MMY's Hashkafa

We want to invite all of the MMY family into our Sukkah in Yerushalayim. However, if you are unable to join us this year, we can, nevertheless, share the feeling of the Sukkah by welcoming the same guests, the Ushpizen, to join us wherever we may be. 
 
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If you do receive your card from us, please click the image above to download it for yourself and let us know your updated contact details HERE.

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Shoshana Cohen, Current MMY Student

As with every new cohort, the talmidot of MMY 5778 began their year beside the Kotel, listening to the advice of Rabbi Katz and considering their aspirations for the months ahead. During this time, one student, Shoshana Cohen from London, managed to compose her thoughts and wrote this poem which we share with you. 

The air is a cool caress against my cheek,
Aching and patient and kind.
A loud cry pollutes it, the call to prayer,
A call to prayer that intrudes and invades
And ravages the gentle silence.
The distinct smell of a familiar city.
Houses congregating,
Glowing under a string of twinkling street lamps,
Tucked away on the side of the hill. 

The stone is smooth and slippery:
Under my grasping fingers - elusive.
We sit on stone, under a silent wall of stone,
Mourning the loss of stone,
Of precious stones.

The air leaks into crevices between us,
Encircling us all in an embrace.
The embrace of a widowed mother
Welcoming her displaced children home.
A translucent embrace that binds us as we sit
In maternal warmth.
An embrace disrupted when we stand
And fill the air with the jagged
Sound of ripping resistant cloth and
Aching hearts. Tearing קריעה
On the rocks of the חרבן and on our hopes of גואלה.

 

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'By Sara Krishtul, Current MMY Student

The  month of Elul, the month of teshuva, encourages us to focus inward and assess our Torah observance and values. This extra layer of intensity, added to the already introspective nature of the seminary environment, means that we at MMY will be in tune to our spiritual “areas for improvement” and hard at work on them as the new year starts.

As a returning Southern Hemisphere student at MMY, I myself have had a summer break in the “real world” after a semester of seminary, and have experienced the challenge of keeping up the fervor and zeal for learning and halacha outside the beit midrash. Doubts arise on the kind of growth I went through in the first six months, considering the challenges, both large and small, that we face when leaving the Torah-rich environment. Was it worth anything at all? Doesn’t this make it artificial and fleeting? In halachic terms, does lapsing in an area of observance after doing teshuva totally nullify the teshuva that was performed beforehand?

Rav Sa’adia Gaon tackled this question and ruled leniently. In his Emunot V’Deot, he states explicitly:

ואבאר עוד שאם החליט האדם [קפד] בדעתו בזמן תשובתו שלא יחזור עוד, אין תשובתו מתבטלת, אלא ימחלו לו העונות שלפני תשובתו, ויכתבו עליו מה שיעשה לאחריה, וכך אם אירע באופן זה כמה פעמים שעושה תשובה וחוזר, אין עליו אלא מה שאחר תשובתו, כיון שהיה בכל פעם שלם בדעתו שלא יחזור

If a person does teshuva and later goes back and commits the same sin, while he is liable for his most recent sin, his teshuva nonetheless remains intact. The sincerity of the baal teshuva at the time of his return is enough to seal its integrity. He may incur guilt later on, but Hashem considers his original teshuva authentic.

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva seems to disagree. He defines teshuva as

i. שֶׁיַּעֲזֹב הַחוֹטֵא חֶטְאוֹ - abandoning the sin

ii. וִיסִירוֹ מִמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ - casting it out of one’s mind
iii. וְיִגְמֹר בְּלִבּוֹ שֶׁלֹּא יַעֲשֵׂהוּ עוֹד - resolving never to do it again

iv. יִתְנַחֵם עַל שֶׁעָבַר - regretting the sin

v. וְיָעִיד עָלָיו יוֹדֵעַ תַּעֲלוּמוֹת שֶׁלֹּא יָשׁוּב לְזֶה הַחֵטְא לְעוֹלָם

The fifth part, left for now untranslated, is puzzling. Read literally, it translates as, “and He who knows all secrets will testify that he will never repeat this sin”. This would appear to mean that the sinner, if he is to be considered a true baal teshuva, could never repeat his transgression, ever - after all, it is Hashem who is testifying to this fact.

Such a reading leaves us with a few problems. Firstly, the Rambam, who takes much of his influence in matters of teshuva from Rav Sa’adia Gaon, seems to be at odds with his view. Stipulating that teshuva requires the sinner to never to sin again implies that if he did, his teshuva would be retroactively be nullified. Secondly, it raises the question of the free will of the baal teshuva: how could Hashem “testify that he will never repeat this sin” - is it not up to the sinner to decide what he will or will not do after his teshuva?

The latter is the problem raised by the Lechem Mishneh on this Rambam. His solution is an alternate meaning of the word “ויעיד” - “and he will take as witness”, rather than “and He will testify”. Thus the Lechem Mishneh defines the subject of the word “ויעיד” as the baal teshuva, with Hashem as the object. The baal teshuva himself must take Hashem as witness to the fact that he will never, ever, go back on his sin. Such an act of certainty and resolve demonstrates the highest sincerity in the baal teshuva and renders the iauthentic. Even if he comes to lose this clarity and break the vow later, the repentance has already been validated.

