Dan (Year '10) shared the following reflection
on Facebook... his writing is poignant as usual!
Dear MLK: from one flawed human being to another flawed human being who changed the world – how did you do it? How did you see a different reality when others said there’s no chance that it will come true? Did you lean on others at that moment? Maybe you trusted your faith?
Every year I see your “I have a dream” speech on your birthday. God, how you believed in that dream, and hundreds of thousands of people believed in it with you, and together you changed the world, and I grew up in a reality in the United States that now has an African American president, a reality that you didn’t get to see, but bequeathed to us.
When one cooks for another, one cooks with love. Cooking becomes an act of devotion and the food tastes better because it is made with a key ingredient: care.
One must strive to do everything this way, that is, as a means of expressing love. Devotion and care shine through in the quality of one’s work.
That is the brilliance of Halakha, or Jewish law–and its diminishment as commanded duty or even a “good deed” (as it’s often translated into English). One does not carry the law because it is good or right or beautiful. The law is not an end but a means, a means to deeper worship, a means to cleave oneself to God through love. Greek thought–the Platonic Good, Eudaimonian Happiness–never went far enough. The Good Idea, the Happy Self–all is idolatry and false worship.
One must become perfect by loving others through devotional practices.
Did that grab your attention? Well don’t get too excited, sorry to disappoint.
I was bracing my self for that cold shock on my face, but I got off the bus, and the sun hit my face. Oh hello sun! I walked to a coffee shop (duh) and sat outside…as the sun’s rays was beating down on me I started to have this weird feeling, warmth! Oh I haven’t felt you in what felt like forever! The sun was so strong I took off my jacket, heavy sweater, scarves, and cardigan! At this point I was only wearing a tang top! Scandals! I became so aware of how much skin I was showing, something where when I used to live in nyc I would give a second thought to, all of a sudden seemed so revealing. But the feeling on the sun on my skin, the vitamin D was so amazing!
I stayed in tel aviv for 3 days, although I totally felt like I was in a different dimension. With the weather sunny, people smiling, and couldn’t stop saying “ahh hashemesh!” (the sun!) everyone looked so trendy, hip, and beautiful and I realized I am defiantly not in Jerusalem anymore! Continue reading →
The first time that I heard about contra dance, I was a sophomore in college and just taking the first baby steps towards having a social life with people my own age. It was described to me as a “really fun and really easy social dance, everyone should go.” I subsequently managed to find an excuse to not go every time someone asked, primarily because I didn’t like that group of people enough to drive an hour both ways on a school night.
The next year, at a different school and more inclined to talk to people instead of reading in every spare moment, I heard that there was a contra dance on campus. Since the idea had never been unappealing and I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I walked over to our community hall to try it out. Continue reading →
When I was applying for rabbinical school in 2011, I was inspired to write this poem:
I’m on a lifelong quest for wholeness.
Understanding, of course, that wholeness has broken edges,
that every circle is a shard of light
that every soul is a piece of God
that every shadow is a trick of the light
and every flame contains its black, undulating centre.
I am on a journey toward wholeness of self
with an understanding that the journey itself is the big picture.
That each twist and turn is leading me closer to my centre.
I forget myself sometimes
like in the winter
when cold makes me too stiff to dance
and bleak skies blunt my foresight
when the earth and my bedroom
begin to thaw
I suddenly see clearly again in the streaks of dusty sunlight
all the way across my room to my bookshelf
to my journal, to the texts that set me on fire.
This week’s parasha is Vayechi, in which, among other things, Jacob dies and we see a scene of apparent reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. At first, this seems to be an intimate moment in which everyone comes to understand each other, and by the end Joseph seems to be saying to his brothers: “Relax, it’s ok. We can move on. I’ll forgive you.” Though this seems like a fair pshat reading, I’d like to offer an alternative.
