Shavuot 5776

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The Tom Tov of Shavuot seems to be the ‘poor cousin ‘ of the chagim. It has no matza, no lulav and etrog, no shofar and fast. In fact besides for cheesecake and all night learning it seems to be almost like a ‘standard ‘ Shabbos. We can be forgiven for wondering why the Torah did not see fit to make a physical and tangible mitzvah to remember the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai in the same vein as all the other chagim.

The Magen Avraham (494) in his introduction to the laws of Shavuot quotes the Gemora in Shabbat which after an intricate and very complex dispute reaches a conclusion that only makes sense if we assume that the Torah was given on the 7th of Sivan and not on the 6th as we celebrate it.

This poses a number of difficulties-firstly if the Torah was given on the 7th why do we celebrate it on the 6th ?

Furthermore in our davening on Shavuot we refer to the day as ‘zman matan Torateinu-the anniversary of the giving of our Torah’. According to the opinion that it was given on the 7th how can we say something that is patently not true?

The classic commentator, the Maharsh”a, addresses this question and his answer leaves us inspired.

When considering the narrative of the Torah we must not forget the human drama behind the story (in fact it is the drama that lies behind every story that the Torah wants us to appreciate and learn from). We find the details of these events in the Oral Torah as they were recorded by our Sages and preserved for later generations.

The Jewish people left Egypt having lived as slaves for generations, light years away from the spiritual and ethical standards necessary for a nation destined to be “a light to the nations “. They were certainly very motivated but being surrounded by the immoral and decadent Egyptian society they had lost touch with the spiritual refinement and with what is known today as Emotional Intelligence- tools that free a person from enslavement to his drives and desires and make him worthy of receiving the Torah.

It was for this purpose that Am Yisrael, after being freed of Egyptian bondage, had to wait the 7 weeks of the Omer-a period of time sufficient for a collective program of concerted and intensive self-improvement. After 7 weeks of sincere soul searching and spiritual readjustment the Jewish people on the 50th day – the 6th of Sivan-completed their climb to the summit.

The next day- the 7th of Sivan- we received the Torah.

Therefore, concludes the Maharsh”a, we celebrate the 6th of Sivan as the day that through relentless hard work we broke loose of our limitations and became worthy of being G-d’s Chosen People- this was our part in the receiving of the Torah.

The giving of the Torah was undoubtedly the most important event in world history but we celebrate the day we achieved greatness.

With this idea we can answer our original question.

Shavuot does not need symbols because Shavuot is about us as human beings in our innermost parts, a place that we connect to without any external mediums.

Shavuot is the Yom Tov of spiritual awakening

Bamidbar 5776

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The Jewish calendar and its nuances, for those that study it, is a fascinating subject. It is a very precise and exquisitely crafted masterpiece comprised of an enormous amount of intertwined calculations and principles.

In the Ancient World the Jewish people were considered to be the masters of Science and astronomy. When the brilliant Macedonian general Alexander the Great, conqueror of the entire then known world, reached the Holy Land he had a dramatic encounter with Rabi Shimon HaTzadik (who we mentioned last week was the last of the Men of the Great Assembly).He was captivated by him and brought his teacher and mentor, Aristotle  to meet R.Shimon. During this meeting R.Shimon HaTzadik revealed to Aristotle the foundations and secrets of astronomy. That is how the Jewish field of astronomy became known to the ancient Greeks and other nations.

When NASA, in the 1970’s and 80’s,finally had the tools to accurately measure the length of the lunar month the figure that they arrived at was to three decimal places the same as that which the Jews have being using for thousands of years.

In addition to the hidden intricacy of the calendar there is surprisingly a good amount of complexity in the times ordained for reading of the weekly sedra. And this year ,because of a rare combination of factors, we in Israel are going to read the parsha of Bamidbar not in the week before Shavuot despite the fact that this is one of the tenets on which our Torah reading program is based.(Those Jews living outside of Israel will read Bechukotai for the following reason: the eighth day of Pesach this year fell out on Shabbat and while Jews all over the world were still celebrating Pesach we in Israel read the following parsha and therefore are ahead of everyone else. For this reason communities in the Diaspora will indeed be reading Bamidbar in the week before Shavuot and will only ‘catch up’ in another 8 weeks with parshiot Matot-Masei.)

