Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

×›×™ ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:×–/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day for the fallen of Israeli security forces and victims of terror. For me, sitting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this may be the loneliest day of the year.

In front of me, on the wall behind my desk, is a bulletin board with all manner of important mementoes and reminders. A photo of my wife painting the scenery as viewed from Manara, overlooking the Hula Valley. A panorama of the view from our apartment in Kiryat Shemonah. A photo of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook. The chief medic symbol from my IDF service. My IDF dog tags. The photo of a grave.

The headstone reads: דניאל (דני) האז. בן שושנה ומאיר. “Daniel (Dani) Haas. Son of Shoshanah and Meir. Born in the USA, made aliyah in 5739. Fell in battle in Lebanon in Operation Peace for Gallilee, the first day of Av, 5742. Age 26 when he fell. May his soul be bound in the bond of life.”

Danny was my friend. He came from Cleveland, Ohio to live and build in Ofra, Shomron, Israel. We had common friends in Ofra. We started our army service together in the Nahal brigade. He died in battle with terrorists in southern Lebanon during his first reserve duty call-up. A Jew committed to building a Jewish society in Israel based on Hashem’s Torah. A Jew committed to building that society with his hands, and his blood.

In Israel, when the observance of Memorial Day and Independence Day was being established, the Chief Rabbinate determined that if either day fell on Sunday, they would both be pushed off into the coming week to avoid desecration of the Sabbath with people rushing to ceremonies and preparations on Saturday night. In America, there is some discussion if Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) should similarly be pushed off as is done in Israel. Why not? Because ‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’, and so we aren’t concerned with the practical issues of possible Sabbath violation.

‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’! What a horrible thing. But sadly true. When I first came to the USA to teach, I found myself embroiled in a controversy. The Jewish Community Center in our city was hosting a Yom HaAtzmaut/Independence Day celebration the night starting the Hebrew date of the holiday. The event was starting well before sundown, with music and dancing. This was a desecration of the solemn and sacred nature of Memorial Day! How could this be? I contacted the organizers, and they were completely unaware of the significance of the day before Yom HaAtzmaut. They also said they couldn’t or wouldn’t change the planned start of festivities. So I told my students that year to boycott the event if it weren’t changed. My students, God bless and keep them, pressured the organizers and some modifications were made at the last minute.
Read more Yom Hazikaron

What Do You Eat On Shabbat?

We all know that food plays an important role in our Shabbat routine. We know that we have a halachic obligation for three Shabbat meals. Many of us know that the Ari emphasized a kabbalistic importance to these meals. And many of us are very much set on a particular menu for Shabbat.

This is not a deep post. Yet the Torah we live encompasses all aspects of our personal and communal culture; and so this, too, is relevant in some way.

I have Ashkenazi friends in the NYC area who think that if you don’t have cholent on Shabbat, you’re some sort of heretic. Or at least insufficiently respectful of the hallowed requirements of Judaism, and maybe to be held in slight suspicion as ignorant or unreliable. When I ask them what they think Jews ate on Shabbat in Teheran, Halab, Fez, Saana, or fill-in-the-blank – they give me a blank stare.

The truth is, what people eat on Shabbat has much to do with personal taste, local culture, and what’s available. Here in the American Southwest, we are especially blessed with deservedly famous hot chiles. In the fall, parking lots all over town host chile roasters. Farmers bring their produce in burlap sacks, and roast it fresh for the customer. Even the supermarkets offer this service. The smell of roasting chiles permeates the air for a few weeks each fall. Most of us buy a quantity (15 or 20 lbs is common) to freeze and last till the next crop.

For me, hot chiles are the answer to a prayer. I thrive on a good Yemenite schug. I can eat it three times a day, with almost any sort of meal. My wife’s best friend is a Teimani woman from Bnei Ayish, and she supplies our needs; but this means getting a fix in small quantities to make it last. A good schug is altogether a rare thing outside of Israel. The best is made at home, in small batches, in a Yemenite kitchen. So, imagine my delight when we discovered that good hot chiles are ubiquitous in New Mexico. One could say theyÕre the state food. The question here is never, ‘do you want chile?’; it is only ‘green or red?’

So, on a recent Friday night, for instance, we had the sort of meal that many of our New York friends (the majority Ashkenazim, anyway) wouldn’t quite understand. We started with hummous. We had three types of schug. Our neighbors just made their first batch of Santa Fe schug using chiles from their garden. Both the green and the red were very good. And we had some of the schug that I had brought back frozen in July from Bnei Ayish. Very tasty, with a mild sweat breaking the brow.

