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Chanuka 2017

The Etta Kossowsky Fund Update
Chanuka 5778/2017

Dear Friend,

People often speak proudly of their nation’s values. Politicians want to ensure that foreigners learn and accept these and religious leaders are bent on spreading their values to the world at large. Since Jews constitute both a political entity and a religious community, both attitudes should apply. Except that the teaching of the Torah - our value system - discriminates. By no means everything is to be exported - not Shabbat, not the Festivals, not kashrut etc. And yet we seek to be ‘a light unto the nations’.

Interestingly, it is often our legal, halachic structure that embodies universal moral principles; as, for instance, what constitutes just social interaction in a sale, the rights of a property owner and his neighbour, the execution of a court verdict. Just one example: whether to apply the death sentence for killing another human being, discussed in Tractate Makkot; - perhaps the killing was unintended, perhaps the testimony of the witnesses was deemed in some way faulty….Consequently, a Sanhedrin that actually sentenced a person to death once in seven years, (one view is once in seventy years) is termed a ‘hanging Sanhedrin’ . ‘R.Tarphon an R.Akiva say: If we were on a Sanhedrin, no one would ever be put to death’ (Makkot 7a). That attitude to life is a very Jewish value.

Jewish values are currently the focus in the learning of two Etta Study groups. It so happens that both groups have chosen Chassidic texts, happy to learn about a reading of sources that is often so different from the classical expositions of the Torah.

From Jerusalem, Diane Bloomfield writes: In our Talpiot Arnona shiur, we continue to dive into the teachings of the Sfat Emet as well as a variety of other sources.. This week we will learn about the Sfat Emet’s teachings on the connection of the wells in the Torah to the human being. Just like when one digs deep inside a well of dust and earth one can discover living waters connected to a flowing source, so too, when one digs deep inside the human body made of dust and earth, one can discover living waters that flow from the Source of Life. Sfat Emet teaches that the essential work of the human being in this world is to make manifest the endless holy potential in the real world of our bodies and our lives of action. The soul, he teaches, is already holy, but the body needs help to reveal its holiness. The secret of faith, according to the Zohar, is to know that everything in the world is connected to the Source of Life. Of course, Chanuka is the holiday where the hidden Source reveals as light, illuminating our homes and the world. The shiur is VERY inter-active; lots of questions and insights from the students.

The shiur continues to be a great source of living waters for our community. New people are always joining and many friendships are made. I am grateful to offer this shiur and want to thank you for this opportunity over and over again.

From Bet Shemesh, Sara Shpitzer writes: Having spent one year exploring the development of Chassidic thought in the work of several leaders of Chasidism , the group decided to focus on one particular text, the Tanya. We tackled this work of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, with the help of M.Handler’s book, ’Derech Aruka u Ketzarah’. The book explains Chassidic terms and simplifies our understanding of the language of the Tanya for those who are encountering it for the first time. The Tanya seeks to instruct us about our connectedness with the Creator and does so in a holistic and systematic manner.

The chapters studied address such topics as the make up of the human soul, the Chassidic understanding of the words of the account of Creation and the nature of the relationship between man and his Creator.

The Alter Rebbe dives deep into a range of aspects of the worship of G-d , stressing their common root, the relationship of the good and the bad in the human soul. Our different strengths are explained; their expression and manifestations are delineated through the effect that the good and the bad have on our personality; their struggle for predominance. The Rebbe himself describes his book as inspired by the verse “For the mitzva that I command you this day,it is not beyond you, nor is it remote from you”. The book seeks to show how far the mitzva is, yet how near with the help of G-d.

The way is both long and short (as the title of our book has it) - long, because of the great heights it strives to leads us to, filled with faith in the capability of every individual Jew to fulfill the will of G-d, to connect with Him; short because, while it recognises the difficulties, the closed hearts, it gives us the tools to work through those difficulties without ignoring or denying them.

We hope you will be able to join us at the next annual Evening of Learning that marks the Yahrzeit of Etta Ehrman Kossowsky, z.l.. The date is 10 February 2018, motzaei Shabbat Mishpatim.

Our warm appreciation and thanks for your kind support; without it, the learning in Etta’s name would not be able to continue.

Chanuka sameach,
Esther Ehrman