Thus, according to the Lechem Mishneh’s explanation, there is no machloket between Rambam and Rav Sa’adia Gaon’s views. Both attribute the utmost significance to the sincerity of the baal teshuva at the time of repentance, and both hold that it is central to the validity of the teshuva itself.

So perhaps cynicism and skepticism should not be the reaction of those of us who find we have lapsed after a period of intensity in avodat Hashem. Perhaps there is something to be said about the increased kavana in tefila of a seminary student, or the eagerness with which she runs up to the beit midrash for chavruta time and the way her eyes widen with understanding back in shiur. Periods of intensity are an integral part of the rocky path of repentance. Such is the message of seminary, and such is the message of the month of Elul.

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By Rina (Friedman) Emerson, MMY 5757 - 5758

It’s hard to believe that I attended MMY over 20 years ago. The memories I have are so vivid! I remember fondly coming in on the first day to our building in Kiryat Moshe, 39 of us testing out this new seminary and so unsure of how it would go. I have such clear memories of davening a few weeks later on Rosh Hashana as one unit, getting a live chicken from the Shuk for Kaparot for all of us, learning Hilchot Shabbat with Rav Yedidya Berzon (and bringing him our makeup for him to test to see if we were able to use it on Shabbat), the hikes together (including the one where Rabbi Katz almost got blown off the mountain!), the satisfaction of working through an impossible Ramban that Mrs. Issacson assigned, and creation and strengthening of friendships that have lasted through the years.

MMY gave me a strong foundation of what it means to be a confident, committed Jew. The classes, the teachers, and the experiences strengthened my motive and resolve to be involved with Jewish education. For the past 20 years, I have been working for NCSY and the OU in various capacities, culminating in my recent appointment as CEO of New York NCSY. From working directly with teens to mentoring staff members to creating systems that allow for more efficient use of resources, I have been at the forefront of informal Jewish education and I have the cornerstone of MMY’s formal and immersive education to thank for that.

I am excited and proud when an NCSYer tells me they are going to MMY. When an advisor tells me about her year, I find myself reminiscing with her. Throughout my experiences working, I’ve always drawn inspiration from my Rebbeim and teachers at MMY.  Even though we are not always in touch, the lessons they taught me and the relationships we developed are often on my mind. I have carried with me everything I have learned and the warm memories from my year and a half. I am proud that every day I come to work continuing the educational mesorah I received from MMY.  

 

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Last year, under the direction of Mrs Issacson, Wednesday nights at MMY were redesigned and relaunched featuring "Enrichment Workshops" - "Chugim". Designed to complement the existing Rakezet Program which still runs once a month, the students can choose to fill their remaining Wednesday nights with one of four exciting and enlightening options. 

One such workshop, run by Rabbi Jeffrey Schrager of L’Dor VaDor, is Jewish Genealogy. In these sessions the talmidot answer the fundamental question, “Who am I?” Together, the group goes on a voyage of self-discovery by studying their family histories. Using cutting edge research techniques combined with looking carefully at historical context, the participants are able to get a clearer picture of where they come from and how they have grown to become the Jews they are today.  

Students who have attended this chug have found themselves surprised by what they have learnt about themselves and their classmates, and discovered a deeper understanding of Jewish History as a whole. Rivka Lichtenstein (MMY 5777), was delighted to discover photographs of her ancestors that she was then able to share with her immediate family as well as reach out to more distant relatives. She also describes the tools she gained from this chug. “It enabled me to think outside the box, as well as develop a strong kesher with my family, both past and present. It helped me tremendously in preparing for my trip to Poland in Nissan.”

Rabbi Schrager, looking back on the first successful year of the program, remarked, “I have always advocated, and continue to advocate, teaching genealogy as a powerful experience for students. But the seriousness with which many of the MMY students approached the topic made the experience of teaching them surpass my expectations. Many of the girls discovered amazing things about their families; criminals in the family, experiences of ancestors, and even famous relatives.”

His enthusiasm was shared by all those involved. Eitana Miller (MMY 5777), who participated in the course in order to, “forge a connection with the past”, describes how they achieved this through discovering the stories behind the names and places. “I learnt more about my family than I could have obtained by asking parents and grandparents. I found my great great grandfather’s boarding documents to leave Russia. I learnt about the world my ancestors where born into, a world devoid of kindness towards Jews, and the hardships they endured to provide a better life for future generations. I feel deeply indebted to them for their wisdom, foresight and hard work.”

The students all discovered that learning at MMY is an all-encompassing experience! This workshop is not presented as a traditional Torah study class, but through it they discovered an appreciation for Jewish History as well as Hashem’s involvement in their daily lives and a profound sense of HaKarat HaTov.

Rabbi Schrager concludes; “when people hear I teach genealogy, they are often skeptical. But the students at MMY validated my conviction that studying our families is an important and meaningful addition to any Judaic Studies endeavor.”

We look forward to offering this course to a new cohort of talmidot this year! 

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