The point of this long introduction is the following:

In. most years parshat  Bamidbar doesn’t get much exposure as we generally give most of our attention to the upcoming chag of Shavuot. This year, however we are free of that and can therefore use this opportunity to bring out an important and central point.

The Torah elaborates in very great length the results of the first census of the Jewish people, enumerating how many people were in each tribe and where their place on encampment was in relation to the Mishkan (tabernacle). The Torah then ends off with an interesting phrase ‘’ish ul machanayhu ve ish ul diglo’’ “each person encamped according to his place in the camp and according to his (tribes) flag”


Each tribe had a flag with a colour and symbol representing its specific strengths and characteristics. Every person was able to identify his unique and individual place in the context of his family his tribe and the Jewish people live his life in a manner that allowed him to reach his full potential as a human being and as a Jew.

The period of time that we the Jews lived in the desert was unique in all our history as it served as a model for all future generations as to the optimal utilization of our time on earth. Their lesson to future generations was that despite the fact that we are united by a common cause and calling, we are individuals each with the ability to achieve greatness with our unique G-D given strengths.

However it seems difficult to believe that all people have the potential to reach greatness .It seems, in our eyes that some do in fact get a ‘better deal’ than others.

In Lithuania in, the 1930’s, existed a yeshiva which attracted the very best and greatest minds from the 4 corners of the Jewish world-the Mir Yeshiva. One of those who came to learn was a boy who came from a background which was very different from the rarefied atmosphere of the Lithuanian yeshivas, R. Shlomo Wolbe ztz’’l who originated from Germany which was then at the cutting-edge of culture. The Dean of the Yeshiva at the time was the almost iconic R Yerucham Levovitz whose words and thoughts influenced his students for their entire lives.

He discussed the aforementioned dilemma in one of his discourses.

Almost 60 years later R Wolbe shared R Yerucham’s idea with his students in the replanted Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

He said that a person was created in G-D’s image. In other words Hashem gave each person an aspect of Himself so to speak. Everything about Hasem is perfect so it means that everyone has a part of themselves which is complete and perfect.

This is the basis of each person’s personality development and success and by by utilizing his own unique capabilities a person can reach greatness .True greatness is not measured by one’s surroundings but rather by one’s ability to look into himself and tap into that untainted and complete part of him and bring to fruition the achievement and greatness already dormant within him.

Greatness is finding the G-dlike part of ourselves-and living with it.

Lag beOmer 5776

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KYSA Newsletter

For The South African Jewish Diaspora



In the period between Pesach and Shavuot we awaken memories of events almost long forgotten that seemingly have little to do with our life as Jews today.

Rabi Akiva had 24 000 talmidim (pupils) and they all died in this time (at a rate of around 720 a day!).A tragedy, a national tragedy, but it happened some 1900 years ago.

On Lag BeOmer we celebrate(?) the yohrtzeit of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai with some very unusual and interesting customs. In Israel over half a million people flock to his grave to celebrate there.

The first clue to help us understand this mystery might lie in the fact that the Gemara in Yevamot notes that Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was a talmid of Rabi Akiva.After losing all his talmidim he didn’t lose heart but rather searched out 5 prize pupils with whom he would reinstate Torah learning in Israel. Rabi Shimon bar Yochai was one of the five-and we have it in our tradition that the day of this new beginning was Lag BeOmer.

If we look at Jewish history with regard to Hashem’s connection with the Jewish people we can divide it up into 2 periods-the period in which we had prophets and prophecy and the time since them that we don’t.

From the beginning if time we know that Hashem spoke to man.From Adam and Noach through Avraham,Yitzchak and Yaakov and Moshe and Aharon,the entire time that the Jewish people were on their land until they were exiled from it after the destruction of the first Temple. In fact prophecy continued until the era of Ezra and the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset HaGedola) and it ceased with the passing of the last member of the Assembly-R Shimon HaTzadik.

These were the greatest days of Jewish history-all the events that the whole world knows about from the Bible happened and the great lessons and truths of mankind were learnt in the age that men were spoken to by Hashem.

