Friday, March 2, 2012

Update from R' Asher on Survival Week

.As you probably know, last Shabbat, Parashat Titzave, was held in the holy city of Chevron

Needless to say, spending Shabbat where so many of our ancestors lived, and are buried, was truly an uplifting experience, as many students shared, for all of us.

We had the privilege to daven Mincha of Erev Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Arvit in Mi'arat HaMachpela (the cave of the patriarchs) with many other people. There was lots of singing and dancing, and also a few quite moments as students took personal time for themselves, to reflect on where they were standing and who exactly is buried beneath them.

We had our three Shabbat meals with a captivating and a one of a kind elderly couple who live on the hilltops of Chevron, and have a unique and enthralling opinion and perspective about Am Yisrael, and the state of Israel.

The students were all captivated and taken aback by our hosts and would love to spend time with them again.
During Shabbat, we toured the many sites of Chevron understanding how so much of our Jewish roots began there.

We visited the old, yet renewed Avraham-Avinu community, the homes of the renewed Jewish neighborhood spread throughout the city, and also with a group of soldiers toured many of the ancient parts of Cheveron where Jews, prior to 1929, once lived and flourished.

One of the special moments was when we had a personal meeting with one of the top officers of the Golani brigade who's in charge of Chveron security, and actually "happened" to be a previous student of R' Erez in high school, for Tanach classes.

He not only spoke about army life and what his responsibilities are in Chevron, but also about the importance and the privilege he has to be able to guard, and take care of the resting place of Avraham and Sara, and our other ancestors. It was very powerful for the students to hear about the keduash of the Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, not from a famous rabbi, but from a top army officer, who wasn't only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

We also heard fascinating stories about daily life and the importance of living there, from the great granddaughter of Rav Kook and other residents, we dipped in an ancient Mikva, saw the archeological remains, believe it or not, of the actual gate through which Avraham Avinu and King David passed (!!!), and enjoyed many other exciting sites.

It was truly incredible!!!

On Motzei Shabbat we joined a Yeshiva University sponsored barbecue Meleva Malka for all American one year students in Israel which was held in Jerusalem. We had a bite to eat, danced, heard some Divrei Torah, and after enjoying the evening set off to the north to begin survival week.

I'm sure you have probably heard by now of the survival week, so I'll just give you a general picture of it.

In the weeks leading up to it, the students did a great job in preparing for Survival. They studied maps of the terrain of the southern and northern Golan so they‘d be able to navigate the trails with ease, brushed up on a few first aid courses, learned about basic herbs that's edible, and prepared their bags with bare essentials-clothes, sleeping bag, tents, water, and Teffilin, and most importantly looked forward to it with great anticipation.

We left early in the morning, and after Shacharit Vatikin all students were divided in to three teams and given their daily food portion which basically consisted of some dried fruit, nuts, and flour,. After the initial shock regarding their food rations set in and after making sure no students brought any extra nosh with them, we set out on our way, hiking through streams, mud, mountains, freezing water, and valleys.

Throughout the four days of survival students got to really know themselves, their weaknesses, their strengths, and those of their friends. We saw many situations in which students ignored their own discomfort in order to help someone else who had it harder, cases in which students kept their word even when they thought they were alone and no staff was around.

We walked about 60 kilometers through cold harsh weather, sometimes even through stormy winds, sleet, hail, and snow, while all the time each student carried his pack made up of their clothes, sleeping bags, cooking dishes, tent, towel, toiletries, etc…

Among the challenging things they had to do, the students had to jump in to freezing water to try to catch fish for them to gut and clean and cook for their dinner, had to sleep in a tent full of water while sharing one sleeping bag per three guys, and carry a stretcher with an "injured" guy through a fierce storm of wind and sleet while trudging through water and about a foot of mud.

I can personally tell you that it was no stroll in the park.

The student pushed themselves even when it was very rough, and as they would later share during our meeting, pushed themselves beyond what they thought were their limits and realized that (almost) nothing is impossible if you really set your heart and mind to it.

Needless to say, after a few days of just surviving on some dried fruit, canned corn, and each other’s company, they gained a new appreciation for food and friend.

I'm attaching a link to more pictures from Survival.

That's about it for now, the students have an out Shabbat and will g-d willing return with new strength for a week of studying about, and celebrating Purim altogether.

Shabbat Shalom!

R' Asher

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We Survived Survival Week!

