gemara, through the various galuyot, diasporas, etc, and see what happened to Torah Sheh B’al Peh and how it was modified throughout the years.
The Importance in Remembering the Past
You gave a special shiur for WebYeshiva on Tisha B’Av. Why is Tisha B’Av still relevant today?
I think it is relevant every year, every generation and I see Tisha B’av as a kind of stop sign. Some 3000 years ago Yirmiyahu the Prophet was crying about the Beit Hamikdash. Today, we live in a society which is so polarized, full of unfortunate arguments, and people disrespecting one another in very painful ways.
Like a stop sign Tisha B’av gives us the opportunity to put on the brakes and think: how did we arrive at such a place? How is this similar to the time leading up to the destruction and what can we learn from this, to not repeat such things in our generation.
Part of what I think we will discover is changing the language and the way we act together as a Jewish community both in Israel and the diaspora is the key. We must recognize there is a lot of work to be done, always.
Thoughts for the New Year
You will be giving two special upcoming shiurim, one on the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah and one on the Sunday before Yom Kippur. What are some of your thoughts on the coming year and what we need to be doing as a People?
I think the beauty of Rosh Hashana this year, like every year, is the ability to start from the beginning.
I believe that this year, we need to take advantage of all that is in our power to really do a -“restart,” to allow ourselves, in our private lives as well, a clean slate. We need to reflect, fix our mistakes, and think about what we do with a new set of eyes.
We need to enter this year with true intentions in our hearts of how we can create a better existence and experience for our community.
Surprising as it may be, the pandemic, which is not going away so quickly, is demanding from us a certain level of social responsibility. It’s an existence of “שויתי ה׳ לנגדי תמיד” -I have set HaShem always before me.
On an individual level it means to always live with the knowledge that God is with me, and to therefore think about how I am living and creating a just society, a moral society, a truthful society, a society which sees the people that dwell within it.
Each person needs to think about the way they care for the people around them.
Sometimes, we have to do things that aren’t comfortable for us, such as wearing masks. But we need to do so with mindfulness, and with the understanding that our actions have an effect on the people surrounding us. Whether it’s in our family, our congregation, and especially for all of Am Yisrael, the message is : “כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה – All of Israel is responsible for one another”
WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Fink about why learning the major practical halachic points of the Moadim is important.
1. The Halacha Mastery Program is about teaching students how to make their own practical halachic decisions. Why do you think studying the sources for the practical mitzvot of the Moadim is valuable?
Torah observant Jews must make many halachic decisions each Yom Tov. For example:
If you are ill, which are the most important elements of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to follow?
How do we choose a kosher etrog and lulav?
When is the best time to light Chanukah candles and where is the best place?
What is the minimum requirement for hearing the Megilla on Purim?
A solid grasp of the underlying principles of halacha governing the Moadim will have broad application in many other areas of halacha.
2. There are many aspects to the Moadim and halacha. What will a course like this look like?
For each holiday we will study the primary sources and opinions of the leading poskim with an aim towards drawing practical conclusions. It’s all part of learning to make your own decisions.
3. What aspects of the Moadim do you think are most difficult to understand halachically?
When it comes to the holiday cycle, there are many things which Jews do which are not strictly halachic requirements but are treated as such. I think the most difficult aspect of the Moadim is distinguishing between obligatory halacha and common practices or minhagm, which is not always easy.
WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Brofsky about the course and his goals for the upcoming academic year.
1. The Halacha Mastery Program is about teaching students how to make their own practical halachic decisions. Why do you think that is important today?
I strongly believe that it is important for students to be sufficiently aware of the halachot in order to properly observe them, and in order to know when and what questions to ask. Those who invest enough time learning and gaining an understanding of halachic application and decision making will make many of their own practical halachic decisions. Those who reach this depth of understanding and mastery most often feel more connected and committed and halachic discourse and observance becomes a central part of their Avodat Hashem. Additionally, those who attain a mastery of halachic material are able to teach and help others and the Torah becomes a Torat Chesed (a Torah of kindness) because it enables them to share their learning with others as well.
2. There are many aspects to Hilchot Shabbat. Why is a course specifically dealing with the kitchen important?
The laws of Shabbat are numerous and complex. I believe that the halachot related to the kitchen, i.e., food preparation, cooking, and reheating, are so central to our weekly Shabbat experience that they deserve special attention and study.
3. What topics regarding kitchen and Shabbat do you think are most challenging to master?
While the laws and prohibitions of cooking and heating food for and on shabbat are among the larger topics, I think various aspects of other melachot related to food preparations are both complex and challenging. I look forward to studying them with the Halacha Mastery Program participants and arrive at clear, practical halachic guidelines.
4. What have you enjoyed most about teaching in the Halacha Mastery Program?
I have thoroughly enjoyed the various classes I have taught on WebYeshiva in general, and the Halacha Mastery Program in particular. I am continually amazed to see students from around the world, logging in at all hours of the day, to learn Torah. I am truly inspired by the participants’ motivation and thirst for Torah knowledge.
