Thursday, April 15, 2010

There Are No Basketball Courts in Heaven

Reviewed by Annie and Harry Maryles

The cover and the title of a new book by Rabbi Dovid Landesman is an attention getter. It reminded us of what someone said about a new Charedi Yeshiva that just opened in Israel designed for American Yeshiva Bachurim. He described it as an “Israeli yeshiva with a basketball court”.

But that is not what the title represents. It was actually based on a response from a student to a question about what Olam Haba is like. Rabbi Landesman answered with something he had heard from Rav Shalom Schwadran based on a Gemara. The difference between heaven and hell is only in the way a Rasha and Tzadik perceive the same thing – learning Torah. The student laughed and said, you mean there are no basketball courts in Heaven?

In the preface, Rabbi Landesman informs the reader that for a period of over 30 years he has taught a wide range of students young men and women ranging between the ages of 14 through 19. The level of observance ranged widely as well as the level of knowledge ranging from the most elementary level to the very advanced. And the level of motivation has been quite wide from apathetic to zealous. He tells that his own experiences as a student contributed to his motivation to enter the field.

This book consists of a number of essays based on his experiences in teaching.

Has anyone ever wondered what the world would have been like had the Chazon Ish become a doctor? In one particular chapter entitled A. Y. Karelitz, MD he asks this question.

A friend of Rabbi Landesman who is a urologist and has completed giving a Daf Yomi Shiur for three cycles received a call from a young man in Bnei Brak. He was writing a Sefer on Halachos of a medical issue and called him to discuss the medical aspects of it. One of the sources they used was the Chazon Ish on Yoreh Deiah. The student was astounded by level of knowledge evidenced by the Chazan Ish. Where did the Chazan Ish get that knowledge? Who knows but one thing is clear. He was one of the most outstanding minds of the 20th century.

How smart was he? Was he ‘Einstein level smart? Professor Willy Low answered the question. He was the chairman of the department of physics at Hebrew University, founder of Machon Lev, and founder of The Institute of Science and Halacha. It was in response to a question asked by a student at one of his lectures. The question: Who was smarter, Einstein or the Chazan Ish?

His answer was that in terms of asking questions they were both about equal. But in terms of answering questions the Chazaan Ish was head and shoulders above Einstein. By virtue of his Torah knowledge he had a more profound ability to discern the truth.

After relating this story to a students in a philosophy class he taught, he was asked by one of them - what would have happened if the Chazan Ish would have gone to medical school? Maybe with a mind like his he would have cured cancer!

Rabbi Landesman said that there is no guarantee that he would have. But if he had - would that not have been a greater contribution than what he actually did contribute? You’ll have to read the book to see the thoughtful way he answered this young man.

Rabbi Landesman teaches everywhere. No need for a classroom. While being in the reserves of the IDF he answers questions. He expects questions from everyone, at every level and everywhere. He is not afraid to answer anything. He knows that each situation needs the information presented in a manner that will suit the young people who come his way.

In an amusing story from a chapter enitled The Four Shomrim he had an encounter with a young man he interviewed for adimttance to the Yeshiva he was then a principle of. Those interviews also consisted of an oral test in Gemarah among other things. The young man chose the thrid cahpter of Bava Metzia. He was quite nerovus during the interview and when asked what the four Shomrim were - he answered, Shomer Chinam, Shomer Sachar, and after thinking for a moment blurted out Shomer Shabbos and Shomer Negia (not touching members of the opposite sex)!

Rabbi Landesman uses that story as a springboard to discuss the concept of announcing one's level observance via the term Shomer 'anything'. It bothers him that the observance of certain Mitzvos has become something which we must announce to the world as though it were optional... robbing it of its inherent Kedusha.

In that same chapter he was handed the idea by a Chiloni passenger that the 613 mitzvot were man made except for the ten commandments and that's all you have to keep. Without missing a beat he says “Fine, can you name them?”

Each chapter is a lesson that stands on its own but the entire book is a Hashkafa lesson about teaching, learning and practicing Torah.

(This book may be purchased through my website at See the ad in the left margin.)