It happens we skipped the fish. If we had fish, it likely would have been smoked salmon. Sometimes we have a Yemenite salmon (‘Moriah’s salmon’) recipe. A few times a year my wife will make salmon ‘gefilte fish’. Our neighbors will sometimes serve sushi. I, of course, put schug on my fish. And we rarely ever have typical whitefish/carp gefilte fish in our house.

After a quick zemer/song or short reading from the Nechama Leibowitz biography we’re enjoying, it is time for the main dish. Chicken? Beef? Could be; but our classic and favored by far meal is green chile stew. Served in bowls, with spoons. Bits of lamb and vegetables with lots of hot green chiles. And an extra napkin just for wiping the sweat off the brow. The stew is excellent with a dry red wine, or beer. It awakens nerve endings in the mouth you might not know were there.

I remember when Beit HaTfutzot/Museum of the Diaspora opened in Ramat Aviv some 30 years ago. There was an excellent exhibit, like a modern diorama, or a Jewish home on Shabbat. But this exhibit changed before one’s eyes, to show how Jewish homes around the world were similar, yet different. Certain items were in place in each version, with changes of local style; while other items like foods and clothing varied.

In New Mexico, the hot chile pepper is culinary king. For many of us, that bears a strong influence on our Shabbat cooking. What local influences shape the way you eat on Shabbat?

Bringing Friends Back Together

BeyondBT has done it again.

I came home to find a lovely message with a voice from the past. My dear old friend Y and I first met at Machon Meir in Yerushalayim in the early 80s, when I was the madrich for the English speaking students. We lost touch over the years, and then, in the mid-90s he found me not far from his home in Vancouver. The last time we saw each other was at Yaarah and my wedding, shortly before we left Vancouver. He knew I had been teaching in Brookline, but then lost the trail.

Then, a friend of his sent him a thread from BeyondBT. Usually he has no patience to read through 60 or 70 comments. This time, for some reason, he did so. There, at the bottom of the comments, was a comment I had left about Toronto. A little clicking and tracking, and he found me! ;-) A quick call to Santa Fe, and I came home to a message that had me grinning. We spent two hours on the phone catching up, and I have my friend back! Big smiles here.

Thanks BeyondBT!



Being Before Hashem In Whatever We Do

All of the Torah is holy. Every bit of it. Every letter of every word. Lists of names and the Ten Commandments are equally holy. Yet, it is inevitable that certain portions of the Torah speak to us more than others. It may be the content. It may be the circumstances or timing when it was read. It may be other things. Last week’s sedra has a פסוק/verse that I think is especially well timed for this time of year. And I think that at any time it could be a fair motto for guiding our attitudes and choices as Jews.

תמים תהיה עם י-ה-ו-ה א-להיך Be whole with Hashem your God. This mitzvah (according to Ramban it is to be counted as a positive commandment) is stated after the Torah warns us away from various manners of foretelling the future and divination. Right after this mitzvah we are told to listen only to a true prophet. Smack in the middle of this contrast is the command: be whole with your God!

Hizkuni explains the idea ‘tamim’ to be a matter of wholeness; that we shouldn’t think that we can be in awe of anything aside from God. This indeed happens, as Hizkuni points out from the Kutim who were in the Shomron, described in the book of מלכים/Kings as ‘they feared God and worshiped their deities.’ In contrast to this, says Hizkuni, we need to be a whole, unblemished vessel filled with only one thing; that means we must be wholly with God in all our actions and all our thoughts. So said King Solomon in משלי/Proverbs, בכל דרכיך דעהו – in all your ways know Him.

We marked the anniversary of the passing of our holy teacher and guide, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, this past erev Shabbat. In his book, Musar Avicha, Rav Kook explains the above idea from Proverbs (my translation).

“A person must seek the Holy One in all the ways that he acts. When he is busy with prayer he should seek the Holy One in the understanding of the issues of prayer and appropriate intent with a faith of the heart concerning those same matters of prayer. He mustn’t seek at that time knowledge of other things. Since he is presently engaged in this particular service/worship, the Holy One so to speak is present beside him specifically in this manner; and so that is how he will find Him, and not in some other place.

And when he is engaged in Torah study he must know that he will find the Holy One when he delves deeply to understand a matter in Torah clearly, and to retain and reveiw it well. In this he will know the Exalted One through His Torah, and not in another manner; because at this moment He is revealed in this way.

And so when a person is busy with an act of kindness to benefit his fellow, then he should seek the Holy One only in deepening his attempt at understanding how to benefit his fellow with some great, suitable, and lasting good.

