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Rafi Wind

That’s right – it’s already January 2015. Where have the last 4 months gone? When you’re in an environment such as Orayta, time can move at frightening speed.

Every day here is a new experience. With the blend of overflowing inspiration, mind-blowing chiddushim, and the life changing perspectives that Orayta offers, it is difficult to find a dull moment in the Beit Midrash. With their dynamic personalities, and beyond intriguing teaching styles, the Rabbeim at Orayta are simply off the charts. The atmosphere of an IN Shabbat at Orayta is indescribable – you really must come and experience it for yourself. The Chevrah this year is so special and I have never been so excited to get to know so many people. I am so blessed to be part of such a remarkable yeshiva.

Throughout my years as a student in the modern Orthodox Yeshiva high school system, I often felt that there was something absent from my Jewish identity. Living a religious life was a struggle for me because I viewed halachot as a burden.  There was no spark to observing daily mitzvot; rather, they were just empty acts which, I had been told, had significance behind them. The schools and camps I attended tried to educate and inspire me to perform mitzvot with rigor and excitement, but it was difficult to find an appreciation for the actions when I could not see the meaning behind them. It is especially tough to follow the prohibitions of Judaism without an awareness of the goal behind them. I found this to not only be a personal struggle, but I think that many of my peers did not find even the most essential and identity driven mitzvot (i.e. Shabbat, tefilin, kashrut) to be meaningful.

At Orayta, I have found that if you attempt to tap-in to your inner self, and actually see mitzvot and Halachah in a different perspective, you will live a more meaningful, halachic life.  

The derech hatorah (way of the Torah), according to the Ramban, is to articulate details, and then place them in context. For example, the mitztvah of “kedoshim ti’hiyu” (be holy) is not just another mitzvah. It is a meta-mitzvah that is all encompassing of almost all the daily mitzvot. It is contextualizing a category, a goal of mitzvot. This includes positive and active mitzvot, as well as prohibitions. This idea of looking at the bigger picture and analyzing the experience of a mitzvah applies to all areas of Torah and Halachah.

However, it is important to note that even if one were to deeply investigate all angles of a particular halachah/prohibition, but came up with no overall goal or purpose to the halachah, that is not a reason to abandon it. The perspective in this case should be “I cannot find a meaning or reason that makes sense to me for this mitzvah, but I am okay with that because I trust that there is a meaning that I am not aware of. Or because it is not up to me to pick and choose what I observe.”

People can become so consumed with the details of the mitzvoth, that they miss out on the bigger picture. Halachah then becomes a burden because the purpose of the prohibitions and mitzvot are lost. We are unfortunately moved away from the Torah’s ideal, if we are not aware of the greater goal. People today often follow the Torah out of fear, and not because they actually embrace the values.

Instead of viewing religious life as a burden, I now see it as a blessing and opportunity to bring good to the rest of the world. If you investigate Halachah in the proper way, it will become clear that every detail and prohibition in the world of Halachah does in fact have a reason/value/greater purpose attached to it. You just have to find it.

Jacob Kuperstock

I remember last year at around this time like it was yesterday. I was visiting Israel and spending time visiting many Yeshivas trying to find the best place for me for my upcoming year in Israel. I remember it being such a stressful time because every Yeshiva had so much to offer. After much thought, I finally decided to spend my year in Orayta.

Why? That's a great question.

When you ask a person what they are looking for in yeshiva you usually come across answers such as:

“To be able to learn Gemara on my own” and “To learn to how to learn”. Of course building the skills to be able to learn independently is so important! However, I would like to argue that there is something even more important to accomplish in Yeshiva. You see, I think the goal of spending a year in Yeshiva is so that you can find a way to bring Torah into all the aspects of your life. Yes, developing the skills to be able to open a Sefer and learn is necessary. However who said having the skills to do something means that you will actually do it in the future? For example: I know how to swim, in fact I'm pretty good at it, but I don't enjoy swimming. Just because I have the skills to swim doesn't mean I'm going to be swimming.

The same goes to the learning of Torah. Someone may go to yeshiva and become a Talmudic genius, however as soon as they are out of the Yeshiva environment they no longer seem to find time to implement Talmud learning into their everyday schedules. I've seen this happen way too many times.

I think the most important thing to get out of Yeshiva is simply the love for Torah. That doesn't mean just learning the skills to be able to learn independently. It means finding a personal connection to Torah and loving a Torah lifestyle. At the end of the day the development of skills is all dependent on the individual. I truly believe if someone wants to become a strong learner they can get it wherever they are. Orayta is very different. The main focus is not just learning how to learn. It's all about learningwhyto learn. Orayta is a Yeshiva of self-reflection and understanding, where the Rebbeim are always open to developing close connections with the Talmidim as well as answering questions on literally every topic imaginable.

This year is dedicated to revealing who you really are and what is your purpose as a religious Jew.

I personally feel that all the Mitzvot I keep and all the Torah I'm learning is really my own. I'm doing it not only because I have to, but even more so because I want to.

I couldn't be more grateful to be able to spend such an important year in such an incredible place!

Jacob is from Montreal, Canada and plans to stay in Israel next year in order to continue in his learning and growth as a Ben Torah. Jacob's favorite part of Orayta are the many very dynamic and inspirational Davenings.