Mazal Tov to Rabbi Saul Orbach who completed the WebYeshiva.org Halacha Mastery Program and more recently the WebYeshiva.org Semicha Program. WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Orbach about his learning experience.
Why did you choose the Halacha Mastery Program? What did you enjoy most about it?
I had just finished learning regularly somewhere when I was offered the opportunity to join the Halacha Mastery Program, which seemed like not only great timing, but a great opportunity, which I embraced wholeheartedly. I very much enjoyed the program. The teachers are all excellent. The content was diverse yet covered the topics needed to ultimately study for Semicha. With the online format, regardless of where I might have happened to be, I could participate in the class. I recall more than one class I logged into while sitting in an airport awaiting my flight. And for the courses I missed, or simply wanted to review again, everything was recorded so that I could do that at my leisure, or on demand. How cool was that!
Although I’d rather have a Chevrusa and learn together in person, I also enjoy learning on my own, so the self-study aspect of the program worked well for me. But it really comes down to all the great teachers who teach in the program. Just excellent, all of them!
What stood out for you about learning Halacha from the sources?
Learning Halacha from the sources is a very exciting undertaking. There are a couple of things I find absolutely fascinating about it, which enhanced the learning so much for me. First, to see the development of the Halacha from the earlier sources, -from the Torah SheBichtav to the Mishna to the Gemara to the Rambam to the Shulchan Aruch, and down the chain of tradition.
Then we get to the Poskim, the Rabbis who develop and refine the practical Halacha we live by today and understanding their methods, including how Halacha deals with new topics and how the Halacha develops around those new topics. For example, an issue that stands out that we covered was the development of electricity. As it turns out, originally, based on their initial understanding (or lack thereof) the Poskim of the day permitted the use of electricity. As the Rabbis’ understanding caught up with the technology, the Halacha changed to prohibit its use on the one hand, and adapt its usage on the other. Another was birth control and how the methods used in the time of the Gemara was adapted to modern day application.
Lastly, to learn the Halachot k’Seder in the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch, or even in Shmirat Shabbat which we had to study, is to witness the intellectual genius of the authors in codifying law. From one law to the next, systematically developing a code that covers the vast majority of cases, by adding layer after layer, exception after exception, -it’s beyond amazing to realize the monumental accomplishment they were able to achieve all from memory (without computers of course).
Separate from the Halacha Mastery Program what do you like to learn most?
I met Rabbi Brovender about 44 years ago and started learning at Yeshivat Hamivtar in 1979. We go back a long way and I’m proud to say that I continued to learn with him as well as many of the
other great Rabbis/teachers at WebYeshiva from its inception. Rabbi Brovender and I have a weekly chevruta till this day.
Separately, I have been learning Chasidut intensively for close to 15 years and have been teaching a weekly Chabura for the last 5 years. I particularly enjoy the insights into the Penimiut of the Torah that the Chassidic masters offer, that very often upends our typical understandings of standard Meforshim. Sometimes, these are difficult to understand, but like any Torah endeavor, once you do, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes along with it.
What do you do professionally?
On a professional level, I’ve been involved in the tech startup/venture capital world for the past 33 years. I had periods where I built companies, a period of six years where I turned failing companies around, a 3 year period of social impact investing, and I’m in my 8th year of venture capital work. Additionally, I teach venture capital and entrepreneurship in the MBA programs at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the Technion. I also work as a high level advisor to companies and non-profits and continue to be active in the entrepreneurial scene on a global level.
How would you describe your relationship with Rabbi Brovender? What is special about learning Torah with him? What do you enjoy learning most with him?
I first met Rabbi Brovender when he was recruiting for Yeshivat Hamivtar in New Jersey in 1978. He gave an impressive Torah talk (as always, I was to learn), and when I went up to ask him some questions, he told me that the answer to my questions is that I should learn Torah. It was a simple yet profound experience. I started learning at Hamivtar the next year, and eventually, I became the executive director of the Yeshiva as well.
So we had a teacher/student relationship and a work relationship as well that turned into a friendship and personal relationship. I can easily and proudly say that he put me on the path to regular Torah learning. Rabbi Brovender has always been a part of my life since then. I am hardly unique in this feeling, as most of the people who were close to him feel the same way.
He has a very special ability and attribute to make people feel so comfortable, so special, so genuine, that they feel close no matter what. Not everyone makes the effort to stay in touch with him afterwards, but I can tell you that all the ones I know who didn’t, still feel close despite that. I am proud to say that I did maintain my connection over all of these years.
When WebYeshiva was launched, I was one of the first students and was able to reconnect and learn with him, as well as with many of the other great Rabbis/teachers at WebYeshiva, from its inception.
Beyond the classes I take with him in WebYeshiva, I was fortunate that Rabbi Brovender agreed a couple of years ago to learn the Pri Zadik of Rav Zadok HaKohen of Lublin with me weekly. Learning with Rabbi Brovender is a unique experience, especially for me. He is a Talmid Chacham par excellence. His knowledge is vast, his insights are sharp, and his is a very creative mind, so much so that learning together is always a rewarding experience of uncovering understandings and seeing the Torah in new ways. What a joy!