And so in all the manners that one acts. Truly there is nothing in the world that is not for His Exalted honor. Therefore whatever one does should be His command and His will, and through those actions he should seek the Exalted Presence. When one tries with all his mind and abilities to do whatever he is doing completely and wholly in all manners of complete absorption, he will find that he knows the Holy One in all activities. The word ‘in’ means ‘within’, that in the very path or activity one can know the Holy One.”

In an additional note from one of Rav Kook’s notebooks, it says, “when someone does something wholly, whether in thought or deed, he should rejoice in his lot and not pursue anything else at that moment, because the entire universe is folded before him in that specific thing.”

Rav Kook once expressed a wish. “If only all my days could be in prayer.” The truth is, our sages seem to have taught us otherwise. We aren’t capable of only praying all the time! But the rav’s intent was that in everything, at every moment, he wanted to experience clearly that he stands in the Presence of God.

Rosh Hashanah is in a bit less than a month. That is the time that more than any other we recognize God as King in His world. But we can bring some of the holiness and wholiness of that recognition and experience into every day and every thing we do, if we are wholly and solely intent on recognizing Him in His world. In the King’s realm, everything is truly His. All that His subjects do is truly His. All that they have is a benefit of His rule and presence and grace. Nothing occurs outside His will.

The month of Elul is especially a capable time to develop the constant awareness of God’s presence. It is a time especially suited to direct ourselves in all that we do to recognizing and experiencing His presence. In all your ways know Him. In everything, everything! that you do, know Him.

May Hashem bless us that this year we will universally know His Presence, like the waters cover the oceans.

Harav Mordechai ben Salman Eliyahu – A Simple Reminiscence

This is not a eulogy. It will not fulfill the demands of such. The praise is far too faint, not for any lack of the deceased’s exalted qualities; but for my inability to even approximate his true praises.

Just a few hours ago, our master and teacher Harav Mordechai ben Salman Eliyahu was buried. May his merit and memory be a blessing and protection for all Israel. Truly, a very large segment of Israel is deeply mourning this loss. This loss of the Rishon L’tzion (the Principal of Zion), such an appropriate title, is a national and generational loss. But it is also the loss of many little people like myself.

The rav was turned to for guidance in great matters of halacha and policy. Phone calls came to him from all over Israel, and all over the world. Rabbis of all sorts turned to him. Sefardim, Ashkenazim, Chabadnikim, and others. Yet he was always available to little, everyday folks as well.

In 1978 I arrived in Yerushalayim to start learning in yeshiva. I went to study under Rav Dov Begon at Machon Meir. At some point I had a question of halacha that needed to be answered, and Rav Begon said to me go to Rav ben Eliyahu (as he was then known). Okay, what did I know? So I got directions and walked about 5 minutes to the other side of the neighborhood. I knocked on the door, the rabbanit let me in, and within a minute or so I was speaking with the rav. That was the first of tens of meetings. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. I would walk in, the rav would waive to a chair in a friendly but matter of fact manner, and I would ask what was on my mind. Mostly matters of halacha; occasionally something more philosophical or personal.

The truth is, in those early months I had no idea that I was in the presence of a giant. I noticed soon enough that the Torah scholars, young and old, lined up to see him each morning after morning prayers. Nearly every time I went to his home in the morning or afternoon, there were other yeshiva students or rabbis waiting their turn. For each he had a smile and a matter of fact approach to the issue at hand. But even in Kiryat Moshe, a neighborhood with important yeshivot and Torah scholars, it took an uninformed new immigrant a little while to catch on that I was consulting with one of the great rabbis of the generation.

The rav was held in the highest esteem by Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, by Rav Avrum Shapiro, Rav Shach, and any of the other influential rabbanim of that time in Israel. When he was chosen Chief Sefardi Rabbi/Rishon L’tzion, I had occasion to ask him a question shortly after the announcements. He was receiving congratulatory phone calls from rabbanim all over the world. And he still found a few minutes to help with my relatively small issue, even while fielding the calls. His wife had whispered to me on the way in how he had received a call even from Lubavitch in America!

He had a special respect for the OU, and spoke at the Israel Center when we were on Strauss Street. Even though he had recently been chosen Rishon L’tzion, he kept all his appointments and teaching commitments. He gave a pre-Passover talk at the Israel Center that was simply outstanding. Erudite, yet organized for the common audience; and he stayed and answered questions afterwards.

The rav was turned to on matters great and small by all segments of the Jewish people. He decided matters of halachah with equal ability for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and took interest in immigrants like the Ethiopian Jews. Only once can I recall him advising me that my question needed an Ashkenazi-informed rav, and he sent me to the other side of the neighborhood to speak with Rav Shaul Yisraeli. For an extended time I went to the rav with questions while I was learning the laws of Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzah. He was familiar with every aspect, and interested. At one point, he told me that I should also go speak with his brother, Harav Naim, who was especially expert in these matters. Rav Naim ben Eliyahu was a deep, humble man who handled my every question with kindness and thorough competence.