However when prophecy ceased,Hashem revealed the light hidden in the depths of the Torah to His beloved nation He did this at the very period that we were losing our connection with Him allowing the hidden light of the Oral Torah to light up the world-to those who learn it and through them reveal those truths which are normally hidden from physical eyes.As Chazal teach us that after the destruction of the Temple”chacham adif meNavi” (a learned person is preferable and knows more than about what Hashem wants in this world than a Prophet)

So even after we were no longer “in touch” through prophets, Hashem  revealed to us that all is to be found in the Oral Torah and that we are not alone and through learning the Torah we can arrive at the truth.

In this age of the revelation of the light of Torah,Rabi Akiva stood out as the greatest of the great and the death of his pupils was a knockout blow for our nation. Losing the enormous amount of Torah revelation that came from their learning caused many to despair and doubt crept into hearts that perhaps the Jewish people would never recover from this blow, But the great R Akiva did not despair.In his old age he started to rebuild and R Shimon was one of those who made a ‘restart’ for the Jewish people. And it was to him that Hashem revealed the deepest secrets of Kabala in the Zohar -on the day that he died. And that is why we celebrate this day, the day of the revelation of previously undiscovered aspects of Torah.

R Noach Weinberg ztz’’l (the late beloved Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah) used the 49 days of the Omer as an opportunity to learn with his students the 48 ways of attaining Torah. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot lists those character traits and that one has to develop in order to achieve excellence in Oral Torah study. Without these traits it is impossible to live in the rarified atmosphere of greatness in Torah and reach the height from which we can properly perceive its light. R Weinberg was teaching them (and us) that the way to connect with Hashem and His Torah is through the Oral Torah  and in these 49 days of the Omer we have the opportunity to work on these attributes (and the 49th day for review) and be ready for a ‘restart’ in our spiritual lives on Shavuot.



Rabbi Dovid Ostroff

Influential South African Rabbi and Educator





Bein Adam Lachaveiro – The Torah Way

ה’ מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו – Hashem asked the nations of the world if they would accept the Torah, and the known reply was, what does it require of us. Hashem, to each nation, answered with the Mitzvah that is particularly difficult for that nation and they replied no! The kushya is that they are forbidden to steal, murder or commit adultery as part of the 7 mitzvos b’nei Noach, so what did they gain by saying no? And what was the point of asking them if in any case they are forbidden to do the above?

These very mitzvos, when they are part of the 7 mitzvos or when part of the Torah are very different. The 7 mitzvos given to the nations are not intended to refine or make them better people, they are intended to keep the world in order, so that one person will not devour another person. The mitzvos of the Torah, on the other hand, are intended to refine one’s character and create an Odom. The Torah wants us to think about other people and what is good for them.

For example, the issur to murder is to knife another person to death, which a Jew and gentile or commanded equally, but we know that to embarrass someone, the gemora calls murder, but the gentile is not ordered not to embarrass fellowmen. The issur to steal is to physically rob another person, but the gemora says that if someone says shalom to you and you don’t reply with shalom, you’re a thief! because he gave you something of himself, intended to be repaid with something from you, and if you don’t, you’re taking something for free when it needs to be paid for. A gentile is not called a thief if he does not reply with shalom. The reason is because these fine actions are ‘thinking about the other person and his feelings’, which is what the Torah requires of us.

Rabbi Akiva said ואהבת לרעך כמוך, זה כלל גדול בתורה, and it is usually understood to mean, that there are many halachos in the Torah relating to fellowman, a כלל, but according to the above, there’s a different p’shat. Rabbi Akiva teaches us that all the mitzvos of bein adam lachaveiro in the Torah must be done by way of ואהבת, not just do them. It is not sufficient to do chesed to others; it must be done in a way that the other person feels your love. If the other person feels that he’s your chesed case, it’s not the chesed the Torah wants you to do.

There are two famous mitzvos in the Torah, which seem impossible to do, לא תקום ולא תטור, how does the Torah expect us to keep such mitzvos, we’re not angels?