Time to get ready for Purim :-)

Survival Week: Trooping Through the Mud

A walk in the park

Testing the students' strength
Almost at the end.

Survival Week: Going with the Flow

Due to the pouring rain and snow we are not authorized to continue as there are mud slides and slippery trails. We are forced to stay put and survive the bitter cold and hunger in the wilderness

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Survival Week: Day 4

It rained a lot. With temperatures near freezing, some of our equipment turned icy. Without the warmth of fire, we had to turn to alternative methods to stay warm. We are currently grounded at base camp, waiting to get the green light to move ahead. Let's see how today treats us. 

Avoiding the cold.

Continuation of Day 3: Survival Week

Dinner at the end of a rainy day.


Mission to get more food.
Group 1 in action

Strong and beautiful.

LYA navigators

Survival Week: Day 3

Day Three: all teams are doing well. We started with fifteen guys and now we're down to eleven. Last night we overcame the challenge of sleeping without our tent. Let's see what today has in store. 

What's left of team 2

The mountains that the students from LYA had to climb during survival week 

The end is in sight. We see mount Chermon.   

Only two days and 25 kilometers to go.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Survival Week has Begun!

Group One: Aviv Spialter, Zack Lowy, Gabe Kohn, Ac Silverstein, Ariel Weiss 

Group 2: Yaacov Steinberg, Ari Wolf, Jake Koenigson, Josh Rubin, Daniel Zargary
Group 3: Evyater Steinhert, Tzuri Tshuba, Ari Shachar, Yosef Groner, Ezra Freidman


Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Refua Shleima for the Clouds

Parashat Mishpatim – R' Asher Smith

"And Moshe came within the cloud, and he went up to the mountain, and Moshe was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." (Shmot 24:18)
"וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן וַיַּעַל אֶל הָהָר וַיְהִי מֹשֶׁה בָּהָר אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה."
To paraphrase the above, Moshe received, "digested" and studied the Torah from Hashem for forty days and forty nights, on the top of Har Sinai, in a cloud.
A few questions jump out.
  1. What's the deal with 40? Why not 39, or 45, why did this Chavruta with Hashem take exactly 40 days? And why did Moshe need so much time in order to process and study the Torah, it's not as if the Torah is a packaged and  labeled product which requires a 40 day period of training, and after that, you're done, you get Smicha. It's infinite! Takes our whole life to start to even slightly understand what's goin' on, so what is Moshe exactly accomplishing in these 40 days and nights, and not a day more or a night less?
  2. Why does the Torah emphasize forty days AND forty nights?
  3. What's the deal with the cloud?
Important note: the Abarbanel, as he classically does, asks similar questions, and of course develops them with much depth and many twists, and answers them in his unique way, if you have a moment, it's worth a peak.
We can use the golden rule, that whenever a concept, a passuk, or a statement, appear which are not so clear, it's always a smart move to try and find if and where and in what context, did that exact term come up for the first time in the Torah, which will then often shed light on the difficulty at hand. (Try it, it works).
So we don't have to be the Gaon of Vilna to know that the first time, this exact phrase of "forty days and forty nights" comes up is in describing how long it rained in the beginning of the Mabul-the flood. "וַיְהִי הַגֶּשֶׁם עַל הָאָרֶץ אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה"
"And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights" (Bereishit 7:12).
All we have to do is to cut and paste this description, with its "hyperlinks," to our passuk, of Moshe receiving and studying the Torah.
The world was destroyed as Hashem wanted, and the way in which his will played out, was through water, with an emphasis on rain water, (as well as deep spring water etc…).
Bottom line, the rain whose sole purpose was and is to bring life in to the world, H2O for the earth, animals, and people, was now being used for the exact opposite purpose, as a bearer of destruction and death. True, this was Hashem's plan and will, yet nonetheless the rains had to do a very "dirty" and cruel job. Now where do the rains come and fall from? The clouds. Meaning that, the physical origin of the destruction of the earth at the time, were the clouds.
So here comes Moshe, who we already know is a super sensitive guy, compassionate and caring about his fellow Jews (saving the beaten Jew in Egypt), mankind (saving Yitro's daughters at well), animals (saving runaway lamb in desert), and the inanimate (not wanting to hit the Nile or the sand which "assisted" him), goes and takes this care, concern, and sense of responsibility for all of creation, to a whole new, and incredible level.
Moshe in his concern for all of creation takes time to heal and clean up the "blemished" clouds.
You know the feeling, when you really want to take a shower, like right after you get off a long flight, and you still have to wait a few good hours till you get your luggage, catch your ride, and get home for  the shower? Every single second feels like eternity.
Now that's nothing, nothing, compared to how long these clouds have been waiting for to "take a shower" and be cleaned off all the death and pain they brought the world…
792 years!
Comes Moshe Rabbeinu, and delves in to the Torah, starts "pounding" Torah into the clouds, the "Torat Chayim-living Torah," and for 40 days and 40 nights gives the clouds back their life, restores them back to their former and proper health. A Torah day for a flood day, and a Torah night for a flood night, forty days and forty nights…
A complete and soothing Refua Shleima…
He aint called "איש האלוקים-the man of G-D" (Dvarim 33:1), for nothing…
This message is so so important, especially in this Parasha which deals so much with the laws of people, that at the end of the Parasha, one might be so caught up in caring and worrying about the little (and extremely important) details of how to treat another human being, a slave, a thief, the poor, witches, etc… that they'll totally forget about the rest of the world.
Comes Moshe at the very last passuk, mamesh the last verse in the Parasha, and tell us "Whoa!  Slow down! Knowing how much to pay your friend if your ox gored him is very essential, but don't forget for one second the rest of creation… don't ever forget."
How many lifetimes would it take for us to reach such a level of sensitivity and concern for not only the physical wellbeing of all of the world around us, but also of its spiritual welfare???
At least we now have what to aim for, 'cause if we don't know where we're goin', there's no chance we're ever gonna get there…
I bless us all to make it at least part of the way, and to give each other a hand.
It's a long, and not so simple journey…
Good Shabbos!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Update from Tu B'Shvat 5772

