Apples From My Orchard is deep, funny, sometimes irreverent, and never boring. Karsh has something he deeply needs to share, yet he writes with an ease and calm that belie any sense of urgency. For the reader it is a pleasant journey to a place they vaguely remember; a fragrance which suggests a poignant, forgotten, moment. In this work, Karsh is not so much a teacher, as a guide to a place of mystery which he delights in sharing with any who will join him.
Teaching the Akeidah Roneen brought up a question her daughter asked, when we discussed the 'Binding of Isaac:' “If G-d asked you to kill me, would you do it?" Roneen asked what we would answer if asked that question by our children. I loved the question and asked friends and colleagues how they would respond. And I continue to solicit responses to this day. The best response I've had so far was given by Jack, a tough on the outside, sweet on the inside, member of a class at Crestview Capitol. Jack was late to class that day, arriving after I had asked Roneen's question, and there had already been a bit of discussion about it by the time he arrived. Stewart, one of the class members, asked Jack what he would tell his kids, and Jack, said: “I'd tell him that if G-d asked me to kill you, I'd do it. What can I say? It’s the truth." Then Stewart asked him: "What if it was your Grandchild?” Without a pause, Jack said: "No, that I'd never do." The Test A few years ago, I day-dreamed the basic components of the following scene: I was a contestant on a Game Show. The theme of the show was testing your faith. I was asked, by the host, whether I believed that the description of the giving of the Torah at Sinai was true as it was presented in the Torah. I immediately answered yes. He smiled, held out an envelope, and proceeded to tell me that in the envelope was incontrovertible proof as to whether the account of The Giving of the Torah, as presented in the Torah, was factually correct. He assured me that, upon seeing the proof, I would agree that it proved the issue one way or another; and that if I didn’t accept the proof in the end, I could be assured that all bets would be off. I agreed to go on. He then challenged me to a wager. But before we actually wagered, he asked if I would agree to have an emotion detector attached to me, so that my state of calm could be measured during the challenge. There would be three categories of measured response: normal, anxious, and panic. I agree to be monitored. The first wager was ten dollars. Would I wager ten dollars that the account of The Giving of the Torah was true? I said yes, and the emotion detector showed not even the slightest indication of concern. Next he asked if I would wager a hundred dollars. Again I said yes, and again there was no indication of change. He then moved on to a thousand, and again there was no change. Now he asked if I would wager all of my earthly belongings. I paused, swallowed, and answered yes. The emotion detector registered anxious. At that point, the host directed my attention to a curtain which slowly opened to show my family, suspended in a net, over a pool of hungry piranhas. The host now asked if I would wager my family. I would receive a new car if the account was true, and if not my family would be released into the pool of piranhas. He then added, with a sinister smile, that for a man of faith it should be an easy wager. The monitor registered panic. End of day-dream. I learned at that moment that belief/faith is not a place you arrive at, but a continuum. There is no point of faith that, once arrived at, qualifies me as a person of faith. I can have faith at one level, but be challenged at the next. My goal is to move as far along the continuum as I can; so that as each new challenge arrives, I can meet it with faith. Stream of Consciousness Today I was studying about prophecy with Mayer when he wondered out loud how a prophet can identify that a particular event he sees will happen in the future; after all, the information that he is accessing is most likely coming from a “place” beyond the boundaries of time. His question began a stream of consciousness that led me to remember a question that occurred to me a few months ago. Can a gilgul (reincarnated soul) go back in time? When your soul leaves your body, it is most likely beyond the boundaries of time. If that is so, and it decides to come back in order to fix something it did or do something it left undone, why do we assume it will come back during a time that is further along the linear timeline from its death? And if it can go back in time, some of the people we are in contact with could have souls from the future. My soul may be from the future. This thought led me to think: What do I mean when I say ‘my soul?’ Who is this ‘I’ that possesses the soul? Aren’t I my soul? This led me to think that my relationship with my past is the closest I will come to experiencing death. Every moment is a new reality. The moment before is no longer accessible, it is static, done, as I imagine my life will look to me after I die. This then led me to think that nothing is really static. Although a table appears solid and static to me, it is really made up of atoms which are themselves made up of nuclei that have electrons whizzing around them. Glass is a liquid and is flowing in super slow motion. Even my past only has the appearance of permanence. It is changing based on the continuing effects of those past actions and can change if I repent wrongs committed. This led me to think that the soles on my shoes are wearing thin, and I really need to buy a new pair. This led me to think that I haven’t had a good pear in a long while. This led me to get hungry. This led me to get up and look in the fridge for something to eat. When I got there, I couldn’t remember what I was looking for. Rav Moshe and the Watch Several years ago Hillel asked Rav Moshe Shapiro Shlita a question: Hillel had a friend who learned at BMT, in a program designed by Rav Subato. The members of this program learned all of Talmud in one year. If a person learned one page (in Talmud one page means two sides of text) of Talmud a day, it would take him over seven years to finish it, and these students were learning it in one year. They weren't just reading it, they were learning it. They had systems for review and study, which took their every waking moment, every day of the year, including Shabbos and Holidays. Hillel asked Rav Moshe if that wasn’t the best way to go about things. First you immerse yourself in the general body of information, and then you go back and study the subjects in depth. That way, you had the entire corpus of Talmud as reference whenever you were trying to unravel the depths of meaning of a particular piece of Talmud. By the time Hillel finished asking his question, a crowd of students had gathered to hear Rav Moshe’s response. He pointed to one of the students, Menachem, and asked him to give him his watch. Rav Moshe said that he was going to ask Menachem, several questions about the appearance of his watch. These would be questions like: “Is there a second hand?” or “What is the color of the face of your watch?” Not about minutia, but about things that would be obvious to any observer. Rav Moshe had picked the right person for this exercise. He knew that Menachem had little concern for the details of something like a watch, and that was Rav Moshe’s point. Before he asked about the watch itself, he asked Menachem how many times he had looked at the watch. Menachem guessed ten thousand. Rav Moshe then proceeded to ask Menachem ten questions about his watch and Menachem answered every one of them incorrectly. Rav Moshe then made his point: How can it be that a highly intelligent person, can look at something ten thousand times, and not know obvious facts about it? The answer is, he doesn’t care. He never took time to observe the watch for its own sake it was just for telling time. If you don’t take the time to learn something for its own sake, but rather because you have some other purpose in mind, you will not learn the thing in the first place. If you study Talmud because you want to finish it, not because you are interested in a particular discussion, you will not remember a thing. The best method for studying Talmud is to approach each discussion and make it your focus. Learn
Yehoshua Karsh is a teacher of Torah, a writer, and the director of the Torah Learning Center of Northbrook (A suburb of Chicago), where he lives with his wife Tzippy. He spends much of his free time waiting for grandchildren.