If you ask your friend for a pen and he has three pens that work (you saw them) and he says no, and in an hour he comes and asks you for an eraser, if you say no, you are doing a לאו of נקמה. If you give him the eraser but in your heart you’re angry and upset at him and think that you’re better than him, you’re doing the לאו of נטירה, harboring anger and vengeance. But this is a ‘thinking’ mitzvah, how can the Torah ask us not to think?

It depends on how and what you think of your friend who did not give you the pen. Firstly one should think that it is Hashem who decided that you should not get a pen. Indeed that person loses the opportunity, which is not supposed to be part of my cheshbon, rather Hashem decided the outcome – I am not to get a pen, so if you want to bring it up, bring it up with Him. Secondly, think maybe your friend lost a job, was shouted at, the last person he lent a pen to did not return it – you name it, you think it. When one thinks like that about one’s fellowman, and the Torah requires it of us, one will not harbor anything in one’s heart against another person.

We read Megilas Ruth on Shavuos, because the Torah is chesed (it begins with chesed when Hashem clothed Odom and Chava, and at the end of the Torah Hashem buries Moshe, which is chesed) and Ruth did chesed with Naomi. Ruth had everything to lose when she returned with Naomi, because nobody would want to marry her as she came from Mo’av, and there was a machlokes whether one may marry her. If she returned to Mo’av, she would live in prosperity and have everything she wanted, and yet she remained with Naomi, not to leave her alone. This tremendous chesed got her Dovid HaMelech, and she is called אמא של מלכות. It was her heart and how she thought of Naomi that got her to that position.

Torah was given on Shavuos and we must accept this Torah with ahavah and ratzon. We are judged on Shavuos how we receive and accept the Torah, and this means that we must say to ourselves, and pray, that we love every aspect of the Torah and try keep everything the Torah wants us to, without compromise and without taking in things from the gentiles. Their lives are not our lives.

  • The Chazon Ish, in his later years, was walking with a talmid when all of a sudden he started running and only stopped at the end of the street. His talmid ran after him, and since he’d never experienced that, asked his Rebbe what happened. The Chazon Ish replied that as they were passing a building, he heard a couple arguing, and lest they look out the window and see him and be concerned that he saw who they were, he ran for his life so as not to cause embarrassment. (Nowadays they’d be recorded and put on YouTube…).
  • I witnessed how someone bumped hard into Rav Shlomo Zalman’s back, and knowing that if he turned his face to see who this careless person was would cause that person to want to die, he did not turn his head in that person’s direction. It takes tremendous control not to look, but when another person’s dignity is at stake, it can and will be done.
  • A yid in Yerushalayim would go every Friday to Machane Yehuda, buy rogelach and cake, and head towards “Ezras Nashim” a hospital for very ill people, who don’t have much hope to get out alive, and hand them to each person lying there. He got nothing in return for his deeds (from humans) but his thoughts and actions were solely to make another person happy.

When we see a friend of ours do something good, whether it is chesed, or lengthening a skirt, or davening better, we HAVE TO  praise them and boost them and say please teach me how to, I also want to. Get into that person’s heart and think how embarrassed or afraid of negative reactions that person is feeling, and if you reinforce his good action, your reward in this world and next is without bounds.

KYSA Newsletter No 1

Posted by: hillel Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Uncategorized


Behar 5776

KYSA Newsletter

For The South African Jewish Diaspora


A friend told me the following fascinating story;

As an idealistic young Rabbi he started working as a campus Rabbi in the US. Faced with the eternal challenge attracting the uncommitted he hung up the following poster-‘’Who’s land is it anyway- a lecture on who can really lay claim to the land of Israel in the main auditorium on Tuesday at 5pm.’’

When he arrived for the lecture he was heartened to see an almost full house. Just before he got up to speak, however, the members of the Moslem students’ society walked in and took places in the front row.

Bracing himself at this unexpected change of events he decided that he would talk, come what may, and if need be sacrifice himself for the cause.

He elaborated the following idea.

The Ramban, one of our greatest thinkers of all time, raises the following question. Hashem warns the Jewish people prior to their entry to the Land of Israel that they should be wary of immorality as the nature of such behavior is that it causes the occupants of the land to be exiled from it. This is a very puzzling statement- immorality is forbidden wherever a Jew finds himself so what does it have to do with living in Israel.

