In last week’s article, I dealt with the crucial need of establishing a vision for the State of Israel. With God’s help I will continue exploring this issue, but for now I will just mention briefly that the vision of the Jewish people is to reveal in compliance with the Torah’s instruction, the sacred value of everything in the world, thereby guiding, elevating, and perfecting it – “to perfect the world in the kingdom of God”.
This vision can be revealed only in Eretz Yisrael, seeing as it is the Holy Land, ‘the eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year’, and any effort that contributes to its building is an absolute mitzvah. The land with the potential to unify heaven and earth, where it can be revealed howemunah (faith) and Torah add life and blessing to the world, and from where blessing will extend to all peoples and countries, who will learn how to guide their lives according to the values of emunah, Torah, and morality.
The Allocation of Hakafot as an Expression of Values
Seeing as this is a personal column, I will share with you, my readers, how we allocated the hakafot (dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah) this year in Har Bracha, as members of the community celebrated Simchat Torah together with the Yeshiva students, in the presence of nearly 1,000 participants – men, women, and children. This allocation expresses the vision I previously mentioned.
Normally, the honor of carrying of the Torah scrolls is given to distinguished individuals, Torah scholars, community leaders, and notable donators – which of course, is fitting. But in this year’s allocation of hakafot, we thought to express the values which convey an all-embracing, Torah worldview.
The Evening Hakafot
As usual, in the first hakafa we honored the rabbis, because Simchat Torah is, first and foremost, their day of joy – and the Torah comes first, in the same way as the ark, which contained the tablets and the Torah, was situated in the Holy of Holies.
In the second hakafa teachers were honored – implying an important chiddush(novelty), because there is a need to elevate the status of teachers, who hold all our future in their hands. Therefore, we decided they would precede the other Torah scholars and yeshiva students, as well as donors and other distinguished community leaders.
In the third hakafa we honored those engaged in construction – from owners of construction companies, building-site managers, architects and engineers, to construction workers, electricians, and all others involved in building our holy land with their hands. This also expresses a moral statement about the importance of themitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land). Thank God, we had numerous people to honor – almost all of them graduates of our yeshiva. And since there were so many of them, we had to pass the ten Torah scrolls that had been brought to the Yeshiva from the various synagogues from one person to the next, in order to honor all of them. Fortunate are those who saw them dancing devotedly with the Torah, surrounded by the entire congregation, admiring and honoring their work.
In the fourth hakafa we honored high-tech employees, and other advanced technology industries – the vanguard of the Israeli economy, helping to fortify the status of the State of Israel in the international arena. From out of our Beit Midrash(learning hall) of Yeshiva Har Bracha, they embarked to gain a profession in the framework of the ‘Shiluvim’ program, which combines Torah and academic studies. Thank God, they are diligent workers, set prescribed times for Torah study, and raise splendid families. Once again, in order to honor each person, we had to pass the Torah scrolls from one person to another. How fortunate we are, and how good is our portion!
In the fifth hakafa, we honored those who work in business and finance, bank employees, lawyers, and the like. This is also a chiddush; they must also be connected to the Torah, to set fixed times for Torah study, and be honest and good people. Without them, the world cannot be perfected. Therefore, it is extremely important to give them a hakafa as well, so that all their dealings will be l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven).
On the sixth hakafa we honored chatanim (grooms), i.e. anyone within his first year of marriage, and also, students who are engaged. This also carries an important message about the sanctity of marriage and family. And, thank God, every year we are worthy of several grooms who choose to live and build their homes in Har Bracha.
On the seventh hakafa, of course, we honored the cherished yeshiva students, for they are the future of everything – from their ranks come the rabbis and teachers, the builders of the country and its economy, and they will be the grooms raising blessed families. In addition, they are also young and have the strength left to dance on the seventh hakafa.
The Daytime Hakafot
On the first daytime hakafa, normally the rabbis were once again honored, but this time we honored avrachim (young, married Torah students) who are learning in order to grow in Torah, and also, students in the ‘Shiluvim’ program studying for a Masters or Doctorate degree in order to help develop science. There were two objectives in this decision: First, there was someone who might have thought, God forbid, that as a result of the recent debates concerning the issue of yeshivot and avrachim, the status of those diligently studying to grow in Torah had diminished – well, they take precedence. True, in our yeshiva they are not so numerous, because only the best suited students are allowed to continue learning in kollel, without having to proceed into the field of education or the ‘Shiluvim’ program (a framework in which approximately 70 yeshiva graduates choose to study an academic degree, combined with several hours of yeshiva studies). Secondly, alongside the avrachim, we honored their friends studying in university with the aim of developing science, in accordance with the teachings of the Gaon of Vilna, who taught that secular wisdom was a vital adjunct to the Torah, and to the extent that an individual lacked knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, he lacked one hundredfold in Torah wisdom. And, as is well known, there is constantly the danger of detachment between the world of Torah and science, and therefore we chose to combine them in the first hakafa. God willing, out of their devotion for Torah, they will always remain connected.