The rav told me that as he learned each section of Shulhan Aruch as a young man, he also learned the skills needed to carry out what he was learning. Writing, slaughtering, whatever it was. He told me I should do the same. Sadly, I didn’t follow his advice on that.

When I was preparing to be married, I started learning the laws of Nidah, as many yeshivah student grooms-to-be do. Rav Eliyahu had been giving classes to local women on the topic, which were summarized and printed in popular yet authoritative pamphlets by his son. (Later, this became the book Darkei Taharah.) When I asked the rav what we would do if there were specific questions in our new home about stains, etc. he said, bring me every question you have, and I will show you what to do with it. And so, much like King David in his time, he did for me and many others in the neighborhood.

I recall one time going to the rav with a question. He answered in his usual succinct manner. I asked for clarification. He replied. I raised an objection. He dealt with it. I questioned his answer further. He answered. Finally, he said to me, look, you don’t have to do what I say. You asked me a matter of halachah. I told you what I think is the correct answer. When you get to the heavenly court, they will ask you to defend your actions; but they won’t ask you why you didn’t listen to me. You ask. I answer. But the responsibility is yours. For me, this was a great lesson in retaining my sense of answerability and responsibility. The rav could instruct me; but I couldn’t pass the buck. We each kept our own weight of responsibility in the rav-talmid interaction.

Israel mourns tonight. The Eliyahu household mourns; may Hashem comfort them among all the mourners of Zion. But also, in many anonymous homes like mine, countless unknown individuals are mourning the loss of a great, giant of Torah who yet was the rav of the whoever came to him, myself included. The ship has lost its captain. I have lost my rav.

Yom Yerushalayim

Tonight starts the date of 28 Iyar. This is the date that the holy city of Jerusalem was reunited, and her children who had longed for her were finally able to return to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and all of the Old City and Mount of Olives.

The Arabs had for 19 years prevented Jews from visiting these holy sites, and had desecrated places of worship and Torah study, and the even the ancient Jewish cemetery. On this day, Zion’s children returned to her. Within another 24 hours, longing children would also return to Gush Etzion and Hevron.

To tell the truth, one shouldn’t have to say anything about Jerusalem and Jerusalem Day. Devoted Jews have faced Jerusalem in prayer daily since the time of King Solomon. All over the world and all throughout our history, our eyes and hearts have been turned only to the place the Torah calls ‘the place God chooses’.

But something must be said.

So I will refer us to a famous narrative concerning Rav AY Kook, when the nations of the world questioned the Jewish place in Jerusalem, and the place of Jerusalem in Jewish hearts and Judaism.

“Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook recalled the tremendous pressures placed upon his father that evening in 1930 in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“How intense, how grave, how terrible were the threats and intimidations at that time, with all of their bitter pressure, from two nations [the Arabs and the British] goading us with lies and murderous traps for the sake of an agreement to relinquish ownership over the Kotel, the remaining wall of our Holy Temple…” (LeNetivot Yisrael vol. I, p. 65)

The infamous Hajj Amin al-Husseini was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem — the spiritual and national leader of the Arabs — already in the days of the first British High Commissioner. One of the many devices that he and his cohorts employed in their struggle against the Jewish Settlement was the repudiation of all Jewish rights to the Kotel HaMa’aravi, the Western Wall.

The Arabs gained a partial victory in 1922, when the Mandatory Government issued a ban against placing benches near the Wall. In 1928, British officers interrupted the Yom Kippur service and forcibly dismantled the mechitzah separating men and women during prayer. A few months later, the Mufti and his cohorts devised a new provocation. They began holding Muslim religious ceremonies opposite theKotel, precisely when the Jews were praying. To make matters worse, the British authorities granted the Arabs permission to transform the building adjacent to theKotel into a mosque, complete with a tower for themuezzin (the crier who calls Moslems to prayer five times a day). The muezzin’s vociferous trills were sure to disturb the Jewish prayers.”

The rest may be read here: www.ravkooktorah.org/YOM_YER65.htm

See too this excellent and unique post with photos from shortly after the liberation: www.templeinstitute.org/temple_mount_liberation.htm

Also posted at www.kolberamah.org.

A Different Sort of Religious Experience

The hard science types out there will disagree, but it really wasn’t what I expected at all. In fact, I wasn’t expecting anything as far as I can tell.