To answer this he the Ramban quotes an idea from the immortal Eban Ezra ‘’ One of the foundations of Judaism is to understand that our actions and reactions are dependent on our circumstances and place’’ in other words in every situation that we find ourselves we have to remember that in Heaven they expect us to act according to the conditions at hand.

This idea was succinctly brought home to me when as a boy in South Africa I asked a Rabbi why he didn’t go live in Israel, to which he replied that he didn’t want to sleep in a shul. To say that just as we understand that there is a certain code of conduct in a shul so too the holiness of the Land of Israel obligates us to keep up a certain standard.

The Ramban continues to explain that this difference stems that even though all countries might seem to us to be physically to be made of the same material Israel is intrinsically different.

The Mabit in his classic Beis Elokim (a monumental work which served as a source of strength to the persecuted Spanish Jews in the time of the inquisition) points out that our world is not as we perceive it. To our mind the living beings, plant world and inanimate objects are completely foreign to relationships and definitely to spiritual concepts. Nevertheless we read in Perek Shira (the Song of Creation) that the lions and birds as well as the flowers and trees and even the sea recognize their Creator and Sing His praise. (The nature of this song is a broad topic and needs a separate discussion).

In other words the world around us has a much deeper dimension than we realize and fundamental spiritual changes are constantly happening under our very feet. The ground we stand on is more than just sand and stones and Hashem gave to His chosen people the choicest section of His world-the Land of Israel, a land in which intrinsic holiness is part of its very nature and can be discerned by the spiritually aware. In this week’s sedra we read about the seventh year-the shmita- and the language that the Torah uses is that the land itself is obligated to observe the shmita as much as we are obligated to observe Shabbos.

And this Holy Land cannot bear adultery within its borders and ejects immoral peoples away from itself.

Eretz Yisrael is ours but we have to deserve it.

After he finished his lecture one of the Moslem students stood up and said “I was born near Damascus gate in the old city of Jerusalem and we the Arabs know that Israel rightly belongs to the Jewish people. However until such time that they are deserving of it we want it to be ours for safekeeping.”(Obviously this is not our viewpoint)

In the years of the British mandate over Palestine, as part of the Peel commission to decide the future of the country, the British government sent a committee to ‘investigate whether the Jewish people in Palestine keep the holiness of the Bible.’ Even the secular kibbutzim made an effort to seem observant. Even to these gentiles it was clear that our right to Israel is eternal but we can only hope to gain from its bounty of goodness and live in it in peace as much as we are deserving of it.


 Interview with Rabbi Tuvia (Trevor) Rosen

One of the dominant South African Rabbis in Israel




  1. Q. Rabbi Rosen what has your experience been with the success of the South African Aliya in Israel?

R.Rosen First of all I would like to point out that wherever South Africans find themselves in all parts of Israel they are highly regarded by both native Israelis and Olim as being a highly ethical and moral community and demand the respect of all. That definitely can be regarded as a success.

  1. How have South Africans dealt with acclimatizing in a new country and have they been successful?

R.Rosen. I think that the difficulties of adapting to a new country, culture and especially a new language are universal and are challenging for olim of all backgrounds. South Africans are generally determined to make it work and by and large I find that they become well integrated into the society. As I mentioned before we tend to be very well liked and respected by the society at large and that probably helps to make the acclimatizing more pleasant.

Our community is quite unique in a number of aspects and it is unfair to compare it to other communities. I do not have statistics to base it upon but when I think back to those who have been here for some time I think many have been very successful in their fields. A number have become wealthy or influential and many of those who studied here in Yeshivas have become famous and great in Torah.


  1. How would you compare the olim who came in you day to those arriving in the present?

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon- most of those who came on aliya previously understood that this was to be their new home and put their minds to staying here for good. However the young people who come today very often end up returning to South Africa after a few years of studying or living here. I am not sure for the reason for this but it seems to me that it could be a result of the general strengthening of the community in South Africa. Whereas when we were younger and arrived on the shores of Israel we did not feel that we had much to find in South Africa ,the present generation don’t feel such a great loss by leaving Israel and going back home to their families.

Thank you.