Jerusalem Journal #5.1

My Dear Young Israel Family,

All is well and my warmest wishes to everyone for a Chanukah Sameach. I want to thank the many people who call and correspond with me and I am especially appreciative of your kind comments on these Jerusalem Journal installments.


As I'm sure you've read and seen, our family spent another wonderful Shabbos in Yokneam (St. Louis' sister city in Israel) with 17 of our St. Louis young adults. The hospitality was all- embracing and a great time was had by all. Noah Pollack spoke at Shalosh Seudos and delivered a powerful d'var Torah as only he can. Yocheved, Dena and Yaakov Mosheh were with me and we were hosted by the Chief Rabbi of the city, HaRav Michael Vaknin, a remarkable talmid chacham. Of course, they had me speak a number of times - in Hebrew - and I took the liberty of expressing our collective thanks for their extraordinary hachnasat orchim.

In late November, I was invited to attend a relative's Bar Mitzvah in Yerushalayim. I may have mentioned in the past that the larger Bienenfeld family has a long history within in the Gerer Chassidic tradition. There are many Bienenfeld families in Israel who are Gerer Chassidim. The Bar Mitzvah celebration was one of them. It was quite an experience meeting these relatives and feeling a special kinship with them. Here too, they asked me to give a d'var Torah - in Hebrew - and I did my best in introducing them to some of Rav Soloveitchik's Torah. Now that I'm here, I certainly hope to investigate further my Gerer Chassidic roots. I'll keep you posted.

On the teaching front, I am enjoying immensely the various shiurim I give. The OU Center has invited Yocheved and me to be their guest speakers at their Shabbaton in January, and I've been asked to give a course on Religious Zionism at Midreshet Rachel. Beyond these teaching responsibilities, I am also looking for opportunities to connect with Israelis and hopefully contribute something of religious value to their lives. Working with the IDF, visiting with High School students are avenues I'm currently pursuing. With G-d's help, and if my Hebrew holds up and improves, perhaps I can serve in some positive capacity.

As you may have heard, Israel is in dire need of rain. We have already begun reciting a special "anneinu" in our shemone esreh. So when you say "v'sen tal u'mattar," please keep Israel in your prayers.

Israel Observations

In a recent visit to Misrad Ha'Pinim, the Ministry of Interior, I was again struck by the amazing mix of cultures and people that coexist here in Jerusalem. Simply riding a bus exposes you to changing neighborhoods and different passengers, all within minutes, as the bus winds its way through the streets of Yerushalayim. I often wonder how these cultures can speak to each other; they are so different and legitimately incompatible. It occurred to me, though, that if people can genuinely accord to each other mutual respect and honor, discussions can begin. Without such validation of simply "being," nothing of any substance can take place. Jerusalem is really a small place, and that very geographic reality often fosters an acceptance and willingness to learn and listen, even if ultimate agreement is not achievable.

IÕve noticed something else which I find quite commendable. Living here is not easy. Things take time, a lot of time. There are frequent setbacks, frustrations, and, best of intentions notwithstanding, plans often do not play out as intended. Here, though, I've observed a certain resiliency, a tolerance, a dimension of courage which allows people not just to cope but to discover layers of meaning that actually give them strength and inspire them to act with remarkable chesed and sensitivity. When confronted by different challenges, you often learn things about yourself that you never realized before. At times, these realizations can be elevating; at times, they are downright embarrassing. The point is we ought to learn from ourselves (often not easy) and make the necessary changes and corrections. In so doing, we not only grow wiser; we grow better. Apparently, Israelis appear to have absorbed this message quite well. It's a lesson for us all.

D'var Torah

Chanukah is upon us, so this insight from the writings of Rav Soloveitchik is particularly apt.

The Rav asks about the connection between the story of Yosef and the Chanukah festival. After all, it cannot be a mere coincidence that Chanukah always coincides with the Yosef narrative in the Torah readings.

The Rav answers by drawing our attention to the fact that both Yaakov and Yosef experienced galus, exile. Why was this necessary? G-d's prophecy to Avraham that His covenant with Israel would require an exile of painful servitude begged a simple question. Could Israel survive such an ordeal? Through their personal exilic experiences, Yaakov and Yosef would each demonstrate that it could be done. Later generations would be able to learn and take courage from the heroic behavior of these paradigmatic ancestors.

Why two experiences of exile? Because the Jew would need to confront two very different challenges. Yaakov would "prove that the Torah is realizable in poverty and oppression," and Yosef would demonstrate "that enormous success, unlimited riches, and power are not in conflict with a saintly covenantal life." Chanukah challenged Israel's ability to survive in a powerfully compelling culture, fashionable and captivating but radically alien to Torah values.

Thankfully, like their forebearers, Yaakov and Yosef, the Chashmonaim proved they could.

Rabbi Bienenfeld