Gavi Kutliroff

One of the biggest problems with modern Jewish education is how
compartmentalized it is. Across different subjects, kids go from Gemara to
Chumash to Navi, viewing each class as disparate material, not perceiving
any greater unifying theme or moral. Across an individual class, kids take a
test after they finish each unit, then package away the material in a box to be
shipped off to the post office of memory that pretty much dies at the same
rate as the actual USPS. Information is coming at students from all different
angles, and without any overarching principle, Judaism becomes a jumble of irrelevant data
points, more like a Quentin Tarantino movie than a cohesive religion.
Orayta does not adopt this model. In fact, it pretty obviously noticed the problem, and handpicked
a staff that could fix it. We have rabbis from all across the spectrum--talmudists, rationalists,
Kabbalists, Zionists, just about every 'ist' Orthodox Judaism has to offer. But every shir is not an
isolated lecture whose lessons are to be abandoned to their respective classrooms; the
information all builds on itself in the vertical sense, and connects with information from other
shiurim in the horizontal sense. Just this past week I had open a Chumash, Ramban's
commentary, Rabbi Desler's Michtav Me'Eliyahu, and Rabbi Soloveitchik's Halakhic Man all at
once--each recommended to me by a different Orayta rabbi--and found myself rapidly glancing
from one to the other as I noticed striking similarities in the ideologies of each.
Orayta has constructed a model of Judaism that is cohesive, applicable, and real--an image of a
religion whose principles are consistent and true, whose shape is clearly defined and allencompassing.
This notion of Judaism has pervaded my everyday thinking and comforted me with
the awareness of a grander, more principled lifestyle.

Gavi hails from Skokie, Illinois, attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and plans on attending
Brandeis University.

Corey Gold

During the first couple months of yeshiva, I never found it very difficult to write
emails home. There was always so much new to say. I could describe my many
shiurim (classes) and my packed daily schedule: "yes, we really stay in the beit
midrash until 10 PM." I could recount our ruach-filled holiday services: "yes, we
danced on the roof through the final minutes of Yom Kippur." Or, I could share tales from
adventures we had as we explored Eretz Yisrael over Sukkot break: "no, we didn't have a map."
This stretch of time introduced me to the incredible opportunities of the year ahead - nested in the
Old City of Jerusalem, learning in yeshiva, surrounded by incredible rebbeim and other students
seeking to grow.
But at this point, the pace has changed. Now, we are weeks into this strange period of time unique
to the yeshiva world: horef zman. To someone looking in from the outside, it's not nearly as
exciting. It's significantly longer than a standard college semester. Compared to the spontaneity of
Elul zman, the routine of horef zman might appear monotonous. We eat, learn, sleep, and repeat.
So what's the point of this regimented schedule? After all, where are we going?
As we plunge deeper into horef zman, the potential value of these months is becoming clearer to
everyone here. Yes, these months may present fewer photo-ops than did the first several weeks of
yeshiva, and thus, it may be harder for an email to capture the beauty of weeks upon weeks spent
learning in the beis. Yet through such consistency, one can make progress and begin to break
down the boundaries which once limited him, embarking upon a journey of evolution.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote: "the eternal is not a thing which can be had
regardless of the way in which it is acquired; no, the eternal is not really a thing, but is the way in
which it is acquired." Sure, if we embrace the grind and dedicate ourselves to the long haul, this
year spent learning will truly be one of growth. But perhaps even greater than the ultimate
destination are the daily encounters we have with each other, the bits of Torah that we internalize
along the way, the moments when we feel ourselves reaching toward something just past our
grasp.
I admit, it's hard to describe. Words can never do such an experience complete justice. So, you'll
have to trust me - though the excitement of Elul zman has come to an end, there's no doubt in my
mind that the best months of yeshiva are yet to come. Now, yeshiva gets real.

Corey Gold graduated from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, lives in Baltimore, MD, and
plans to attend Harvard University next fall. Corey's favorite thing about Orayta is the stellar
rabbinic staff whose wisdom and compassion inspire him to keep setting his sights higher.

Daniel Trubnick

This coming March, at the Jerusalem Marathon, Orayta is attempting
to become the first yeshiva to run the 10k race - all of the students,
together as a team. To train, we divided into running chevrutot
(pairs), and once every three weeks we run together as a yeshiva.
This past Monday, we completed our second yeshiva-wide run. This
run reminded me that here in the Old City, I am in the right place.
Following a week of escalated tension in Jerusalem, the whole
country felt down. Sometimes, it was difficult to crack a smile. That's when Rav Yair and
Rav Blau gathered all of Orayta in the Rova Square for pre-running zemirot (songs). After
the day's events, nobody was in the right mindset to run two miles. But once we got to the
Rova Square, representing our country with our face paint, plain white shirts, and blue
shorts, our attitudes changed. We put our arms around each other, closed our eyes, and
sang, feeling the comfort and yachad (togetherness) that we all so desperately needed. In
one pack, all of Orayta charged down Yaffo Street led by Rav Blau and Albert Katz,
carrying an Israeli flag. Israelis walking down the street, eager for something to lift their
spirits, cheered us on. As we ran, we clapped, chanted, and broke out into "Am Yisrael
Chai." When we finally got back to the Rova, we were all excited and jumpy -as if the run
actually gave us more energy. Once again, we put our arms around each other and sang
"Acheinu" (Our Brothers). People of all backgrounds passing by sat down to watch us and
capture the moment. Eventually, we made our way back to the dorms, where we enjoyed
an ice cream treat before continuing on to Night Seder.
I've gone on many runs before, but none were as powerful as this one. In such a difficult
time, we gave the city something to cheer for as we proved to ourselves just how much we
can accomplish. 6,000 miles away from my family, I felt at home.
Daniel Trubnick is from Chicago, Illinois, attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and plans
on attending the University of Maryland next year. His favorite thing about Orayta is the
diversity of topics that each student encounters on a daily basis

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