Rosh Hashannah for the trees was celebrated in many beautiful ways in the Mechina.

We learned and studied about the importance of Tu B'Shvat from a halachik
standpoint and its many practical and spiritual ramifications on our daily lives in and
out of Israel. We also strengthened our connection to the land through a good trip
in the Golan, of waterfalls, valleys, and mountains. It was truly beautiful to see the
results of the recent heavy rains, as the mountains were truly alive, green and lush,
and the waterfalls were gushing with water. Also, as the famous Tu B'Shvat song
goes, many almond trees could be seen blossoming along the trails.
A few of the more daring students jumped in to the freezing water for a swim, after
which they warmed up with a small bonfire we made.

On Tu B'Shvat eve we had a beautiful Seder. We spoke about the Shivat haMinim-the
seven special species of Eretz Yisrael, and of course partook of them, in addition to
many other fruits and nuts, had four cups of wine, and sang throughout the Seder.
Many of the students also prepared Divrei Torah on various fruits and nuts which they
shared throughout the evening.
For some of our Talmidim, it was their first Tu B'Shvat Seder ever, and was a special
and extraordinary experience for them.

On Tu B'Shvat day we joined the Moshav for the "traditional" Israeli custom of
planting new trees. G-D willing when the students come back for a visit in a few
years, they'll be able to appreciate their sapling as a growing tree in our Moshav.

In the past few weeks we have been focusing on a few more new things in the

In the Beit Midrash the students have been engrossed in studying and researching
for their Purim articles which will G-D willing be published and mailed to you
just in time for Purim. We hope you enjoy their articles with their informative and
inspirational ideas for the Chag.
On that note, if there is somebody specific, a relative or a close friend perhaps, whom
you think would like to receive the Purim Dvar Torah booklet, please send us their
address and be'ezrat Hashem we'll mail them a copy as well.

We have also begun our First Aid courses given by a local paramedic of Magen-
David -Adom of the Golan. These are important courses since the Mechina is very
active outdoors, and is especially vital in preparation for our Survival Week, to be
held in a few weeks.

Another interesting guest we had a few weeks ago was a lady who lives on the
Moshav who has an amazing and inspiring tale of how she grew up as a non Jewish
Christian teenager in Croatia during the war, and ended up converting, marrying an
Israeli, and lives on our Moshav.

The students have also been volunteering lately through different venues such as,
offering their general help to anybody on the Moshav through a letter they sent out,
helping a family move homes, and planting flowers throughout the Moshav a few
weeks ago.

