Nitzavim, or On Being #9

Parshat Nitzavim starts with the children of Israel nitzavim – standing – before God and community, ready to enter into covenant, a covenant with rights and responsibilities, in order to become established as a people. At first glance, this seemed to me like a perfectly logical entrance to a covenant, but then it occurred to me: was the covenant not established with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and at the Exodus, and at Sinai…? Were the people of Israel not referred to as “am,” as a nation? Why this strong image of the entire people standing together before not just God, but each other? Why does the Torah point out that it is not just the elders and leaders, but everyone “from woodchopper to water bearer”?


Since the beginning of Pardes, I have been doing something unusual for me – something I have resisted strongly for the past decade – going to services twice almost every day. Sometimes I feel a deep spiritual fulfillment from the prayer, sometimes I do not. Recently, I was going through some intense personal issues. While I attended minyan, surrounded by my newfound community, I found myself breaking down in tears during every service (perhaps I will write more about this experience later). Pardes has different minyanim throughout the week: “creative,” egalitarian, and mechitza. I, having the ability to be counted in all three minyanim, have rotated among the three.

Last week there was one morning in which I was #9 in both minyanim. Both wanted me to be in their room to bring them closer to the required 10, but alas, I was not enough. As I popped from room to room to see if I was finally #10, I thought of the other 80ish people here at Pardes. Daily each minyan asks me if I am going to be there tomorrow. Often I am asked to lead or play another part in the service.

We have a tendency in the [non-Orthodox] Jewish community to focus on the same small group of lay leaders. We, the leaders, need those 10 people to step up because we can’t get the rest of the community to do so. We rely, foolishly, on the same 10, so much so that when one takes a well-deserved break, we cannot function.


The people of Israel stand together, ready to re-enter a covenant, not just with God, but with each other. They do so because entering a covenant, entering a community, is not a one time event. It is not enough just to join. When one is a part of a community, one must stand ready to fulfill his or her responsibility to every other member of the community. This covenant is what grants members of a community the rights of being part of that community. More importantly perhaps, it is this shared responsibility, this renewed commitment, that creates the community. Everyone has his or her own ways of serving the community, and that is what it is about – service, not necessarily services.

One does not have to stand every day.

One does not have to stand in every way.

But one must stand.

You might find yourself to be #10.


Everything’s Better on Shabbos….Even My Hair

From my blog:

Ariella Siegel
I have pretty normal, brown, curly-girl Jew hair. Nothing special, not terrible, regular curls. I do my best to condition, to take care of them, and style them in a manageable (and hopefully acceptable) way, and I tend to do pretty good job at that.

However, on Shabbat, something special happens. My curls become beautifully shaped spirals, cascading down my back, bouncing and shiny, frizz free and beautiful. At first, I thought this was a fluke. Ok, maybe sometimes my curls behave themselves and create geometric forms like I would think they should do. But this has gone on for almost a month and a half now. Without fail, my pre-shabbos shower always leaves me with beautiful curls. And only on shabbos does this happen.

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Parshat Nitzavim-Va’Yelech – You’ve got to keep going!

Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on the weekly parsha.

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This Shabbat in synagogue (or at the shabbaton, woot!), we will read the joint parshiot of Nitzavim and Va’Yelech. The Jewish calender has it that Parshat Nitzavim always falls out before Rosh Hashana. A coincidence like this causes us, the readers of the Torah, to ask, “so nu? What’s the connection? Why must this parsha always fall out before Rosh Hashana?” Now, that’s a regular year. But what about this year when we get two parshiot for the price of one? If they’re both read before Rosh Hashana, they must both have some connection to Rosh Hashana. So…let’s figure it out!

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Jenn Mager’s Museum Musings: The Israel Museum

Lajenmagst Thursday, Michael Hattin provided an outstanding tour of the Archaeology Wing of the Israel Museum.  I had visited the museum several times; the tour provided me with a much deeper understanding of the significance of the exhibit.  It is the largest collection of biblical archaeology in the world.  Walking through the Archaeology Wing is more than just seeing tools and carvings from 14,000 years ago.  It tells the story of the peoples in this region from the Stone Age forward, spanning thousands of years.  We learned about the transition from hunter / gatherer to small farming settlements to large communities, the progression of stone to copper to bronze for tools of increasing complexity, and burial rituals.  Michael Hattin shared with us the emergence of hieroglyphics and cuneiform, writing systems based on symbols, followed by the Phoenician and Hebrew alphabet, made up of letters.  It was fascinating to think about the impact of written language on civilization.  He made a comment at one point that I have thought about since: the development that we were seeing of tool making, forming materials, lighting fire, farming, writing, all of the capabilities that make us unique as humans, are a parallel to the list of Shabbat prohibitions.

