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.
This Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Shemitta year. The Torah mentions in several places every seventh agricultural year the people must let the land rest.
Since observance of the Shemitta or the Shvi’it year can often feel complicated or confusing with various restrictions and practices, WebYeshiva is offering a special free, live, fully interactive 5-part online series, Practical Shemitta: The Kitchen, which will cover the major issues with managing the observance of shemitta in the home and kitchen.
Taught by Rabbi Dovid Fink, starting August 2, the series will look at the sources of the relevant topics and present the practical halacha in each case. WebYeshiva students will gain the knowledge to be ready for observance of Shemitta at home and in the market.
In preparation for the series, WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Fink about what he will be teaching and his thoughts on the Shemitta year in general.
1) How important is it to review the practical halachot of shemitta? Isn’t going according a certain hechsher (kosher certification) enough?
In general, following a specific hechsher might be sufficient. But there are important reasons for studying the underlying halachot of shemitta including the following:
Produce of the shemitta year has kedusha (sanctity). When bringing it into the house, one has to know how to treat it, handle it, and dispose of waste.
You will not always have the option of relying on a hechsher. At times you will have to deal with issues of shemitta yourself.
Understanding the underlying decision that a specific hechsher has made in controversial matters will enable you to interact seamlessly with others who follow other hechsherim.
It’s important to know the halachic advantages and disadvantages of the hetter mechira and otzar beit din.
2) What do you think are the most challenging halachot of shemitta?
Establishing which opinion is embraced by the mainstream and deciding when to follow the strict and when to follow the lenient opinion on controversial issues.
3) Why is it important to study laws of shemitta even if you live abroad?
Those who live outside Israel should study the laws of the shemitta year for a number of reasons:
1. Learning Torah is always a mitzvah.
2. When unable to perform a specific mitzvah, learning about it is second best.
3. Those who live abroad will probably encounter shemitta issues if they visit Israel (post Covid) or if they buy Israeli produce sold abroad. Note that this issue arises with most etrogim sold in Europe and North America.
4. Like every other halacha, the underlying principles of the shemitta year have broad application throughout the length and breadth of Torah.
3) Aside from the dos and don’ts, the practical halachot, what do you feel we are supposed to internalize about the experience of the shemitta year?