Everyone knows we are in an extraordinary time. In times like these, similar to when you are sick or at death’s door, people think of their mortality and if they live how to repent from their evil ways and become a more spiritual person. In Hebrew and Judaism, we call this doing Chuva or Teshuvah.
Firstly, there are several terms that are confused, but have common threads. The main thing that 3,500 years of Judaism teaches us is how to be a Holy Person. This is different than spirituality, and I had the blessing to learn the difference from one of the great Torah teachers of Israel, the former head of the Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, of blessed memory (OBM).
Harav Mordechai Goldstein, zt”l, was an early activist of the Teshuvah movement who founded the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mt. Zion in Yerushalayim, was Born in Cheshvan 5692/1931, Harav Goldstein, was an alumnus of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens, as well as one of the first talmidim of Hagaon Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, in Lakewood. He moved to Eretz Yisrael upon the advice of his Rebbi, Hagaon Harav Henoch Lebowitz, zt”l.
Harav Goldstein founded the Diaspora Yeshivah in 1965 (initially called Yeshivas Toras Yisrael), in Yerushalayim, attracting largely secular youth from Israel and the U.S. Two years later, after the Six-Day War, the yeshivah moved to Har Zion, which Israel had liberated during the war.
The yeshivah later changed its name to the Diaspora Yeshiva, marking its role as a place of a spiritual homecoming for Jewish youth from around the world.
The yeshivah has had hundreds of talmidim, and is noted for its diversity, accepting any and every background.
I was one of those talmidim (students) in 1995, and I was sitting on a Friday morning with Rav Goldstein, studying the Parsha Hashova (Torah section of the week), which happened to be in the book of Leviticus called Kiddushim (holiness). On that day the famous Dali Lama had come to Israel and everyone was in a Tissie about his presence in Israel. There were less than 10 of us in the class on Mount Zion that day in King David’s tomb where we were studying the Parsha.
I asked the Rav, are we wasting our time here in the class. Shouldn’t we be studying with this great spiritual leader? His answer has always stayed with me.
“Yehuda”, he said, “the Dal Lama is a great spiritual leader, everyone has a duty to be spiritual and a good and empowering person like him. But a Jew also has a duty to be holy as we are being taught in this Parsha of Kiddushim.”
Being spiritual he said is the essence of the Torah. As Rabbi Hillel says of the words in Kiddushim, Love your neighbor like yourself, that is spirituality. The rest says Rabbi Hillel is all commentary. Now go study the words of the Torah and Sages.
And this is what I have been doing for the last 40 years. Studying the words of the Torah, in order to know how to apply them in today’s world. The law (Halacha) doesn’t change but the circumstances do. This is why, based on what I learned, that although the law teaches to fast last Thursday on the 17th of Tammuz and in a few weeks on Tisha Bov, this year because of the virus, if you are over 60, the words of the Torah say, don’t fast. All five of the Rabbinic fasts are put in by the Rabbi’s (the sixth -Yom Kippur is found in the Torah itself), and therefore the Rabbi’s have the right to cancel them based on circumstances.
Why is there so much disagreement among the Rabbi’s you ask? It’s a good question, but the question is better than the answer. All Orthodox Rabbi’s agree about the basics in the Torah, but individual people see the circumstances differently. And in Torah, all positions must be respected. We don’t consider another person wrong because he or she interprets the conditions differently.
In addition, each person, since he has a duty to be spiritual, maybe harder on himself, than he thinks the law to be. Last night I was at a Shabbat house for third meal, and a non-Jewish lady described how she fasted for months, drinking only water and having vitamins for a personal cleansing. She has every right to do so, but to be holy I have to study the rules of the Torah and apply them to myself.
I have to eat kosher food, I have to keep the Shabbat, I have to fast when it is not a danger to my life, but I also have to break Shabbat if I am injured and have to go to the hospital and NOT FAST when it may not be save to do so.
When it comes to your personal health, the Torah says you have to guard your health VERY MUCH.
We try to emulate G-d, we don’t have to do more than the letter of the law, and sometimes doing more is against being Holy!
Somewhere Out There
Little Moishie Romberg was spending the weekend with his Bubbie and Zadie. On a walk with Bubbie, she noticed what looked like a bright star in the sky, so Bubbie explained that it was actually the planet Mars. Bubbie went on to provide a simplified explanation of the solar system suitable for her young grandson. Bubbie ended her explanation with, “We live on a planet called Earth.”
After a long pause, Little Moishie asked, “What planet does Zadie live on?”