That's about it for now, we look forward to our Survival Week, and the Chevron
Shabbaton to be held in a few weeks and hope to share our experiences with you in
the near future.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tu B'Shvat 5772

On Tu B'Shvat we had a beautiful Seder. We spoke about the Shivat haMinim-the seven special species of Eretz Yisrael, partook of them, in addition of course to many other fruits and nuts, had four cups of wine, and sang throughout the Seder.
Many of the students also prepared Divrei Torah on various fruits and nuts which they shared throughout the evening.
For some of our Talmidim, it was their first Tu B'Shvat Seder ever, and was a special and extraordinary experience for them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We've Gotta Live Together

Win a Watch!!!

Bring a student and receive a limited-edition, tailored LYA Special-Forces watch

LYA will give you one watch for getting a student to attend Leadership Yeshiva Academy's 2012-13 program.

By bringing a student to LYA, you will not only provide him with an amazing opportunity to experience a real Israel yeshiva, you will also help him achieve the lifelong tools to learn and live as a strong Jewish man.

This Special Forces Diving watch, made famous as the watch preferred by elite IDF
Units, has become an icon of courage in Israel.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LYA does Mac vs. PC AGAIN!!!

Mazal Tov to Eliyahu Margulis for Making a Siyum on Massechet Brachot!

סימן טוב ומזל טוב יהא לנו ולכל ישראל אמן!!!
This past Thursday evening, the 24th of Tevet, Eliyahu (Jonathan) Margulis, came all the way back from the States, from school in Washington D.C to do some good learning in the Mechina, and to finish the fifth chapter of Massechet Berachot.
He started the chapter about a year ago when he first joined the Mechina, and continued to seriously study it after his year was over.
What a Zechut for him and for us!!!
We had a nice Siyum in the dining room where Eliyahu shared words of wisdom on the Gemara, over some Lechayim's and Nosh, and we all sang and gave him Berachot.
May he continue to study Torah and grow closer to Hashem wherever he is, and may he shine that same light to others around him!
Mazal Tov!!!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rav Erez on Parashat Shemot

Parashat Shemot – Rav Erez
In the beginning of Parashat Shemot, we read about the heroic acts of the Jewish midwives.
What was the secret of their strength that gave them the power to stand up against such evil?
The Passuk says "ויהי כי יראו המילדות את האלוקים..."   the midwives feared and were in awe of God. It was their Yirat Shamayim which guided them.
Pharaoh commands them to kill, but their Yirah brought life. The word Yirah in hebrew ,יראה has the same letters as the Hebrew word for the Egyptian Nile, the Yeor היאר does. This is because the Nile was feared and worshiped by the Egyptians. The midwives showed the world that there is a true God who should be feared. Yirat Shamayim is the basis of Emunah and even precedes Ahava, Love.
Just as the sense of sight, ראיה, is clear and without doubts to the beholder, so too our Emunah and Yirah must be.
Avraham the first believer was also the first "fearer" of God, upon whom after Akeidat Yitzchak it is written:  עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלוקים אתה" now I know that you have Yirat Shamayim."
Concerning the Eshet Chayil it says: אשה יראת ה' היא תתהלל" a woman who is God fearing should be praised."
Such were the Jewish women in Egypt, and it was in their merit that we were redeemed.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

R' Asher's Post Chanukah Update

Two major events have just passed us in the Mechina, and it's time for another update.

The Yam-Leyam (coast to coast) trip, and of course Channuka.

The Yam-Leyam trip is a very special one as it is the first long trip in the Mechina involving camping out for a few days and walking many miles.
About a week before Channukah our hike began a few kilometers inland from the Mediterranean coast, and went all the way to a kibbutz located on the Kinneret shores. Roughly, about sixty kilometers of fields, mountains, valleys, and streams, over three warm days, and freezing nights.

After numerous preparations we were bused from the Moshav on the early morning of December 13th at 4:00 am. Nice and early.
We were dropped off at the beginning of our route at the Chziv river which is about 6 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean, and from that point on it was all by foot.
We got there just in time for Vatikin Shacharit, had a great Tefilah and then had a simple and quick breakfast, with some fresh pots of coffee.
Several of the responsibilities for the trip were taken care of by the students. They were responsible for the meals, what kind of food, when, how much, cooking and barbecuing it, and so on. They were the navigators for the trails (and thank G-D nobody got lost for that long), and decided how long we'd stop at different sites and what would be done with our time there.