In the second hakafa, once again we honored the teachers, because although we had already honored them with the second hakafa in the evening, there still remained a need to further honor them, for they bear the burden of educating the next generation. In spite of this, a principal of one of the schools insisted on the right of the husbands of teachers to be honored, because they also participate in bearing the burden; therefore, they were also permitted to carry the Torah scrolls – thanks to their wives, who are engaged in sacred work.
The third hakafa honored olim (immigrants). Sometimes, those of us born in Israel fail to appreciate individuals who left their country and language, and chose to makealiyah to Israel. But their virtue is enormous. Together, immigrants from four corners of the world carried the Torah scrolls: the U.S.A., South America, Russia, Ethiopia, France, England, and other countries. In their actions, they express the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets in the most superior way, and it is important to remember and mention this. Not only have they immigrated to Israel, but they continued ascending to the frontline of Jewish settlement – Har Bracha.
The fourth hakafa was devoted to piyutim (liturgical poems) from Eastern and North African countries, seeing that in our community there Yerushalmi and Moroccan style prayer groups, and on Simchat Torah, everyone celebrates together to fulfill the verse: “Israel camped opposite the mountain – as one person, with one heart”. And,Baruch Hashem, the entire community, from all backgrounds, is acquainted with all the piyutim, and participates in them with great joy.
The fifth hakafa was dedicated to Yemenite piyutim, seeing as we have quite a respectable Yemenite prayer group in the community and the Yeshiva, and they also participate in the hakafot.
The sixth hakafa was devoted to soldiers, namely, those in the regular army, and officers in reserve duty, to express the sacred value of the army, which fulfills two important mitzvoth that are equivalent to the entire Torah – yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), and protecting the Jewish people.
On the seventh hakafa, similar to the evening, the beloved yeshiva students were honored, for they possess all the virtues collectively.
A Conversation of the Chafetz Chaim
The great vision is also particularized in an individual’s life, for one can revealkedusha (holiness) in all of his ways. An example of this can be given from the life of the Chafetz Chaim, who was a giant in Torah, but also, unpretentious and friendly, concerned and involved in public affairs, who chose to earn a living from his own and his wife’s work, and not from the rabbinate. The general vision of bringing the Redemption was certainly important for him, and he engaged extensively in issues concerning the Holy Temple, and encouraged aliyah to Israel. But beyond this, he was the paradigm of sanctified human behavior.
Our master and teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook ztz”l, told us that people could have thought that the Chafetz Chaim, who wrote at length about the laws of lashon ha’ra (evil tongue) in his book “Shmirat Halashon” (Guarding Your Tongue), would remain silent, and speak as little as possible. However, in reality, he was very friendly, open, and down-to-earth. He would speak a lot, talking about people and telling stories of the past – and all strictly “kosher”, and according to halakha. Concerning his down-to-earth behavior, Rabbi Kook told us that the Chafetz Chaim would wear a hat worn by middle-class people – not a plain hat, but not a respected rabbi’s hat either. Rather, an ordinary cap.
Rabbi Kook would position the Chafetz Chaim’s pleasant behavior in contrast to that of Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman H’YD, considered a student of the Chafetz Chaim, who’s every word was pensive, strained, spoken with a sigh and an effort – and nevertheless, after all this, he uttered some severely hostile remarks about people who were greater Torah scholars and more righteous than he was (he also dared to speak against Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l).
The Mussar Interpretation of the Chafetz Chaim’s Leadership
Incidentally, in the book “Reb Yaakov” about Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky ztz”l, it is written that Rabbi Yaakov “described the Chafetz Chaim as one who would always takeover a conversation whenever the topic was of mundane matters. He explained that in any other sin, a person is able to stop his fellow from sinning. For example, when in the company of someone about to eat non-kosher food, you could grab his hand. But when it comes to loshon ha’ra (evil tongue), it is completely impossible to know that a sin is about to be carried out before it reaches the ears of the listener. At that point, it’s too late. In order to prevent this – the Chafetz Chaim talked incessantly” (‘Reb Yaakov’, pg. 256). There is room for assumption that the description of the Chafetz Chaim’s conversation, and the explanation, was heard from R’ Yitzchak Elchanan H’YD. However, it seems more likely the way Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah explained, that the Chafetz Chaim was inherently sociable, welcoming, and loved to talk to with anyone. This was the behavior of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky himself, but apparently, he accepted the explanation of a person considered one his outstanding students.
In any case, the book ‘Reb Yaakov’ is worthy of recommendation, for it is one of the finest books to be published about Gedolei HaTorah (Torah giants) in the last generation, as it is told in a rarely honest and objective way. Apparently, this is owing to Rav Kamenetsky’s unique personality, for he was accustomed to cling to the virtue of truth.
This article was written before the passing away of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, and was translated from Hebrew.