(Photo: Howie Mischel)
“ShehecheyanYU”: Yeshiva University’s Torat Tziyon Program
Bikkurim and Ma’aser, Torah, Madda and Eretz Yisrael
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN AND STEPHANIE STRAUSS
On Seder night, we told the story of our transition from slavery to freedom – but made no mention of Hashem bringing us to the “Promised Land.” Though the mikra bikkurim, beginning with arami oved avi, is used as a frame for retelling the story of the Exodus, the haggadah conspicuously omits the last two verses: “And He has brought us to this place and has given us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, Hashem have given me.” Though our historical-religious journey begins on Pesach, our national destiny is only realized on Shavuot, when we celebrate the final fulfillment of the brit bein ha-betarim promised to Avraham Avinu. The “bikkurim declaration” recited in totality on Shavuot is an expression of our gratitude for Eretz Yisrael.
Moshe Rabbeinu concludes his mitzvah speech in Sefer Devarim with the mitzvot of mikra bikkurim and vidui ma’aser, for they both include a declaration in which we thank Hashem for giving us the Land. Mikra bikkurim focuses on the national-historic identity we acquire in the Land of Israel, while vidui ma’aser proclaims our commitment to observe the mitzvot of the Land, underscoring our religious identity. These are the primary themes of Moshe’s speech to Am Yisrael: reinforcing our national and religious identities as fulfillments of the brit bein ha-betarim and brit milah. All too often, we prioritize one aspect over the other – at times neglecting our religious responsibilities in favor of national fervor and culture, or forgetting about national identity and responsibility as we immerse ourselves in halachic detail. Moshe’s speech reminds us that our covenantal commitment to Hashem is manifest through both the Torah and the Land, ideally expressed through living a life of mitzvah observance in Eretz Yisrael.
Yeshiva University, founded to integrate Torah and academic scholarship, is currently creating new opportunities to integrate our religious and national identities by building a comprehensive religious college environment at their campus in Yerushalayim. Through its S. Daniel Abraham partnership with yeshivot and midrashot in Israel, Yeshiva University has long encouraged students to study Torah in Israel. While growing as Jews, strengthening their Torah learning skills and connecting to national-religious values, students earn up to a full year of college credit toward their undergraduate degree at Yeshiva University. Many of these students wish to continue learning in Israel while pursuing their academic degrees. Led by its President, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, YU is answering this need by launching its new Torat Tziyon program in Israel for this upcoming Fall semester.
Torat Tziyon will allow students to connect with educational, communal and entrepreneurial thought leaders in Israel’s booming economic and cultural landscape, while delving into the rich heritage of the country.
The program follows YU’s characteristic daily schedule of combined Torah studies and academic classes. Students will continue their religious studies in the mornings and evenings while attending live academic classes and online masters’ degrees taught by renowned professors and teachers on the YU-Gruss campus. The men will learn in the Gruss Beit Midrash under the guidance of YU rebbeim while the women will study in the newly remodeled beit midrash of Ulpanat Chorev in Bayit Vegan, directed by Rabbanit Shani Taragin. Guided by YU academic deans Dr. Noam Wasserman, Dr. Karen Bacon, Professor Shoshana Schechter, Rabbis Menachem Penner and Yosef Kalinsky, students will have the support they need to advance both religiously and academically. YU is also working closely with Nefesh B’Nefesh to prepare students for Aliyah by providing internship and networking opportunities.
The uniqueness of Torat Tziyon will be most apparent in its atmosphere and programming. Rabbi Josh and Rabbanit Margot Botwinick, who currently serve as the Mizrachi OU-JLIC campus couple at Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya), will be coordinating student life activities including Shabbatonim, tiyulim, chessed opportunities, weekly shiurim, and monthly alumni events open to the entire Anglo-speaking community in Israel. Both YU graduates, Margot and Josh are known for their dynamic shiurim and events, and are excited to help build the future of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. May Torat Tziyon be a fulfillment of the synthesis of Moshe Rabbeinu – of Torah u’Madda, the national and the religious – here in the land of milk and honey, the land of our Jewish destiny!
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program.
Mrs. Stephanie Strauss is the Executive Director of Yeshiva University in Israel and Coordinator of the Torat Tziyon program. For more information, contact Mrs. Stephanie Strauss at firstname.lastname@example.org