On the first day we hiked through beautiful cool to warm weather, along the banks and through the Chziv River. We got to climb and explore the ruins of an old crusader castle, had lunch and dipped our feet in the river, made a few bonfires along the way, discovered one of the most poisonous snakes in Israel, the Nachash Tzefa, hanging out on one of the trails, and promptly, as halacha permits, escorted him to the next world.
One of the guys also put together a makeshift fishing rod which after many failed attempts he was successful in catching a small fish. It was cleaned, salted, and thrown over the fire, and after we spoke about the importance, from a Torah perspective, of eating fish and also in the right spiritual frame of mind, it was enjoyed by all those that partook. Hard to come by fresher fish than that!

About twenty kilometers later we reached the camping grounds where we set up tents, a bonfire, and prepared some good beef stew in iron cast pots, for dinner.
We had a group activity around the bonfire followed by Arvit, and after dinner we all hit the sack.

Early next morning we woke up the sun, davened Shacharit, folded up the tents and gear, had a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, cheeses, vegetables, and bread, washed down with some freshly brewed coffee, and hit the road.
We stopped during the day a few times. Those that could stand the cold and the freezing waters dipped in an ancient natural spring Mikvah, while the rest of us enjoyed the views of  a beautiful green valley. Later on we had lunch and davened Mincha at the foot of Mt. Meron, and then we climbed Mount Nerya (Mt. Meron can’t be climbed because there’s an army base at its peak).
On the top, 1050 meters high above, we had a beautiful view of the upper Gallil and Lebanon.
We climbed down the other side, got a barbecue dinner cooking, and then went to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s gravesite to daven.
After dinner we went to sleep, exhausted but happy and content.

This time, we woke up way before the sun, and in the hour before sunrise studied for about an hour in the Bet-Midrash located in Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s gravesite and then davened Vatikin. We had some cake and coffee, then we all had some breakfast, packed the gear and got on the move once again for another twenty kilometer hike mostly in the Amud river nature reserve.

We walked at a brisk pace, brisker abd faster than any of the other Years have in the Mechina. During the hike, we had lunch, got a fire going, davened Mincha, and kept on walking till we reached Kibbutz Chokuk, near the Kinneret. There we had a breathtaking view of the Kinneret, and to make a long, and happy story very short, were picked by bus and driven home for a hot shower and a good warm meal.

Many of the students were amazed by the many sites of Israel’s nature we got to see and explore, and all in all it was a bonding, fun, and educational experience.
Shortly, we’ll post more pictures of the trip on Facebook and the website, and I’m sure you can get more fun details from your son about the trip.

Channuka was great!

On the eve of the first day we had our special Gamla “Flag Run.”
A little background might be fitting.

About 18 kilometers away from us, is a pace called Gamla. During the revolt against the Romans, Gamla was a stronghold for many Jewish fighters. In his book, The Jewish War, Yosef Ben Matityahu a.k.a Josephus Flavius, tells in great detail the dramatic story of how the Jews of Gamla fought the Romans tooth and nail. A few thousand Jews held off the massive roman army until eventually the Romans broke through their wall and drove many of the Jews off the precipice.

Getting back to our story, our tradition in LYA is that on Channuka eve we have a very meaningful run to Gamla.
The students ran in pairs holding the Israeli flag up high for a few kilometers each from Avnei Eitan till Gamla. The last few kilometers were done while carrying a stretcher with an "injured" student on top. Everybody joined together, staff as well, for this last shove and it was a very powerful experience.
Once we reached Gamla we had a little ceremony where we declared our commitment to Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, which ends with some good dancing to Am Yisrael Chai and Channuka songs.
The reason we do this during Channuka is obvious, Jewish pride, fighting for Torah values, and standing up when needed, to protect that which is dear and important to us.
A few visiting parents joined the ceremony as well, and them as well as the students said how it was a very significant and powerful experience for them.

We then headed back home for a good lunch followed by some fresh butterscotch Sufganiyot (Israeli channuka donuts).

That night we had our Mesibat Channuka in the Yeshiva, which was full of Divrei torah, stories, noshing, music, and singing like mad to Channuka songs.
The students had vacation for the rest of Channukah, and came back for a wonderful Shabbat.

That's about it for now.
I hope to send you soon some pictures from the trip and from Channukah.

Kol tuv!
R' Asher