Ken (Chanoch) Bloom's Blog

21st May 2008

Ohr Somayach

I'm safely at Ohr Somayach, where I'll be spending the summer learning. It was a bit interesting getting settled, because I was originally supposed to get into contact with Rabbi Salinger (about dorms) and Rabbi Rockmill (about learning), but both have gone to Chicago to prepare for an Ohr Somayach event at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Thankfully, Rabbi Salinger told me in advance who to go to in his absence. After going to the administration to find out what to do about Rabbi Rockmill's absence, one of the rabbis tested me and placed me in the intermediate program, in Rabbi Sinclair's gemara shiur. I still haven't gotten used to the idea that I'm spending 3 months just learning. (I'm also not sure if I could stand a dorm for more than 3 months.)

My goals while I'm here are: to develop gemara skill so that I can learn gemara when I return to Chicago, and to develop the ability to follow a long Ramban (or other long commentary) on Chumash. I also plan to date, but I'm not sure where to start to find shadchanim.

I haven't found time to venture far from the yeshiva yet. Given the balance between time spent learning, and time spent exploring, so far I've tipped heavily toward learning. I'm going to try to make it to Amukah next week, probably by going to Tsefat for next shabbat, and will probably work out this shabbat by going to the kotel.

Permalink | israel.
24th May 2008

Meron and the Kotel

I'm still settling in here, and trying to get into the swing of things with chevrutot. I've been to morning gemara shiur 3 days so far, and the attendees have been slightly different each time, so I haven't settled down with a chevruta yet. I'm also looking to find a chevruta to learn Chumash with Ramban. Someone photocopied me a bookmark with a short English-Aramaic dictionary on it, so that I can learn the most common gemara words quickly, and that seems to help a bit because most of my shiur can handle the structure of the gemara quite well, but several people need a lot of help with translation. Hopefully that just comes with practice and a little bit of a cheat sheet.

I went on a trip with the yeshiva to Meron for Lag LaOmer evening. We went to Tsefat first, then Meron. The kever of RaShB"I was packed to the point that it was constant pushing, and there were additionally thousands of people on their way up and down. I was disappointed to see so much activity from the Na-Nach Breslov segment and the Yechi Chabad segment, and felt that it was really inappropriate for them to be piggy backing off a holiday that really had nothing to do with them.

On the way back from Meron, we stopped at the Kotel for shacharit slightly after hanetz. Since I had not yet been to the kotel, I had to perform k'riyah (and I was wearing an old shirt specifically for that purpose). I was exicted to visit the kotel, and excited to perform this halacha, so I couldn't really understand how I could be feeling mourning that would motivate tearing the shirt. Then I did it, and realized that the k'riyah and the paseukim help to spark the feeling of mourning. There's always some amazing feeling every time I visit the Kotel (and it's always a different one).

For shabbat mincha and arvit of motzia'e shabbat, I was back at the kotel again. (After searching the old city for another yeshiva that I couldn't seem to find.) I had seudah sh'lishit at the kotel and joined a couple of different groups that were singing zemirot. I guess I was in a musical mood because I was somewhere in the middle of the lachash of arvit (with a really slow shat"z who spent 3 minutes on the first paseuk of she'ma) when I started singing the shemona esreh to myself softly (in an improvised melody). It took me about 20 minutes to finish shemonah esreh, but when you can get yourself to go that slow, you can start to have kavanot about the words you're saying.

I went to the kotel for kabbalat shabbat, and afterwards Jeff Seidel (who arranges meals for students at the kotel) sent me with a large group of other people to "Hippie Joe" for dinner. Someone mentioned that he was very kabbalistically inclined, so I was a bit worried. In my world, that screams "Kabbalah Center." Why is he called "Hippie Joe?" It turns out that this is because he follows the Ben Ish Chai to the letter, but also has a kiruvy approach of explaining precisely what's going on to his guests who may not always be frum yet. (The combination translates into an appearance of a deep interest in kabbalah.) And he has a preference for organic products, so it could come off as hippie, but he's certainly among the yirei shamayim. Certainly somebody worth meeting again.

Most of the meal was spent introducing the people there and getting each to give a short d'var torah. I shared as a d'var torah my experience at the Kotel that morning, and all the girls were impressed. (I chose that over sharing something that I had heard about Rabbi Akiva's death that would have been on the same theme that several other people had talked about, and very technical.)

