REJOICE IN YOUR FESTIVALS: Penetrating Insights into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot
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by Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky
edited by David A. Zomick
Hardcover, 231 pages
ISBN 13: 978-965-7108-99-4
ISBN 10: 965-7108-99-3
Rejoice in Your Festivals is a valuable addition to the libraries of those who enjoy the infinite
revelations in Torah study. Containing thirty eight previously unpublished derashot of Rabbi
Zvi Dov Kanotopsky, zt”l, this book adds new dimensions to our understanding and
enjoyment of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
At once timeless and timely, many of the derashot were written at historic moments such as the end of World War II and the rescue
of Holocaust survivors, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the miraculous
Israeli victories against the Arab armies. All of the derashot provide valuable insight and
inspiration to help us address the complex challenges we face today as a people and as
Firmly rooted in the teachings of our Talmudic sages and Biblical commentators, the derashot
show the creativity and passion of Rabbi Kanotopsky, a brilliant disciple of Rav Joseph
B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, and a dynamic orator and communal leader.
About the Author
A beloved and dynamic rav, Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky, zt”l, combined his deep
commitment to Torah and mitzvot and his incredibly creative mind to develop derashot
and shiurim that his congregants and students remember to this day.
He developed his intellectual acumen and honesty, establishing himself as a talmid
muvhak of Rav Soloveitchik in the 1940s. For 28 years, he taught at various schools of
Yeshiva University even as he served as the rav in two communities: Young Israel of Eastern
Parkway in Crown Heights and Young Israel of West Hempstead on Long Island. In both
these communities, he was known for his erudition and for his ability to transmit his
ideas to everyone, both learned students and the laity of the synagogues. He was very
successful in shaping the minds and hearts of his congregants to love and respect Torah and
to love and support Eretz Yisrael.
After making aliyah in 1970 with his wife and two of his children, Rav Kanotopsky served
as director of the Institute for Advanced Talmud Study at Bar Ilan University, while
also lecturing at Hebrew University and the Michlalah College for Women in Jerusalem.
About the Editor
The holder of a Ph.D. in theoretical physics as well as M.A. and M.B.A. degrees, Dr. David
Zomick has had a distinguished career as a leader in aerospace technology. Among the
positions he held at Honeywell Aerospace were vice president of engineering and chief
scientist. Rabbi Kanotopsky was the rav of the shul in which Dr. Zomick was raised, and was
also his rosh yeshiva.
Praise for Rejoice in Your Festivals:
“These derashot are an enormous treasure of Jewish thought and ethical insights,
marvelous ideas for the days of our festivals. The ideas are both precious and lucid.”
–HaRav HaGaon Asher Weiss
Rosh Kollel, Av Beit Din, Author of Minchat Asher and Rav in Ramot, Jerusalem
“I consider it a great blessing that I was yet able to know one of the leading
students of the Rav’s initial years at the Yeshiva. Rabbi Kanotopsky was unique
at the time as he represented all the Yeshiva was striving for during its formative
years. It is therefore a great source of satisfaction that his teachings are being edited
and published. It will be a true monument to this great individual that decades
after his death his Torah insights will become available to an appreciative public.”
–Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff
Rosh Yeshiva and Professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem
“I cannot sufficiently communicate in words the spiritual joy I received by reading
the sample derashot of Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky from the forthcoming volume
Rejoice in Your Festivals. Rav Kanotopsky was my ninth and tenth grade rebbe at
Yeshiva University High School in Brooklyn. He was a magnificent role model
who combined Talmudic lamdanut with the active rabbinate, a gifted disciple
of Rabbi Soloveitchik and a most intelligent and sensitive rebbe of young minds
and souls. He would often share with us his planned sermon for that coming
Shabbat. The sermons were always learned as well as inspiring, filled with novel
insight to explain a difficult halakhic concept and make it not only meaningful but
immediately relevant to life and its challenges. Rabbi Kanotopsky would often tell
us that he performed the mitzvah of rejoicing in the festival by creating a novel
interpretation of an aspect of that festival each year. These sermons are filled
with those riveting hiddushim; his words remain as vital today as they were in his
lifetime and you [the Editor] are to be complimented for bringing the thoughts of a
great mind which has left this world back to life.”
–Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin
Chief Rabbi of Efrat; Founder and Dean of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs; Founding Rabbi of Lincoln
Square Synagogue, NY
Rejoice In An Amazing Book On Your Festivals
I've previously quoted a few times insights from R. Zvi Dov Kanotopsky. He was, as I quoted from R. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, the top student of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik from the 1940s. He went on to become probably the most popular pulpit rabbi in Crown Heights--a huge Jewish community in those days, a rosh yeshiva in YU, and after his aliyah a instructor at Bar Ilan. Sadly, he died prematurely in a tragic accident in 1973. His synagogue derashos (sermons) were famous and, thankfully, he kept careful records of them. Over the years, a few books have been published of his sermons. This past year, his daughter (my high school teacher), son-in-law (my high school principal) and one of R. Kanotopsky's former congregants teamed up and published a collection of his derashos on the shalosh regalim (Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) titled Rejoice in Your Festivals.
I've gone through the entire book, cover to cover, and it is fantastic. The derashos are beautiful, many brilliant. Someone who appreciates the art of the derashah will enjoy this book even more because the author was an unquestionable master.
Interestingly, all of the derashos are dated so the reader can know exactly when they were given, and some have footnotes explaining the historical context (one is undated). This adds insight because the derashos span from early 1945 through after 1967, and discuss topics such as the Allied victory in World War II, the discovery of the horrors of the Holocaust, the United Nations debate over and eventual establishment of the State of Israel, and the Six Day War and its aftermath. With a mastery over midrash and Talmud, R. Kanotopsky finds insights that speak to the religious and emotional significances of these momentous occasions.
Given that many of these sermons were written half a century ago, one might expect that they are somewhat dated and do not speak to contemporary concerns. I don't think that is true at all. For one thing, many of the essays relate to eternal concerns such as the need to find spirituality and joy in Judaism. Additionally, since Pesach is the holiday of the Exodus and Shavuos is the holiday of the giving of the Torah, R. Kanotopsky dwells at length about the nature of the Torah and Jewish belief. When he speaks out against the powerful Conservative movement of his day and provides the Orthodox responses to their religious challenges, he does not just react to the threat but he builds a thoughtful worldview regarding the development and sources of Judaism that respond extremely well to the challenges of today as well. Perhaps this says more about the cyclicality of life, however I believe that the sermons on these topics are extremely relevant even today.
While the reader must keep in mind that the book does not contain exhaustive essays but synagogue sermons, and that this genre includes loose readings for rhetorical purposes, he will be extremely rewarded with this book of derashos from a master of the trade. Put this on the must-read list.
-Rabbi Gil Student
“Rejoice in Your Festivals: Penetrating Insights Into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot” by Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky, edited by David A. Zomick (Urim) features previously unpublished derashot, or sermons, by a disciple of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and communal leader, which were written at historic moments in the 1940s and 1950s. His accessible and inspiring style makes these teachings valuable in preparing for conversation around the seder table.
NY Jewish Week
I was delighted to hear about the recent publication of Rejoice in Your Festivals: Penetrating Insights into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, a book filled with the creative and inspiring derashot of Rabbi Zvi Dov (Harold) Kanotopsky. Full disclosure: Rabbi Kanotopsky was the rabbi of the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway during my formative years in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and was also my rebbe at Yeshiva University High School for Boys. True, I may not be the most objective reviewer, but I hope I can, at the very least, convey the profound and enduring impact the author’s Torah had upon me and so many others like me.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Crown Heights, the neighborhood was home to many Holocaust survivors and to second- and third-generation American Jews who tried hard to keep Torah laws—some even sacrificed jobs in order to keep Shabbat. But the majority of them lacked a formal yeshivah education; many had spent their childhoods struggling to survive the Nazi hell and others who had grown up in America simply didn’t have the luxury of attending the few yeshivot that were around in those days.
