Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rav of Cong. Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey, was the guest speaker for an inspirational Shabbaton at the LINK Kollel in Los Angeles over Shabbos Parshas Vayikra (March 7-8). The Shabbaton capped off a busy two week period of captivating guest speakers at LINK. Rabbi Eisenman, a popular columnist and author, is renowned for his warmth and passion. He leads a Kehilla of mostly Baalei Teshuva and has won a wide following for his ability to empathize with the needs and challenges of today’s contemporary Orthodox world.
Nearly 150 people attended at least one of his talks. On Friday night, after the seudah, he spoke on the vexing topic of how Torah Jews should treat gentiles in everyday life, from both a halachic and hashkafic perspective. He touched upon Chazal’s imperative of “Darchei Shalom” that necessitates showing certain acts of kindness to gentiles even if they are idolaters (which normally would preclude those actions). He also spoke about the constant need to make a Kiddush Hashem in our interactions with the gentile world. He further elaborated upon the clear need to differentiate ourselves from gentiles in order to prevent intermarriage (as Chazal constantly stressed), while at the same time recognizing that gentiles are B’tzelem Elokim.
During the day, Rabbi Eisenman’s Drasha touched upon an insight by Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky on the need to view each of our children (and by extension, each one of us) as having the ability to ascend to great spiritual heights. At the luncheon, he drew upon his experiences with Baalei Teshuva in cautioning about the dangers of abrogating our responsibilities to “think for ourselves” in being able to make mundane decisions in life and not automatically expecting the local Rav to “pasken” those questions for us as “Daas Torah”. At the same time, he spoke of the need to accept Daas Torah in issues of broad communal concerns. Along the way, he told many stories of Gedolei Yisroel, some of which he personally witnessed.
In the pre-Mincha talk, Rabbi Eisenman addressed the question of “Kavod Habrios” (the dignity of man) as it relates to halacha. He sketched a coherent paradigm of the intersection between human dignity in halacha from the Gemara through the teshuvos of Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L. Whether it was the Gemara’s discussion of a person discovering he is wearing clothing of shaatnez in a public realm, or Rav Moshe’s heter for a blind person to bring a seeing eye dog into shul, Rabbi Eisenman sought out the parameters of how halacha and human dignity co-exist in an harmonious blend.
Finally, at Shalosh Seudos, he retoldsome unknown stories of Gedolei Yisroel involving the “little things” that make them great. He concluded with a very powerful recollection of the time when he took his eighth grade Yeshiva class from Teaneck, New Jersey to see Rav Avrohom Pam ZT”L in his house in Brooklyn. The students were deeply moved by seeing the tremendous sensitivity of Rav Pam in all aspects of bein adam l’chaveiro.
LINK also hosted several guest speakers for weeknight and Sunday morning appearances. Rabbi Yehuda Lebovics, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Tehillas Shlomo in Eretz Yisroel, gave the special monthly pre-Maariv presentation. He addressed the topic of how we view the two months of Adar (in a leap year) in halacha and in hashkafa.
Rabbi Yochanan Bechhofer, former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Yisodei HaTorah in Yerushalayim, gave a number of presentations over a four day period. He gave a special halacha chaburah as well as a special Chumash shiur to the Kollel Avreichim. He also spoke about the unique qualities of the Machtzis HaShekel that so vexed Moshe Rabbeinu that he needed to be shown a fiery coin to explicate the concept. Finally, he gave a fascinating shiur on the relationship of the Egel HaZahav and the four Parshios that precede and follow it in the Torah relating to the construction of the Mishkan.
On Sunday morning, March 9th, LINK hosted a special presentation by Rabbi/Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler, (grandfather of Rebbetzin Sara Shoff of the LINK Kollel) a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and a professor of Biology at Yeshiva University. His topic was “science in the service of halacha”. He quoted a well-known statement attributed to the Vilna Gaon that the more one knows about science, the more one can understand Torah. He gave several examples of how recent discoveries in science have shed light on seemingly enigmatic statements in Tanach and from Chazal. He also spoke about how Chazal themselves felt the need to be learned in astronomy to deal with halachic matters that touched upon that area of science and to be familiar with the science of blood in order to pasken niddah shailos. In addition, he touched upon the question of “nishtanah hateva” (changes in nature). Is it really nature that is changing or is it that science’s ability to understand nature has “progressed”. In this light, he also addressed those statements of Chazal that seemed to conflict with modern science. He contended that Chazal were not promulgating scientific facts as much as responding to issues raised by the “science of its time”. In conclusion, he asserted that modern science has borne out the truths of the Torah as well as those scientific matters that Chazal themselves asserted as fact.