Jews with Views – Shavuot Edition 5783
Which sefer can keep you awake all night long on Shavuot?
BY RABBI REUVEN BOSHNACK
Rav Chaim HaCohen of Aram Tzoba, also known as Aleppo, Syria, was a student of Rabbi Chaim Vital who wrote a fantastic commentary on Shulchan Aruch. Though much of the commentary was lost, we still have many sections of Orach Chaim and the laws of mourning. It is named the Tur Bareket – Mekor Chaim, after one of the columns of precious stones on the kohen gadol’s chest plate. This unique book explains the interface between the laws of daily life, the secrets of Torah and the life lessons which emerge from them.
“His head is a shining gem, the curls of his hair are black like a raven” (Shir HaShirim 5:11). The Midrash explains these curls of hair represent the curls and nuances of halacha. Rav Aharon HaLevi of Starshellye (Parashat Naso) comments that hair grows from the head, and yet we feel nothing when it is cut. Each nuance of halacha emerges from Hashem’s will, but often we don’t understand how or why it matters or what difference it makes in our lives. Herein lies the charm in Rav Chaim HaCohen’s sefer. I find it incredibly compelling to delve into the meaning behind each curl of halacha, how it connects us with Hashem and how each law aims to improve our lives.
Rabbi Reuven Boshnack is the Rav of Pri Eitz Chaim/OAJC and a Rebbe, Mashgiach and Advisor for Undergraduate Torah Studies at Yeshiva University. He is the author of several sefarim on the Maharal, Sefas Emes and Izhbitz.
BY SHIRA LANKIN SHEPS
Over 18 years ago, when I was a student in seminary, I had the opportunity to be taught by Dr. Yael Ziegler. As a teen, I hadn’t yet discovered what the stories of our history as a people meant to me. In her Tanach classes, I was empowered to read the text in a different way, parsing out the meaning of every verse and understanding characters, values, allusions, and messages that transcend the individuals in the narratives. She taught me that the messages of Tanach are as applicable to our lives today as they were in their own time. They are messages that were meant for all generations.
When her book Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy was published, I instantly knew that it would become a favorite of mine and a constant companion for my Shavuot night learning. Utilizing midrashic readings to uncover deep textual analysis and a revelation of religious meanings in the megillah of Ruth, Dr. Ziegler offers insights into the themes of leadership, redemption, identity, and social morality.
Over the last few years, I have stayed up through the early morning hours of Shavuot reading and re-reading her scholarship. Every time I crack open the spine once more, I uncover new ideas, deeper meaning, and a stronger connection to the text and the holiday.
Shira Lankin Sheps, MSW, is a writer, photographer, and clinically trained therapist. She is the creator and publisher of The Layers Project Magazine, an online magazine that explores in-depth insights into the challenges and triumphs of the lives of Jewish women. She is the author of “Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience, and Growth From Jewish Women” published by Toby Press in 2021.
BY RABBI DR. YOSEF BRONSTEIN
On Shavuot night I do not want to just learn Torah. I want to feel enveloped by the mesorah of Torah – the unbroken chain of Jews who studied, argued over and contributed to the Torah from Sinai until today. I aspire to receive the Torah anew accompanied by the intergenerational mesorah-community.
For this reason, one of my favorite books to learn on Shavuot night is Kunterus Divrei Sofrim of Rav Elchanan Wasserman. Using the lens of classic Talmudic methodology, the book dives deeply into the role of Torah scholars throughout the ages as transmitters and contributors to the mesorah of Torah. In essay after essay, Rav Elchanan masterfully clarifies key meta-questions about the mesorah such as: Which halachot come from G-d, and which were developed by the Sages over time? Which halachot are immutable, and which can be changed? What is the source of rabbinic authority? Kunterus Divrei Sofrim provides a window into the dynamic interplay between the Torah G-d gave us at Sinai and the collective contributions of the Sages.
A student of Rav Chaim of Brisk and the Chafetz Chaim, Rav Elchanan was deeply rooted in the legendary yeshivot of Eastern Europe. His lifetime was tragically cut short when he and his entire yeshiva were murdered by the Nazis. Studying Rav Elchanan’s Torah thoughts about the mesorah is a way of giving him and the Torah that he represents the ultimate victory over the Nazis. Decades after the fall of our enemies, Rav Elchanan’s words live on, connecting us to our roots and challenging us to be our own link in the unbroken chain of Torah.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Bronstein is the Rosh Bet Medrash of Machon Zimrat Ha’aretz, a new community Bet Medrash and rabbinical training program in Kehilat Shirat David in Efrat.
BY REBBETZIN NATALIE ALTMAN
I grew up in a ba’al teshuvah family, received Chabad schooling and attended a Modern Orthodox midrasha in Israel. Upon my return to South Africa, I was involved in Ohr Somayach, Bnei Akiva and the University Jewish Student programme. I am currently the Director of the Religious Zionist yeshiva day school in South Africa.
For me, Shavuot is about mesorah (tradition) and the very personal way that each of us express that mesorah. I am curious about the traditions that take hold over time, the ones that are rejected and those that are personalized and tweaked by different communities and individuals over generations.
A book I could read all through the night is Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s Generation to Generation: Personal Recollections of a Chassidic Legacy. Rabbi Twerski shares personal stories of his family’s Chassidic dynasty through the lens of Torah and psychology. It is moving to read about the practical, day to day expressions of the Twerski family’s authentic Torah lifestyle. This is the culture I try to create for my own children and students, and it is important to remind myself of this goal every year.
I work with teenagers who are searching for and shaping their identities, and particularly their Jewish identity. In his description of his father’s home, Rabbi Twerski describes his father’s rebuke in three Yiddish words: “Es past nisht,” “that is not becoming of you.” Our children face many challenges, distractions and competitors to their yiddishkeit. When we teach them about the great depth of tradition and the beautiful legacy they must live up to, we help them recognize their own inherent greatness. It is an inspiring call for them – and us – to live our best lives.
Rebbetzin Natalie Altman is the Director of Yeshiva College Schools in Johannesburg, South Africa.
BY RABBI YOSSI GOLDIN
I have personally found that over the years, different seforim and areas of Torah have piqued my interest and kept me up learning all night on Shavuot. Often the seforim I chose reflected the stage in life I was in. When I was younger, I enjoyed going through Megillat Ruth with my friends – taking snack breaks every 10 minutes, but also feeling a sense of accomplishment at finishing the Megillah each year. As I entered my years in yeshiva and college, Gemara learning became my area of passion and focus and Shavuot night a prime opportunity for a “chazara (review) marathon.” During my semicha years, my focus shifted to learning halacha in-depth. Years later, a newfound interest in Torat Eretz Yisrael dominated my attention.
Recently, however, my Shavuot night learning has once again shifted dramatically. As a number of my children have reached the ages where they stay up for at least part of Shavuot night, I now spend the night learning with each of my kids, continuing the learning we do together every Shabbat, but for a longer amount of time. There is something incredibly rewarding about this experience. Aside from the Torah learning itself and spending quality time with my children, the opportunity to pass on the experience of Torah study to the next generation on Shavuot night, when we celebrate our nation’s kabbalat haTorah and the privilege that a life of Torah provides us, is profound – and something I do not take for granted.
Rabbi Yossi Goldin is a 9th grade Ra”m at YTA, Israel Immersion Program Coordinator and Placement Advisor at YU/RIETS Israel, and Coordinator of Community Engagement at World Mizrachi/NCYI.