Let me go back a bit and lay the groundwork here. My father, alav hashalom, was a very intelligent erudite individual who was also very good with his hands. Although I typically saw him reading a book or the New York Times or something related to school (he was a professional educator); he had a fascination and quick grasp of mechanical things, too. I remember as a little boy stopping by construction sites so that my father could marvel at the machinery and techniques employed.

My mother, every bit as intelligent and an educator as well, is the stereotypical liberal arts type. Song, dance, and theatre are her big interests. She devours books, and did some pretty fair writing in her time. Even in her eighties, she recently produced and directed a pretty serious show through the assisted living place she calls home.

Neither of my parents were outdoorspeople. They can’t figure out where I came from. From a small age I was playing in the local river or swamp (against stern parental warnings). As I got older, skipping school usually meant going off to meditate and write poetry by the Mianus River, rather than partying at someone’s house. As a yeshiva student, Aharon Bier alav hashalom was my hero and my professional aspiration was to be a guide and show people the wildest corners of the Land of Israel, Tanach in hand. As a school teacher, vacations were spent backpacking and fishing wherever was nearby in the American Southwest, British Columbia, or New England. If I had only a day, then a quick hike up a local hill was good, too. I am never so happy as when I take off with a deep or inspiring book in my pack and some time to contemplate Hashem’s creation. The Ramhal, The Nazir, Breslov Hasidus – whatever seems right at the time. Ten days in the wilderness to marvel at the creation ‘round the clock is my idea of rapture.

I never seemed to have my father’s mechanical talent; nor interest, really. I may be the only kid who flunked shop class for lack of aptitude. Math and physics made no sense to me, despite my interest in science. But put me in the beit midrash or out in the mountains, and I would figure out what to do with myself. The two places seem to go together naturally in my mind. The Netziv and the Radak are among those who point out how our forefathers would especially go out into the wilderness to meditate and seek inspiration. The Rambam says that one can achieve love of God (in the Mishneh Torah in the relevant halachot) by going out and examining/contemplating Hashem’s creation. To me, the outdoors guy, this makes easy sense. I once had a conversation with a couple in the mountains north of Vancouver, BC about this very effect. ‘Did you ever find yourself so inspired by the countryside that a sense of gratitude just welled up within you?’ ‘Yes, of course.’ ‘Well, WHO do you think you were grateful to?’ They got the point immediately.

So there I was, in my garage during the winter about three years ago. My 30 year old motorbike and main transportation was sorely in need of upkeep and serious repair. I know next to nothing about this stuff. So I set to it with shop manuals and the ongoing determined help of friends on an internet forum, SOHC4. (By the way, this incident is one of many that showed me how the internet is an amazing conduit for hesed ‘round the world. Complete strangers with little or no agenda helping each other daily with advice, encouragement, and material goods. Amazing. We see the inherent good that Hashem created within us.) For eleven days straight I worked on the tortured wiring on this bike, and a few more days on the carbureters. I was in a world I knew nothing about. Interestingly, I found the time therapeutic and focussing.

Then it began to happen. No, I wasn’t delerious. ;-) I was, however, very focussed on the tasks of diagnosing and repairing the electrical and mechanical issues with my ride. I started to realize, in the midst of working on the bike, how the principles taught in physics lay behind all the engineering I was taking advantage of and trying to cooperate with. Math became the language to express the ideas. But it didn’t stop there. I didn’t just come away with an appreciation for Mr. Sochiro Honda. I deeply sensed how all this finely tuned system of forces balance with each other in an undeniable and carefully scripted display of Hashem’s will. It is amazing to begin to see the interplay of factors like flow, turbulence and vacuum and how they can serve us when engineered into devices like a carbureter. A carefully engineered machine is an expression of the various forces through which God operates our world. All these factors are available to us for our benefit. Physics, Chemistry, the language of Math all express how the Divine will filters into the material world. God made it all.

I really don’t know how to describe the amazement that enveloped me, sitting next to my bike with greasy hands and realizing Hashem’s rule in His world. All I can say is it was a truly religious experience. I walked from the garage back into the house a different person. I have never been the same again. Today I look at these machines, and my limited understanding and appreciation of them immediately awakens a sense of awe like I feel in the mountains. Hashem’s will is expressed in myriad ways in all his creation and how it works. I don’t know how I missed it before; but I have never been quite the same again. I am truly grateful to our Creator that little window was opened and expanded how I am awed by His mastery and presence.

Rav Kook writes regarding the verse ‘know Him in all your ways’ that whatever ‘way’ we happen to be on or engaged in at the moment, we must know Hashem. Maybe this moment of enlightenment was a bit of what he means. It certainly wasn’t when or where I would have looked for a religious experience.