Audio Roundup Special

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by Joel Rich

The well known 2019 Tanakh Study Days at Herzog College / Yeshivat Har Etzion shiurim are reviewed below but first a book review:


Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein – Return and Renewal: Reflections on Teshuva and Spiritual Growth



These essays are taken primarily from R’ Lichtenstein’s teshuva drashot and are food for thought year round (we pray for teshuva[repentance] thrice daily).     The essays are summarized below:


Teshuva:  Obligation and Opportunity

Teshuva for us is both an opportunity (we have free will) and an obligation (we are commanded). We’re also held accountable for opportunity costs (not taking advantage of opportunities presented to us whether commanded or not). {N.B. so do teshuva either way}


Purify our hearts to serve you with truth

Truth can be defined in a number of ways.  We seek absence of error in our halachic observance, our faith (emunah) and our understanding of HKB”H.  We avoid falsehood, superficiality and adulteration, specifically in prayer but also in our overall religious life.{N.B. To thine own self be true! }


The Integrity of Teshuva

Can fragmented (partial) teshuva be sincere?  Yes, when it’s about falling short in a specific sin.  We want to couple this with overall teshuva on ethical characteristics where we define our broad hopes and aspirations.{N.B. a recurring theme in these essays}


Teshuva:  Impetus and Motive

Besides its mitzvah status, teshuva has both moral (the past act was an evil one) and religious (fix our future relationship with HKB”H) elements.

On a practical basis, triggers for teshuva may include external stimuli or a crisis or just pure free will.  Some important thoughts here on where modern orthodoxy/religious zionism fall short and what might be done about it.{N.B. the “vision thing”}


Kallot V’Chamurot:  Graduation of Sins in Repentance

Sins can be categorized in a number of different ways (e.g. kal(light) and chamur(serious)) but is such a characterization reflective of fundamental differences?  All sins involve not following HKBH’s directive, which is a severe issue itself, but sins have other ramifications that must be repaired as well.



Mediocre Teshuva and the Teshuva of the Mediocre

It may sometimes seem that true teshuva is only for the elite, but we each can (and should) search ourselves, examine our results and act to the best of our abilities.  We should try for pure motivation and focus on where our teshuva is leading us to rather than just focusing on where we are coming from.


Teshuva of Norm and of Crisis

Teshuva generally has moral and religious aspects.  The moral aspect centers on the existence and perpetration of evil.  This may be considered “normal” teshuva and is generally of low intensity.  The religious aspect focuses on our relationship with HKB”H and can be induced (or mandated) by a crisis.  We should integrate the two.


La’kol Zeman:  Teshuva within four time frames of our lives

Teshuva can be categorized as  (1) occasional=based on an occasion or outside stimulus which has an immediacy. This teshuva  needs a periodic complement.  (2) annual=Elul which is like an annual checkup. (vs. an acute attack) This teshuva is qualitatively and quantitatively different from occasional teshuva   (3) Perennial = for past sins greater than a year old. This requires an examination of the total impact of the act over the years. (even though previously forgiven) (4) Perpetual=continual self-improvement. (challenge-how can you be mindful if you’re always examining yourself and what do you examine? it’s a tough balance!)

We need to balance a passionate commitment (we’re sure we’re right) with intellectual humility (questioning all our certainties).  Some interesting thoughts on shortcomings in these matters in the chareidi and religious zionist communities.{N.B. these shortcomings can also be seen in ourselves}


Teshuva:  Ferment and Repose

Ferment (reflecting torment and tempest) and repose (reflecting calmness and serenity) are both forces we want to mobilize in our avodat hashem (service of HKB”H), to be applied in the proper context.  Teshuva as an example may come from crisis or be a way to relate to HKB”H.  We see both modes in the vidui(confession)of yom kippur and they are part of its very roots and purification process.



Renunciation, Divorce and Rehabilitation

There is a universalistic teshuva for all nations and a particularistic teshuva for the Jewish people (who are held to a higher standard).

We might require teshuva if we renounce mitzvot, our status as bechor(first born) or our special (spousal) relationship with HKB”H.  While the universalistic teshuva deals more with specific misdeeds, the broader relationship issues need special consideration especially as a community – how seriously do we advance malchut shamayim(HKBH’s honor)?


Humility and Pride in Tshuva

Can humility be an impediment to teshuva given the need to overcome powerful internal opposition?  Can a baal tshuva be “proud” of his accomplishments?  Using moshe rabbeinu as a paradigm, we understand that humility allows us to know where our power comes from (HKB”H) and thus use it without the negative effects of pride.(N.B. be HKB”Hcentric not egocentric)


Teshuva and Joy

Teshuva is not usually associated with joy yet we should be joyful that we have the opportunity to repent.  We may be despondent over past actions but joyful in the knowledge that HKB”H will accept our tshuva.  (N.B. La vida dialectic)

The Lord Killeth and Maketh Alive (I Samuel 2) – a Rabbinic Reading of a Biblical Text, by Rav Dr. Yonatan Feintuch

The “Tanach revolution” might make one think that Chazal’s medrashim weren’t closely related to the verses but they really are.  Examples examined include Chana/Korach and Shmuel/Eli.

Yissachar and Zevulun: Business or Torah? by Michael Eisenberg

The real story of the Yissachar/Zevulun relationship is one of the Land of Israel economy.  Geography and tribal DNA play an important role in the tribes’ division of labor.

