These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

D’var Torah on Psalm 27

Posted on October 18, 2011 by Barer

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Better late than never, as they say.  Words of Torah are timeless, so I hope this is just as meaningful now, even though it was given at the year-opening Shabbaton by Pardes Fellow Kalie Kelman:

I guess I pulled the short straw, so I’m giving the first d’var Torah of the weekend. But I promise to keep it short since well be hearing a lot more Toarh over the course of the shabbaton. Since it’s still Thursday and Shabbat isn’t upon us just yet, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about something other than parashat hashavua. Something that is timely but also something that I could connect to the theme of the weekend – building a community, specifically a community of Torah scholars.

From the first of Elul thru Hoshanah Rabbah, we say Psalm 27 twice a day, at shacharit and maariv.  The fourth verse stands out to me in particular:

“There’s one thing I’m asking of Hashem

Only that do I seek

To live in the house of Hashem

All the days of my life

To gaze upon the beauty of Hashem

To visit his dwelling place”

I think this is such a beautiful pasuk, but it raises a lot of questions for me… There’s only one thing David is asking of Hashem? I ask a lot of things of Hashem every day! And beit Hashem? Where is it? Can we go there? Or does this have millions of meanings? Are there millions of places that have the potential to be beit Hashem? I think so – that’s how I read it. And I think one of these places is the beit midrash. And I specifically want to think about our beit midrash at Pardes as being a beit Hashem.

I get confused though, when I go back inside the text, as to what David really wants to do in this beit Hashem, because in one breath he is asking to shivti beveit Hashem – to live in it – and in the same breath, he asks, to levaker – to visit it. Two very different ideas: to live in some place and to visit some place. What I want to explore is whether we want to lashuv in the beit midrash or to levaker. Do we want to be students of the Pardes beit midrash or do we want to be just visitors?

The Holy Maggid of Melbourne, Rabbi Levi Cooper, once told me a beautiful drash on this very interesting dichotomy.

When we live somewhere there’s a certain comforting familiarity about it – it’s homey.  There’s always a place there for us. But also, there’s the potential for it to become old hat. Sooner or later, it becomes commonplace.

When we visit a place, there’s an element of excitement. It’s fresh and it’s new, but I would argue there’s also an element of nervousness. If we are just visitors somewhere, we can feel a bit ill at ease. Consider this: you decide to spend Shabbat with a new friend and their family. Do you really feel entirely comfortable as a guest in their home for the first time? Would you walk around in your PJs? Every household has their own unique minhagim for Shabbat, and as a visitor, you’re trying to catch on and it can be nerve-wracking…

In our Pardes beit midrash, our beit Hashem, you may be feeling a like visitor on Shabbat, a little uneasy. We want to live there, we want to feel at ease, we want to have our makom, but for many of us this is also new and uncharted territory, so it can also be an exciting adventure as we are visitors in a place previously unknown. It is my hope for everyone, that we can all start to make the beit midrash at Pardes feel like our home.