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  • Jay Schwartz

Yom Tov Highlights

Updated: Jan 28

A Banner Ye

ar Begins!

This month of Tishrei has been an exciting and surprise filled time, especially for our family and our work here in Israel. It began with my annual pilgrimage for Rosh HaShana, for what was by the largest gathering ever, with crowd estimates as high as 60,000 people!

It is for certain that at least 40,000 people traveled from Israel to celebrate Yom Tov together in that small but rapidly growing circle of streets and buildings that connect to the tziyun of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. Brand new residential hotels, many new storefronts, including Pizza Hut, Ne’eman Bakery and other supermarkets, Judaica stores, music vendors, cell phone minute providers, lined the main street known as Pushkina, which I can tell you, was packed from one end to the other.

Aside from the ongoing hum of tefilos at the tziyun, the kloiz (the main shul) was overflowing with nearly 5,000-10,000 mispalelim. Many, many other smaller, but significant, minyanim have developed, including a Nusach Ari, and American Carlebach style singing davening, as well as many gatherings of individual rabbis and mashpi’im and their followers. I personally stay with an Anglo crowd, some from Ramat Beit Shemesh, and many from the States, who come together at the Uman Inn, where we are regularly visited by popular teachers and Lazer Brody in particular. The camaraderie is high, people open up to listen and to offer chizuk to one another for whatever they may be going through in life, family or financial problems, issues with health and just seeking a higher spiritual connected to HaShem, and a cleansing from the imperfections of the year past.

A treasured experience from Uman was the private audience with Rav Elazar Koenig on Erev Rosh HaShana to deliver a pidyon nefesh on behalf of myself and others who had asked me to serve as their representative and the group that joins me. We are always given VIP treatment, by receiving a special time appointment with Rav, not requiring us to wait on the long lines that gather in the hallway outside the apartment where he takes residence each year (see attached photo).

On the Shabbos prior to Rosh HaShana we davened with Rabbi Shalom Arush’s yeshiva minyan, bought aliyos and received incredibly warm and inciteful blessings from the Rav for immense success in all of our efforts l’zacos es harabim (to benefit Am Yisrael) and our families in the year ahead.

Upon returning home, I joined the beautiful Aish Kodesh shul, led by the venerable rabbi, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Schapiro, the great nephew of the Piazetzna Rebbe, whose name the shul memorializes. There I was honored to recite the maftir on Yom Kippur day and participate in a Yom Kippur bris by our good friends, the Tryfus family.

Our beautiful suca was packed by many guests and in particular people who needed hospitality, single mothers, their children and families dealing with illness, and of course some dear friends. On Tuesday night, Chol HaMoed Sucos, we organized and hosted a major Simchas Beis HaShoeva, which took place at the Carlebach Synagogue, in honor of Rebbe Nachman’s yahrtzeit, 18 Tishrei. I delivered a siyum Mishnayos of Seder Nezikin in honor of the occasion, and in addition, we were privileged to hear Rabbi Chaim Kramer and Rabbi Nosson Maimon, 2 well known and accomplished teachers and authors, who are experts in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings.

Later that evening, I spoke in Hebrew at the gathering organized by Oren Edri, President of LaGur B’Rama, the developer of our new community, Emerald Gardens/Emerald Heights, whose buildings are rising before our very eyes in beautiful fashion. It was at a spectacular performance by Yosef Karduner and gave me my first opportunity to interact with a purely Israeli crowd here in RBS.

On Shabbos Chol HaMoed, I gave a shiur iyun on the subject of Chinuch and the mitzvos of Lulav based on the teachings of the Brisker Rav and his nephew, Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, zatzal, at the Israeli Zichron Moshe Synagogue. The talk was delivered in Hebrew and was very well received by the mixed Israeli and Anglo crowd.

We took our children to an extraordinary Chol HaMoed concert, held outdoors here in Beit Shemesh, attended by 15,000 people, featuring Jewish music superstar, Yaakov Shweky, and Chanan Ben-Ari, famous for this year’s big Israeli hit, HaChayim Shelanu Tutim (Don’t Complain, our Life is as Sweet as Strawberries), and other performers including our cousin Lenny Solomon of Schlock Rock fame. It has become abundantly clear that Beit Shemesh has truly come of age.

