By Sandra M. Eisenberg
Do you work out? Most of us spend a small fortune on keeping our bodies fit – we belong to the J, we diet, we go to day spas. It is great that we all work so hard to keep our bodies healthy.
What happens if you work out and get toned and “buff” and then stop exercising? The muscles that were nice and firm turn to fat and you find it difficult to climb a flight of stairs. You’ve gotten out of shape.
The same thing happens if you ignore your spiritual exercise. If you stopped your spiritual workout at your Bar or Bat Mitzvah it is as if you turned into a secular couch potato. Think about what you knew when you were thirteen years old. Haven’t you learned a few things since then?
Just as your body can turn to flab without exercise, so can your soul.
Far too many of us have become “bagel and lox Jews,” keeping the trappings of our ancestors but no more. A few more of us go to Shul on the High Holidays or have a Passover Seder. Even fewer go to an occasional Shabbat service at our Synagogues. Do you know what your grandfather and grandmother believed?
Do you know why they believed what they did?
What has kept Jews Jewish for 3400 years? Do you know? Do you wonder? What does it mean to be a Jew? Is there a G-d? How do you know? Why did He put you on this planet? Was it just to be born, to do crunches and spend 30 minutes on a treadmill, grow old and die? Or is there more to life – to you – than your physical being?
If you make the effort, you will find results. (Talmud - Megillah 6b).
There are answers to these questions, and a way to exercise your soul just as you exercise your body. When you began working out you started slowly. You worked out maybe 10 or 20 minutes a day. Over time you got stronger and you added time to your workout. You added activities – tennis, golf, jogging. . . It is no different with your spiritual growth. If you make the effort you will learn and grown – and you will find G-d. In spiritual workouts, the very act of trying counts as success
Now maybe you are saying, “I’m too old.” You are never too old. One of the most famous rabbis who ever lived was Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva didn’t even learn the Aleph-Bet until he as 40 years old! It is never too late to get into spiritual shape, and your workout routine starts with Torah.
The Torah is really “Torat Chaim” -- a living Torah. It guides the way we live and is our instruction guide to spiritual fitness. The word “Torah” doesn’t mean “law” as some mis-translate it. It means “instruction” or “guidance”, for the Torah is our guide in life. The Torah makes us constantly aware of our duties in life; it gives us a true definition of our purpose, and it shows us the ways and means of being spiritually fit.
The Torah includes two sections; the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. To be physically fit we do both cardio and strength training. If you only did cardio you wouldn’t get the same results. It is the same with Torah – you can’t understand the written without the oral. The oral explains “what to do” and “how to do it.” No human being can understand the Written Torah without the guidance of the Oral Torah which has been written down in the Talmud.
If all of this seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start on your spiritual workout, start as you would with a physical workout program. Get yourself a personal trainer.
Meet Rabbi Yosef Gottesman, your personal trainer in Torah. He has dedicated himself to guiding you on your path to Yiddeshkite.
Born in Florence, Italy, home of the Renaissance, Rabbi Gottesman is a true Renaissance man. The dictionary defines a Renaissance man as one who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in many things. This is a description of Rabbi Gottesman who is a world renowned cantor, a rabbi and sofer who also speaks Hebrew, English, Italian and a little Yiddish! Who is this remarkable man who wants to help you tone your “inner Jew”?
His journey has taken him around the world. Born in Florence, Italy to a survivor of Auschwitz, he journeyed to the Gateshead Jewish Boarding School in England when only twelve years old, moving on to the Manchester Jewish Grammar School to complete his basic education.
At eighteen he moved to Israel to study first at Yeshivat Kol-Torah and later at the Mir Yeshiva, both in Jerusalem. Founded nearly 200 years ago, Mir is one of the most famous Yeshiva’s in the Jewish world. Here Rabbi Gottesman studied privately with Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel, the great Rosh Yeshiva (head of the school). He then progressed to the Harvard of Haredi Yeshivas, Ponevezh. In these years of intense Talmudic study Rabbi Gottesman immersed himself in learning Talmud , understanding halacha (Jewish law) and mussar (Jewish ethics).