These earnest, hard-working and God-fearing Jews comprised the bulk of Rabbi Kanotopsky’s congregation. Nevertheless, Rabbi Kanotopsky’s derashot were profound and thought provoking; he raised his congregants’ level of Torah knowledge and constantly challenged them to see the Torah as relevant and exciting. I still remember walking on Friday nights to his parashat hashavuah class. Remarkably, I even recall the content of many of those brilliant shiurim, and have since used some of Rabbi Kanotopsky’s ideas (giving him credit, of course) in speeches I have delivered over the years.
A talmid muvhak of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, Rabbi Kanotopsky taught at various schools at Yeshiva University for twenty-eight years. He was a sensitive and caring rebbe. In my senior year of high school, he even insisted on driving me to my bechinah (entrance exam) at Yeshiva University to make sure I would get into the “right” shiur. He wanted to speak directly to Rabbi Mendel Zaks, zt”l, the son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim, about me—he was that kind of person.
Reading this book, one senses the great Zionist fever that burned inside Rabbi Kanotopsky and eventually encouraged him to make aliyah in the prime of his life. He left for Israel in 1970, when few were doing so, leaving behind a successful rabbinic career. (After serving as the spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway, Rabbi Kanotopsky was rabbi of the Young Israel of West Hempstead in Long Island.) In Israel, he served as the director of the Institute for Advanced Talmud Study at Bar-Ilan University, while also lecturing at Hebrew University and Michlalah College for Women in Jerusalem. In 1973, at the young age of fifty, Rabbi Kanotopsky passed away.
Rabbi Kanotopsky kept meticulous notes for virtually every sermon he ever gave. Rejoice in Your Festivals is a compilation of his sermons on the Shalosh Regalim, which he delivered from 1945 through 1967. The book, which is organized according to these holidays—Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot—was edited by David A. Zomick, a physicist who is also a former student of Rabbi Kanotopsky. Reading through these sermons gives one a taste of the author’s deep Torah knowledge, as well as insight into life in America during this period. Each derashah reflects the mood of the Orthodox Jewish world as it relates to historical events unfolding at that time, such as the conclusion of World War II, the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, the Six-Day War, et cetera. After reading the derashot, one not only walks away with a keen understanding of the chagim, but he also begins to visualize the mindset of the people living at that time. This makes for an incredibly powerful book.
Take, for example, Rabbi Kanotopsky’s sermon delivered on Pesach, March 28, 1945. Note the date—Germany and Japan had not yet formerly surrendered, but it was clear to all that victory was in sight. US troops had already captured the Philippines, and the German troops were in retreat. While anticipating the end of the war and the freedom that awaited European Jewry, Rabbi Kanotopsky expresses reservations about the future, finding his fear best expressed in the Haggadah itself. “Karev yom asher hu lo yom velo laylah, A day is drawing nigh that’s neither day nor night.” Rabbi Kanotopsky goes on:
"Yes, this is the picture the poet paints—and how appropriate it seems, in our day, for the period ahead, for the weeks and months that lie before us. It is not a period of a rising sun. It brings with it neither the sunlight of the day nor the dark shadows of the night. It brings with it only doubts and uncertainties."