One question that is not clearly answered in the text is, does Joseph really forgive his brothers? Leading up to this speech of his, they ask him twice to forgive (pesha) them. Yet nowhere in Joseph’s answer does he say “I forgive you.” Rather, the scene ends like this:
[Joseph]: “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.” Thus he reassured them, speaking kindly to them (vay-daber al libam).
– JPS translation (1999)
It is this last phrase, more directly translated as “and he spoke on their hearts,” that I will explore in this drash. Continue reading →
Pardes students daven mincha at Mitzpe Rimon. (*click* for larger photo)
At Pardes, it is easy to look at our faculty and see inhumanly perfect beings. This is an unfair assessment. Don’t tell Rabbi Eliezer I said this, but sometimes kavod rabbeinu (respect for our teachers) can go too far in making it impossible to see something of ourselves in our teachers. I worry that when a culture develops around making that gap pronounced, it becomes hard to see how I as a student can ever make it to the direction of my teachers.
This is why I was so glad to hear Rahel Berkovits’ contributions to our shiur clalli last week. (to remind yourself why we’re here, check back in with part 1. I’ll wait) As the self-described token person who has difficulties with t’fillah, Rahel (like me!) is envious of Meir, and those who know how to daven. Because when she tries, and she does try, she isn’t able to connect.
It’s emotionally upsetting because I feel like I should be able to. But I can’t. I’m not good at it. I think that growing up female in an Orthodox community negatively effected me. Unlike Meir, I had no junior congregation, no opportunities to be the leader and get involved and feel connected. I know less about parts of t’fillah because Continue reading →
One of the things I find most inspiring about studying Torah is that the biblical characters are human. They may be our valorized, mythical ancestors, but they also consistently make mistakes, leaving a record of paradigmatic human foibles from which we can learn. There is one biblical failure, however, that I have always struggled to understand as a useful example. It occurs Continue reading →
I first fell in love with midrash when I read a passage in Bereshit Rabba, describing the moment when God created the first human being. I was in my second year of graduate school, where I had come (or so I believed) to study Jewish theological responses to the problem of evil. My first year, while exhilarating, had also been challenging. I didn’t feel at home in abstract philosophical conversations, and my newly developing Hebrew skills made deep engagement with classical Jewish sources difficult. So when a professor decided to offer a course in midrash to students of all Hebrew levels, I jumped at the chance.
I made aliyah 2.5 years ago. Someday (G-d willing) I will be a mom – a mom to sabras. It will be my turn to directly shape the next generation of Israel.
What will I say when they ask about the Separation Barrier? What will I say when they ask about a 1 or 2 state solution? What will I say when they ask me to recall my thoughts on the disengagement to Gaza and what happened to the former residents of Gush Katif? What will I say when they ask me how I felt about the Kasam rockets that fell on Sderot? What will I say when they try to understand why we need a fortified room built into our home and to know where a nearby bomb shelter is? What will I say about the people of Gaza and the West Bank and the concrete slabs separating us? What will I say about traveling in Gush Etzion?
Will my children be safe? Will my children have a stronger connection to their Judaism because I chose to make aliyah when I was 25? Will the violence of my nation’s country jade me? Will there always be a Jewish and democratic state? Will there continue to be mistrust and hate and war? Will I always have hope for a better future? For peace? Will I be as strong and hopeful as the voices I heard on my Perspectives Israel trip in March 2012?
How will I raise my children to understand nuance? How will I raise my children to keep opening their hearts in the face of adversity? To be strong? To have faith? How will I be a contributing member of society and help shape Israel – the one and only Jewish state, that I happen to love – for a better future?
All of these thoughts whirl in my mind as I walk home from Havdalah at shul starting my next week after a Perspectives Israel trip and a lovely Shabbat with my love in his childhood neighborhood of Gilo -overlooking Bethlehem. Contradictions, hopes, fears, and harsh realities hit me as I grapple with my recent experiences. Experiences that I hope will only be another important step along my journey of becoming an educated, impactful citizen of Israel.