Bye Bye Pardes

Well we actually said goodbye more than a week ago. And it’s not really goodbye because we’ll be in Israel. And we’ll be going to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at Pardes.

On the other hand, the end of Pardes is the end of a chapter in our lives. It was a very special year. To be able to live in Jerusalem and study Jewish texts for one whole year is for many people an unattainable experience–whether from financial or psychological barriers–although it really shouldn’t be. In these times it’s takes a lot of chutzpah to leave the workforce and study for the sake of studying. The end of Pardes is also the beginning of very new chapter. As Rav Schweiger noted, this year has in some ways been like the Jewish people’s experience in the desert. They lived in a pure state of spirituality, isolated from other cultures and utterly dependent upon G-d for all of their needs. The time in the desert was their opportunity to solidify their relationship with G-d and strengthen their religion. The true test, though is when you leave the desert and can take those principles you learned in the desert and apply them to life. Sometimes it’s really hard to apply the theories, but Judaism is not about living upon on the mountain for all of your days. You have to engage in the world, and you have to spread Torah to others.

Interestingly the Parashat Hashavua during the last week of Pardes was Bamidbar. In his parasha class and in his teaching at community lunch, Schweiger said that this Torah portion and the ones following deal with preparations for the children of Israel’s entrance into the land. A census was taken of all of the tribes, and another one was taken of the Levite families who were to serve in the sanctuary.

However, Schweiger argues, contrary to G-d’s plans, the Jews rebel and enter a downward spiral which culminates in the story of the spies later on in the book of Bamidbar. After the spies are sent to survey the land and tell them of the enemies that await them, the Jews become frightened. They don’t want to enter the land because they say they will look like grasshoppers in the eyes of their enemies. Talk about low self-esteem! Schweiger would argue that it wasn’t only a lack of faith and low self-esteem that influenced the Jews’ behavior. It is also because the Jews didn’t want to leave their nice, comfy arrangement and deal with reality.

And considering all the support they’ve been given, their insecurity seems troubling. Didn’t they realize that G-d was going to be there for them?However, I would argue that it is because the Jews have been living in this limbo life with complete support, they haven’t had the opportunity to test their faith and to test their own abilities. It is natural for them to have no confidence when they haven’t gained the experience–as I can attest from my life. Unfortunately, the people, still captive to the slavery mentality that inhibited them in Egypt, seem reluctant to leave their comfort zone and to seek this experience. Perhaps that is why G-d made them wander forty years and waited for a second generation to arise–so there would be another generation more willing to leave slavery behind.

Anyway…back to my life:

A year out of a lifetime may not seem a lot, but it was a very important year in my life, a turning point of sorts. The growth that I’ve experienced has enabled me to feel much more confident in taking on the challenges of aliyah. Not only did I grow intellectually, but I also grew more flexible in my outlook, and I think my values shifted too. Part of that was fostered by studying at Pardes and part was spurred by much reflection and discussion.

Who am I, what are my values, how will I implement those values, how much can I compromise these values, what is the best way for me to make an impact on this place, how do I make enough to eat and pay rent, what are my personal goals, what kind of career do I want, how do I want to raise my kids, where do I want to live…these and many other questions I batted around my head. It was definitely not a year ‘off.’ I think this is the most ‘on’ I’ve ever been.

As I mentioned, tonight is Shavuot and I’m going to try and stay up all night like I did a couple of years ago. Something of note: did you know that the Biblical text does not explicitly mention that Shavuot was the time that the Torah was given? Rather, it is referenced as an agricultural holiday following the Omer counting (which has its own rabbinic and mystical teachings that I won’t go into). The first mention of Shavuot as Matan Torah is a rabbinic one. So why did the Rabbis want to affiliate this agricultural holiday with Sinai? Anyone?

Happily my chumash class finished the year with the 10 commandments. Actually, I should call them ‘utterances’ because commandments is really not the right translation. Both students and teacher presented aspects of the utterances.

One interesting tidbit that I learned from our teacher about the prohibition of using G-d’s name in vain is the importance of language in Judaism and, in particular, in creating our relationship to G-d. Language is our only way to define G-d and our relationship with G-d, but it is a very limited tool because G-d can’t be pinned down to specific names. A name is almost like a photograph–it takes a snapshot of G-d at a particular time and place but in no way embodies Him. So by using his name in vain we actually destroy the only way that we have to identify G-d and this relationship. The commandment, which originally seemed to be for G-d’s benefit, is actually for our own.

You might be asking what I presented on. I focused on the words ‘Don’t murder.’ Seems pretty self-explanatory right? Well actually, I discovered that the Hebrew root ‘Rezach’ (as in Lo Tirzach) appears for the first time in the 10 utterances. So what is Rezach and why is this particular word used?

Rambam notices this and argues that Rezach is different from the other words dealing with killing in that Rezah only refers to unjustified killing. Whereas words like L’hamit or L’hakot or La’harog can refer to both justified and unjustified killing. (Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t use the word Rezach when referring to killings on the battlefield).

My argument is that by using this new word, G-d creates a new legal category. While killing was most probably prohibited by other cultures, the Torah gives it a unique word to demonstrate how this commandment and the other 9 were the start of something new, i.e a new legal system that was driven by monotheism rather than paganism.

I would write more about my last chumash class as well as my Talmud class except that I really have to get going. It’s my last full week in Jerusalem (sigh!), and this morning I walked to the Old City (where I was proselytized by a Messianic Jew) and back home. Since I used up the morning, and since another chag is coming tonight, I have to refrain from sharing more words of Torah until I’ve done some packing.

I hope you enjoy your chag and get some good learning in!



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