At that tenuous time, Rabbi Kanotopsky was obviously troubled by what lay ahead, not certain what the future held for the Jewish people. Churchill was unsupportive of the creation of a Jewish state and of any significant Jewish migration to Palestine. He even refused to rescind the 1939 MacDonald White Paper that proposed the creation of a unitary Palestine state and severely limited Jewish immigration. In his derashah, Rabbi Kanotopsky quotes Megillat Esther: King Achashverosh asks Queen Esther “What do you want, what is your petition? Even if it is half the kingdom it shall be fulfilled.” Drawing on a gemara, Rabbi Kanotopsky explains that Achashverosh is really saying, “You [can] have half the kingdom but you cannot have Eretz Yisrael, you cannot have the Beit Hamikdash.” Painting Churchill as a modern-day Achashverosh, Rabbi Kanotopsky fears that the British prime minister will say that “the Jews can have freedom and tolerance and what they will … but they cannot have the Bet Ha-Mikdash or the Land of Israel, which would split and destroy the British Empire.” How fascinating it is to revisit history at a moment of time seen through the eyes of a great Torah scholar! Perhaps it is time, he says, not to let the Land of Israel lie in the hands of the Churchills or the Roosevelts.
Indeed, he says, it is time to follow the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “If you desire it, repent and come” (Isaiah 21:12). Urging the Jewish people to be proactive in the manner of Isaiah, Rabbi Kanotopsky writes:
"We need to show the world. We need to demonstrate before the eyes of the entire world that our position is unequivocal and unbending.…The voice of Israel will not be quieted until Eretz Yisrael is restored to us."
Rabbi Kanotopsky urged his congregation to demonstrate and to lobby, to do what had to be done in order to ensure the eventual establishment of a Jewish state. Reading these passionate words more than sixty years later, I could almost envision the strong emotions that must have been felt that Pesach in the sanctuary in the Young Israel of Eastern Parkway.
This book contains thirty-eight derashot in total, each one a gem in its wisdom as well as in its ability to depict life in America during the formative years of American Orthodox Jewry. I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys probing the inner meaning of the holidays. I’m sure the thousands of congregants and talmidim that Rabbi Kanotopsky taught during his years as a rav and teacher would find the book even more meaningful. Upon hearing of the book’s publication, I seized the opportunity to review it. I wanted to have the great zechut of revisiting with my former rebbe, who had a profound influence on me and deepened my desire to spend as much time as I can in limud haTorah.
-Stephen J. Savitsky
Rabbi Kanotopsky was active in the rabbinate from the mid-40’s to the early 70’s. He served the Jewish communities in Crown Heights and later West Hempstead before moving to Israel. He was a leading darshan and talmid chochom and rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University High School. He is best remembered for his unique sermons whose special flavor is featured in the book under review here.
What makes this book so special is how the rabbi blends the religious content of the drosho with the events of the day. Given the tense tenor of our own times, this work helps us to better appreciate the task rabbis face weekly in attempting to apply our Torah to contemporary events and personalities. It does so in a manner that brings dignity to our religious teachings, and helps to comfort us in difficult times.
The readings for the Pesach season play a prominent role at the beginning of this volume, and I specifically draw your attention to them. In reading them please make special note as to when they were delivered. This will enhance your understanding of the rabbi’s intent and better appreciate what faced our people during a most difficult period of time.
-Alan Jay Gerber
The Jewish Star
The ability to capture and captivate an audience, while at the same time transmitting the eternal verities of Judaism, is an art. The sermons of great preachers can remain exciting even when reduced to writing. Orthodox Judaism in the early 20th century was conveyed to many immigrants and first generation Americans from the pulpits of some dynamic speakers. Powerful preachers like Rabbis Leo Jung, Joseph Lookstein, and Harry Wohlberg paved the way for the many young rabbis trained by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik to sally forth starting in the 1940’s.
Rabbi Zvi Dov (Harold) Kanatopsky was one such rabbi. The 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s were critical years for the survival of Orthodox Judaism in America. Rabbi Kanatopsky in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and his colleagues like Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld in Queens, Rabbi Maurice Wohlgelernter in Upper Manhattan, Rabbi Herschel Schachter in the Bronx and many others, met the challenge of making Orthodoxy a success in America. When one considers that most congregants were not yeshiva trained nor even fully observant, the challenge was indeed daunting.