Mashiach (another bachur in one of my shiurim) finally clued me in to the location of the sepharadi yeshiva that's "across the street". It turns out that it's across the street, through an apartment complex, and then at the on the other side of the park (Arzei Birah). Navigation in Jerusalem is confusing with a few main streets and lots of little cul-de-sacs that don't show up on maps. But I found the place, and apparently it's a kollel affiliated with Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom, and Rav Yaakov Hillel davens there on shabbat. Mashiach told me that the shul starts shacharit at 7:30 on shabbat, so I went at 7:30, only to find that they hadn't started yet. So I went elsewhere and on my way back I found that they actually start at 8am. I shall have to make it back there some time.

Next weekend I'm going to plan to go to Amukah and that will probably involve spending Shabbat in Tsefat. Hopefully my chevrutot will get more settled and more focused this week.

Permalink | israel.
27th May 2008

A note on my name

Since I arrived in Yerushalyim, I have been using my Hebrew name, Chanoch, exclusively. My theory is that if nobody in the country calls me "Ken", then I won't have to perk up when someone says "Yes" in Hebrew. We'll see whether that can override 25 years of reflex.

And as for Rav Yaakov Hillel shlit"a, why wait until shabbat when I can just as easily go to his Monday night shiur (on tefillah) at Yeshivat Hevrat Ahavat Shalom, a 10 minute walk away.

My plans for Amukah are to go next Tuesday on an erev Rosh-Chodesh tour of kivrei tzadikkim in the north. The trip is not affiliated with Ohr Somayach in any way, but there are filers advertising it all over the neighborhood, so someone spotted it and told me about it.

Permalink | israel.
29th May 2008

Parshat Bemidbar

שאו את־ראש בני־ישראל למשפחתם לבית אבתם במספר שמות כל־זכר לגלגלתם׃ מבן עעשרים שנה ומעלה כל־יצא צבא בישראל תפקדו אתם לצבאתם אתה ואהרון׃

The Ramban explains תפקדו (usually translated as counting in this paseuk) along the lines of the verse וה׳ פקד את שרה כאשר אמר (And Hashem remembered Sarah as he had said). He also relates the idea to a פקדון (a deposit) because the shomer (who holds the deposit) watches over and directs the deposit. Hence, the idea of a census is that each person in Am Yisrael should be remembered individually. How? במספר שמות (usually translated "by the count of their names"). The Ramban relates the word מספר to the verb לספר (to tell, as in a story) and explains that when each person deposited his half shekel (Shemot 30:13) he also told the census taker his name.

The Emek Davar interprets similarly, but does not require the half-shekel since it is not stated in the commandment for this census. Instead, he explains that במספר שמות means that each person counted brought a slip of paper with his name on it, and put it into a box to have that counted. Afterwards, the leaders of the tribes each came with their own box and sifted through the names to find the names for their own tribe. (All except for the tribe of Naftali who didn't need to sift. Since he came last, all the remaining names were his, as indicated by the lack of a ל at the beginning of Bemidbar 1:42.)

The Ramban further explores the reason why David HaMelech was punished for his own census. He rejets the idea that it was because David didn't use shekels, since surely he knew the halacha, and if not, Yoav (his general) did. (And Yoav says so in Divrei HaYamim 1 21:3.) Rather, he advances other reasons.

One reason was that David counted for no reason other than his own glory. In this parsha, had it not been for the sin of the spies, this census is the one that would have been used to divide the land after Am Yisrael entered the land just a few days later.

Another reason: David wanted to count men from the age of 13 and up. The Ramban syas that the verse (Shemot 30:14) did not allow the Jews to be counted except from the age of 20 and up. (The punishment of a plague applying to an error here too.)

The Ramban says further that Hashem does not want all of israel counted together in one number, because we are compared to the stars of the heavens and the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.

It seems to me that these last two reasons are related. That Hashem wanted a count only from 20 to 60 so that the exact number of adult males would not be known exactly, and only a portion of the number would be. Furthermore, I have heard from my teachers that something whose count is known exactly cannot be a recipient of blessing, so it seems to me that the purpose of a plague killing people was a way to restore the nation to its previously uncounted state and make it worthy of blessing. (Though Shmuel 2 24:15 mentions that 70,000 men died, surely nobody knew the exact count besides Hashem, and the Navi who later recorded sefer Shmuel.)

May you all be blessed with the blesings of an uncountable people, and with the blessings that flow from the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael. Amen.

Permalink | torah.
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