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One of the Most Beautiful Things I’ve  Seen at Pardes

Ari SieStudying in chevruta (paired learning) in the beit midrash (study room), I see something that makes me so happy, calms any qualms I had about my current place in the world and provides me all the confirmation I need that I am in the right place.

What is this wondrous sight, you may be asking. Perhaps it’s a beautiful sunset, the colors running together in the sky, converging into a golden ball, spreading a glow over this ancient city. Maybe it the full moon, illuminating the night sky, shedding light and casting shadows on the ground. Or perhaps it was the loving smile of a father as he watches his children play. While I have seen and admired all of these these, none of them were the sights that warmed my heart on this day. Continue reading

Confessions of a Pyromaniac

Suz HutI haven’t always been obsessed with fire. In fact, when I was younger I used to be terrified of it, to the point where I would hide in the pantry closet when anyone in my family lit birthday candles. It’s a long story, but let’s just say it had to do with a Passover hametz-burning that went horribly wrong. Somewhere along the line, however, I learned that a controlled fire could in fact be a beautiful and mesmerizing thing, and it’s a love affair that I continue to kindle (pun intended) to this day.

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[PCJE Dvar Torah] The Lesson of Bikurim: Gratitude in Transition

Dita Ribner CooperFor many of us at Pardes, the past few weeks have been marked by transition. We have arrived in a new place, moved into new apartments, met new teachers, roommates, and friends, explored new texts for the very first time, and have been awed and overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities Pardes has to offer us. We have broken our teeth trying to ask for items in the supermarket in Hebrew, gotten lost on a Jerusalem bus line, and have purchased new Jewish books we had never heard of a few weeks ago. Even for those who are returning for their second year or thirty-eighth year, the beginning of this school session has been a transition, one that holds all of the excitement and mysteries of what is about to unfold. Continue reading

Ki Tavoh: First Fruits and New Beginnings

Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah, Ki Tavo.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 9.51.44 AMדְּבָרִים  כו:ב, ה

ב  “וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל-פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ–וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא; וְהָלַכְתָּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם…

ה וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב.”

2: “You shall take the first of every fruit of the ground produced by the land that God your Lord is giving you. You will place it in a basket, and go to the site that God will choose, to rest his name there.

5: “You will answer and say before God your Lord, ‘my ancestor was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt, and dwelt there, few in number; and there became a great nation, powerful and many.’”

These verses, which appear at the beginning of our parshah, deal with two separate topics. The first verse deals with the commandment for farmers to bring their first fruits to the Temple. The second verse, which begins the formal declaration the farmer makes as part of the first fruit ceremony, mainly recounts our national history. The question is, what do these two things have to do with one another? Furthermore, without a Temple or first fruits, what does this connection mean for us?

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Two minutes on the clock.

Suz HutThe month of Elul is a wake-up call. As the month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it is a chance to do some very serious soul searching and think about what/who/how I want to be in the coming year. We have been discussing this idea in each of my classes – what does Rambam have to say about Elul, what prayers differentiate this month, what are the laws in the Mishna about blowing the shofar, what does it mean to do true repentance – and I am beginning to feel the gravity of this month and the spiritual fulcrum on which I seem to be balanced. In one of my classes a few days ago, Rav Mike put it in the most approachable terms I had ever heard: Imagine you’re playing in a basketball game. Your team is down by a lot and you have two minutes remaining. Elul is that moment in which you look at the scoreboard and decide whether or not you want to win. Now, it doesn’t mean you will win, but it’s about waking up to who you are and what you prioritize. It’s crunch time. It’s a time to ask myself, am I a good person who sometimes does bad things, or a bad person who sometimes does good things?

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