Another family outing was to the brand new City Gate Mall, featuring luxury apartment towers, banks, numerous restaurants, a giant playstore, business offices, including the future home of LaGur B’Rama, where I will have my organization and kehila headquarters sometime in the fall, G-d willing. We went bowling at the brand new bowling alley and enjoyed ice cream and other treats in the sucos built in the mall to accommodate hundreds of visitors. The construction of brand new neighborhoods is the most eye catching part of moving around our town. New access roads, hundreds and hundreds of new rental units, and of course the construction of the new Mishkafayim neighborhood just below our current home on Nahar HaYarden.

The city mayor announced at the outdoor concert, where he sang a duet with Yaakov Shweky, that once all the current housing projects are brought to completion, the population of Beit Shemesh will have grown to close to a quarter million residents. What started as a small and neglected settlement town in the early fifties, has grown from 3,000 residents to well over 100,000 residents, and is soon to double its size within the next decade.

A true miracle from HaShem, that despite all the difficulties that families have encountered settling this Land for so many decades, this current period included, HaShem continues to build His Land, uninterrupted, in magnificent fashion.

But clearly, the highlight of our Yom Tov, was our annual Simchas Torah gathering, featuring our stunning Sefer Torah. Close to 100 neighbors, friends and mispalelim, attended our children-friendly hakafos. This caused our small Beis Medrash, on the ground floor of our home, to overflow outdoors, where the dancing and a spectacular hot Kiddush prepared by my eishes chayil, wich help from Ayala and some friends. Both the ruach and the cuisine were first rate, and we received wonderful feedback about how everyone, young and old, truly enjoyed a meaningful and joyous Yom Tov gathering.

One of the divrei Torah, that I shared on Simchas Torah really set a tone, in my mind, for the very important months ahead, where our shul and organization are really transitioning from home to reality, bezrat HaShem.

The B’nei Yissaschar taught that the 13 midos harachamim that are the cornerstone of the Selichos, Tashlich and Neila tefilos give way on Simchas Torah to a different 13 midos, the yud gimel midos shehaTorah nidreshes bahem (the 13 principles used to derive halachic rules from the Torah itself, that were utilized up to and including the conclusion of the Mishna and Talmud).

The B’nei YIssaschar argued that the first mida of rachamim, HaShem, HaShem, corresponds to the first mida shehaTorah nidreshes ba, which is the principle of kal vachomer, a priori logic. He explained that the Torah reading of Rosh HaShana demonstrates the extent of HaShem’s forgiveness when HaShem forgave Yishmael and accepted his prayers ba’asher hu sham, with the promises of repentance that he uttered on the day he was cast to the desert. This is despite the fact that Yishmael never received the Torah or mitzvos and was characterized as a pereh adam, a wild man, fighting, contentions and full of conflict with his neighbors.

The B’nei Yissaschar reasoned that the very name Yishmael, G-d will listen, refers not to the descendants of Yishmael, but actually to the Jewish people, based on a kal vachomer. If HaShem accepted Yishmael’s sincere words, even if they never resulted in anything, how much more so should HaShem accept the prayers and promises of the Jewish people for t’shuva in the merit of the Torah we received and the mitzvos we perform and the midos tovos that we demonstrate towards one another.

This kal vachomer is the basis of our argument for G-d’s forgiveness merely based on the words, prayers and promises we have recited throughout this glorious month, ending with words of praise and joy for Torah and a renewd commitment , not only to observe the Torah and to learn it with love but also to perfect our own midos of rachamim.

I suggested that based on the B’nei Yissaschar, our hakafos and songs were part of our argument to be accorded a year of safety, happiness, prosperity and blessing in this important year ahead, not only for Israel and the Jewish people but for all those world leaders whose charge is to uphold goodness, honesty and compassion in a world which has greatly deteriorated in both its security and moral fitness.

With best wishes for a strong and successful year, b’ruchniyus ub’gashmiyus, physically and spiritually

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