For fifteen years Rabbi Gottesman was a sofer. A sofer is one who writes Torahs -- a complex and holy vocation. The first sofer was Moses, who wrote thirteen Torah Scrolls. One of them was given to each of the twelve tribes and one was placed in the Ark of the Covenant. Following in Moses’ footprints soferim are observant Jews who learn the 4000 Laws of writing the Torah scroll. As a sofer, Rabbi Gottesman became a human vessel for Torah, and as he worked he prayed that the Torahs he made with his hands would be filled with the holiness he felt as he wrote them.
To be a sofer demands a more than tremendous skill, it requires vast knowledge of Torah, Judaism and the mitzvot specific to the sofer. The 4000 rules are painstaking and minuscule from how to prepare the special skins of a Torah to of how to write the letters on the parchment (from left to right!). He stitches it together with gidim (threads) and even prepares the ink (dio) and the quill (kulmus) he uses to write it.
Rabbi Gottesman is a sofer of renown, having written ten Torahs, the first of his Torahs resides in the Kotel (Western Wall) in Israel.
As amazing as is this accomplishment, this is just one aspect of the Renaissance Rabbi. He is also a renowned singer. He recorded his first album with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of eighteen. “Hallelu – a Song is a Prayer,” was dedicated to his late father.
While in Israel pursuing his rabbinical studies, Rabbi Gottesman also trained at the Cantorial Academy of Tel Aviv and the Cantorial Institute of Jerusalem under world famous cantors Naftali Herstik ( Chief Cantor of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue), Eli Jaffe a renowned cantor, conductor and composer, and Moshe Stern (considered by many to be the finest cantor alive today).
Critics have praised the natural attractive timbre of his tenor voice, commenting on his powerful voice which combines heartfelt sincerity with control and power. His beautiful voice has received great acclaim in concerts around the world. Yosef Gottesman is known by many as “the Jewish Pavarotti”, due to the similarities in their voices, and having sung in the Piccolo Teatro in Milan that has hosted great opera stars such as Pavarotti and Placido Domingo .
His beautiful voice has inspired Jews in Europe, Israel, Italy, South Africa, Canada and the United States.
Along with his work in Orlando, Rabbi Gottesman acts as cantor at Anshei Emunah in Delray, Florida. His Cantorial history is also impressive. Rabbi Gottesman was the cantor in Acco, the second largest Synagogue in Israel, which hosted 1,200 people on Kol Nidre night. Here he replaced the famous Chazzan, Naftali Herstik, now Chief Cantor of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.
This is the man who will be your mentor, your “personal coach” in strengthening your Jewish soul. Your mind will enjoy an incredible workout – in just one hour a week you may learn Torah, or Talmud, or just the answers to questions you have about “whys” and “whats” of Judaism. There is no catch, and it won’t cost you a dime. It’s better than free – the Rabbi will even buy you lunch.
On Sundays join Rabbi Gottesman at 1:00 p.m. for “Lunch and Learn” at The Lower East Side Restaurant located at 8548 Palm Parkway, Lake Buena Vista (I-4 Exit 68 near Downtown Disney). To reserve a spot please call Sara at 407-857-1152.
If you live on the north side of Orlando, join the Rabbi Sunday evenings at 6:15 p.m. in Longwood at the office of Dr. Robert Rosenberg, 250 South Ronald Reagan Blvd. (SR 427), Suite 104, Longwood FL 32750.
The Rabbi is your personal trainer, so the classes are only partially structured. Based on your questions and input you can learn about
Jewish holidays and customs, Jewish philosophy, the weekly Torah portion (parsha), marriage and childrearing, Jewish history, Jewish prayer, Mishna or Talmud and Jewish Law (halacha).
On Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. Rabbi Gottesman conducts a class at the JCC South Campus at 11200 S Apopka Vineland Road. The class focuses on three areas: your questions (he is, after all, your “personal trainer”), insights on how to live from the weekly Torah portion, Jewish philosophy with an introduction to Kabala through “The Way of G-d” written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato. To attend class please contact Mary at 407-239-5444.
For those interested in a halachic conversion to Judaism Rabbi Gottesman also teaches a conversion class on Sunday mornings.