This is the third volume from Rabbi Kanatopsky, and the second one of his sermons. Artfully edited by a devoted student, David A. Zomick, these sermons (mostly from the 40’s and 50’s) reflect the difficult times of the post-Holocaust years and the struggle for Israel’s independence. The major themes revolve around the three pilgrimage Festivals, yet each time there is a timely message and observation about contemporary events. Rabbi Kanatopsky was a master pedagogue and he brought his congregation with him on his journey through traditional sources to bring home a point. A true scholar doesn’t need to dazzle, but his mastery of rabbinic texts is clear and his interpretations as brilliant as they were uncompromising.
He railed against spiritual mediocrity (Pesach, 1956) and bemoaned excess materialism (Sukkot, 1955). He found new meaning in the rituals and holiday symbols and was exceptionally creative as he expounded various midrashim. He preached against hypocrisy (Shavuot, 1945) and set standards for leadership (Pesach, 1945, 1949). He defended the importance of a tradition in the new State of Israel (Sukkot, 1948) and the need for Torah values (Shavuot, 1958).
He was successful and accomplished his goals. He won the hearts and minds of his congregation. Many prominent Orthodox laymen and rabbis owe their religious development to Rabbi Kanatopsky. Although edited from notes and devoid of homiletical fervor, one can sense the passion of these words even if you never heard Rabbi Kanatopsky deliver a sermon, watched his eyes, or listened to his cadence. The messages are timeless. The words can still evoke a sense of currency fifty and sixty years after first being delivered.
David Zomick has done us a great favor by bringing these sermons to the American public, which may take for granted that which was by no means assured in the post World War II era.
Jewish Book World
Dr. David Zomick took the sermon notes of his beloved rabbi and expanded them into just over three dozen sermons on the three biblical holidays Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. His drafts were reviewed by the late rabbi’s family who concurred in what Dr. Zomick wrote. One is reminded of the works of the students of the great philosopher Aristotle who transcribed his notes or the notes they took of his lectures. But while the Aristotelean books are rational in nature, Rabbi Kanotopsky’s writings are homiletical, midrashic and sometimes mystical, but enjoyable to read and contemplate.
The sermons are written in simple English, with logical progression, with no repetition, and no attempt on the part of the sermonizer to show how smart he is – a typical fault of many rabbis. The following are some examples that show the rabbi’s teachings.
As Germany was surrendering in 1945, Rabbi Kanotopsky urged his congregation to work for the establishment of a State of Israel. During the same year, he spoke about the differences of opinions among Jews, compared this dissention to the divergences among the Israelites at the Red Sea, after they left Egypt, and stressed that the future of Judaism after the war depends upon unity.
Focusing on the start of the United Nations, he wrote that the new organization, no matter how well-meaning, will not work if the countries are unable to differentiate between good and evil; if evil nations can join the UN and participate in controlling the world.
Apropos of many over-zealous Jews today who stone Jews who desecrate the Sabbath, Rabbi Kanotopsky wrote that we must be optimistic about the future of non-observant Jews and treat all people respectfully, for there is a very good chance that if these people are treated properly they will return to the proper path.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was about to be created, the rabbi warned that the ancient sages taught that people will only prosper if they have proper positive goals.
The rabbi occasionally addresses mystical ideas such as how does a person tap into and develop his and her soul?
He addresses many other interesting and relevant questions, such as: What are the barriers to achieving happiness? What is the significance of the Israelites in Egypt putting blood on their doorposts and what connection does it have with circumcision? Why do some Jews stay up all night on Shavuot? Did the practice start because of superstition? When did the observance of saying yizkor, the memorial prayer, begin, and what is its meaning and relevance?
Some questions are midrashic, as: How can we understand that “Moses ascended to heaven,” and the midrashic view that he did not go all the way up?
Some of the questions address fundamentals, as: Is divine revelation a continuous process or has it stopped?
All in all, the volume is both interesting and thought provoking.
-Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin
The Jewish Eye