“The Lord God made grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to look at and good to eat, [including] the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.”
This verse is the cause of probably the most infamous incident in the entire Torah: what is generally called the Sin in the Garden. Some of the biggest questions to be asked about this whole episode is why would God create this situation, and what then was his ultimate plan? These are very big questions, and their answers help us to understand the fundamental nature of Creation.
When I arrived at Pardes in 2012, I had already been out of college for two years. I have to admit, during those two years between college and Pardes I was pretty lazy. I spent a few hours teaching at religious schools, and a few hours applying for jobs while living with my parents. It was relaxed. So, when I came to Pardes, where we spent sometimes up to 12 hours a day studying, it took quite a bit of adjusting. Of course, this is true for almost anyone, being that college is also quite relaxed compared to a schedule devoted to Torah study. I got used to it though, and began to discover just how much I loved it.
Night Seder Chevrutas Binyamin Cohen and David Wallach
join together to reflect on this week's parshah.
Kohelet, the book of Ecclesiastes, which we read on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, is a depressing and troubling book. It is written by “Kohelet the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Ecc. 1:1). Who was this king, and why is he so ambiguously named? Tradition gives us a couple answers: from Solomon, the literal son of David, to Hezekiah and his court, David’s descendent, and a righteous and wise king in his own right. But regardless of the exact authorship, it is the message of this name that is important. It is a name that connotes prominence and wisdom. Kohelet, קֹהֶלֶת, comes from the root קהל, meaning assembly or congregation.
In Pirkei Avot, we learn the world rests upon 3 things: Torah, service of G-d, and acts of loving kindness.
Here at Pardes, we do an excellent job in studying Torah. We engage with text for hours on end each day, debating with our chevruta and analyzing each word we read. We diligently criticize and construct arguments and challenge our teachers. Pardes also provides opportunities for us to pray and serve G-d daily or weekly if we choose to do so. We may also attend learners’ services or take classes on prayer.
Pardes also helps us fulfill the last aspect of these three – acts of loving kindness. Built into our class schedule is an afternoon for us to dedicate ourselves to a weekly service project.
In Rambam’s Laws of Sukkot 8:12, he writes,“Even though it is a mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on the festival of Sukkot, as [Leviticus 23:40] commands: “And you shall rejoice before God, your Lord, for seven days.”
אף על פי שכל המועדות מצוה לשמוח בהן, בחג הסוכות היתה שם במקדש שמחה יתירה שנאמר +ויקרא כ”ג+ ושמחתם לפני ה’ אלהיכם שבעת ימים, וכיצד היו עושין ערב יום טוב הראשון היו מתקנין במקדש מקום לנשים מלמעלה ולאנשים מלמטה כדי שלא יתערבו אלו עם אלו, ומתחילין לשמוח ממוצאי יום טוב הראשון, וכן בכל יום ויום מימי חולו של מועד מתחילין מאחר שיקריבו תמיד של בין הערבים לשמוח שאר היום עם כל הלילה.
The holiday of Sukkot is known within Rabbinic literature and liturgy as “זמן שמחתנו”: “the season of our rejoicing”. As we have just emerged from a time of deep personal reflection and introspection over the course of the ימים נוראים (Days of Awe) and יום כיפור (Yom Kippur), it is fitting that we now transition into a mode of happiness and rejoicing. It is only through deep reflection that we can cultivate and prepare for a true feeling of happiness — happiness and rejoicing which has purpose, commitment, and fulfillment.
תנא מיכאל באחת גבריאל בשתים אליהו בארבע ומלאך המות בשמנה ובשעת המגפה באחת
It was taught: [the angel] Michael [travels] in one [flight], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the Angel of Death in eight. And in a time of plague, the Angel of Death in one.
My hevruta and I came across this line of gemara on Berachot 4b more than a year ago, when we first sat down to learn our way through the first masechet of Shas. I’ve been reminded of this haunting image over the past several months with every new headline from West Africa and, as of this week, with every new update from Dallas. While the true death toll from Ebola virus disease is unknown, the official count has lurched over the 3,000 mark, far exceeding any other Ebola virus outbreak in history. The gemara is right. In times of plague, death flies with devastating efficiency.
I’m not going to lie. The energy here in Jerusalem and at Pardes in the past 10 days has been rather high-stress. On the one hand, I think that it’s warranted, considering that the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are meant to be an intense time of reflection and reparation, a time in which the metaphorical Book of Life is opened and then inscribed. It is a time for evaluating the most important relationships in your life and thinking of how you can both make amends for the hurt you’ve caused people and also work to improve those relationships in the future. Continue reading →
From my speech during the launch of Pardes’ Volunteer Program: Shorashim
You’ve made it. For the past few weeks, you’ve struggled with supermarket lines, navigating jerusalem, and just plain figuring out how to cross the street. Now that you are all veteran Israelis, I want to invite you to begin relating to this country on a deeper level.
This year Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat: the two holiest days in the Jewish calendar at the same time. However, the ethos of Yom Kippur and the ethos of Shabbat are contradictory. How do we negotiate these differences, and how do we find compromise between them? Before we answer those questions, we must first address the internal contradictions inherent in Yom Kippur and Shabbat.