Angels and Demons: The Akeda, the Exodus and a Pre-Rabbinic Midrash, by Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern


Medrashim are written down post bayit sheni but the apocrypha, which were also expansions of text, come prior and served many of the same functions.  The Book of Jubilees provides examples to be studied.

Yosef and the Sar HaMashkim – The Limits of Human Involvement in the Redemptive Process, by Rav Yair Kahn


Lessons from Yosef concerning hishtadlut (man’s efforts) vs. letting HKBH’s divine plan play out (we do what we can within limits)

Art and Parshanut: Murder in the Making, by Neima Novetsky


Art shows how the artist interpreted Tanach stories.  There are great differences in artistic interpretations  based on textual considerations.

How Tefillat Shabbat Illuminates the Meaning of Vayechulu and Veshamru, by Rabbi David Fohrman

In a way this shiur could’ve been a big bang/arrow of time/quantum physics talk.  How does the creation story (and Shabbat in particular) inform on space/time creation and our (and HKBH’s) doing and being?

The Expulsion of Yishmael – The Problem of a God’s Eye View, by Rav Chanoch Waxman

What were the motivations/justifications of Avraham, Sarah and HKBH in the Yishmael story?  We need to look at the parallels with the akeidah story.  The key difference is the yachdav (together) nature of the latter.

Rashi’s Peshat Revolution – Was it an innovation “ex nihilo”? by Dr. Lisa Fredman

Rashi’s targum sources analyzed.  There were “dictionaries” (French/Tanach) that existed in his time.  The Menachem vs Dunash vocabulary and grammar debates had echoes of Karaite issues as well.

The Role of Terach and the Foundational Stories of the Jewish People, by Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman

Terach really started the ball rolling and started the “chosen family” on the road but was incomplete without Avraham.  Our stories are all really family stories.  Include a pitch for YU as a light unto the nations.

When Will the Messiah Come – Jews Interpret the Final Verses of Daniel, by Prof. David Berger

While Chazal were very negative concerning calculating when mashiach would come, later authorities were more lenient, perhaps due to historic circumstances.  They used some interesting typologies to come up with proposed arrival dates.

Aliya: Parashat Shelach, by Rav Ezra Bick

The use of the word aliyah in Shlach means to overcome (psychologically), not to move physically.

Ezra-Nechemiah’s Revolutionary Strategies towards Continuity, by Yael Leibowitz

Ezra was revolutionary and perhaps controversial in his own time.  He was traditional yet in order to ensure continuity in turbulent times he had to make significant changes (examples provided).  In many ways he was the first Rabbi.

When Politics and Religion Clash: A Crash Course on Sefer Yirmiyahu, by Rav Menachem Leibtag

Yirmiyahu is a lesson in transformative (i.e. it impacts what you do) memory.  His goal was to prevent destruction.  He wasn’t successful but his messages resonate today.  (e.g. it’s worse to be “religious” and unjust than just plain unjust; you have the opportunity to shape history)

Is Religious Freedom Enough? Early 2nd Temple Polemics – Hagai, Zekhariah, and Ezra, by Rav Gad Dishi

Is religious freedom enough or should we seek political freedom as well?  A number of questions can be answered by understanding the Jewish revolution being planned while bayit sheini was built.

The Spiritual Rehabilitation of Bat Zion in Eikha 1, by Rav Professor Joshua Berman

7 Stages of spiritual growth and maturation for the Jewish people as outlined in Eicha.

Yechezkel’s Contribution to the Redemption, by Dr. Adina Sternberg

Why did the ten tribes not come back but Yehuda did?  Yechezkeil helped Yehuda see the destruction coming but also gave hope for the future and thus they could keep group cohesion/identity. This cohesion was combined with a realization of personal responsibility (lesson for today as well)

Yiftah and Shemuel: The Power of Speech, by Dr. Yael Ziegler

Matched pairs (Yiftach/Chana) demonstrateboth  fate (powers given to individual) vs. destiny (how you use it).   Yiftach in the end misused words, Chana did not.

Are We Waiting for Mashiach or is He Waiting for Us? Two Models of Redemption, by Rav Alex Israel

There seem to be two roads to redemption, one through the land of Israel and one through the people.  Only the latter is likely to last for the long term (but we need to have real change to make it so)

Competing and Completing Perspectives: Joshua, Yechezkel and our Idolatrous Forefathers, by Atara Snowbell


The prophets sometimes addressed Israel as a suffering nation and sometimes as a corrupt one.

Joshua wanted the people to sign up for belief in the eternal HKBH, but not based on history because history fades.

Mikra: Gateway to Midrash? by Rav Yitzchak Etshalom


Medrash covers a number of different types of literature.(explicating text, lessons for later periods…)  One always should ask:  Why is this medrash told?  Why is it told as it is?  Examples provided.

Tanach itself shows later characters in light of earlier ones to teach lessons.  Perhaps we can do the same?

Ma’aseh Avot Siman leBanim – Lessons from Parents and Children in Sefer Bereishit, a conversation with Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein and Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein


A creative discussion of lessons that can be learned from the family dynamics of the Avot.  Me – How much projection is there is in long distance (time and space) analysis of characters’motivations?

Do parents today exercise authority?


About Joel Rich

Joel Rich is a frequent local lecturer on various Torah topics in West Orange, NJ and supports his Torah listening habits by working as a consulting actuary.

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