These and Those

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

The trees are alive with the sound of silence

Posted on December 5, 2012 by Shoshana Rosen

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By Shoshana Rosen

How do I even begin to put into words, an experience that in its essence has no words?

Just recently coming back from a silent meditation shabbaton, up north at Kibbutz Hannaton I realize only how much it impacted me by the stark reality of coming back home. Like many have said before me, sometimes you only realize how much you have changed, until you go back home.

Well for me, home is Jerusalem and Machon Pardes, particularly the Beit Midrash.

As I sit in Hummash class, all of these powerful images of the last couple of days flood my mind. What I would have done the last couple of days was sit on the floor, hands open, resting on my thighs, breathing in and out and letting the thoughts flow and ‘gently but firmly’ returning to my breath. But doing that would have been a little weird, considering I was wearing my black long boots sitting in Rabbi Meir’s hummash class while looking at Rashi. In fact, the only dress code Pardes has is to wear shoes, and for the first time, it felt super constraining, wishing I could feel the grass through my toes.

I think about what Rabbi James said, a wonderful Pardes teacher who I have been so lucky to learn with over the past couple of months.  Not only is he a Pardes teacher, but he lead the mediation retreat organized by Or Halev. He warned us that “the transition might be overwhelming, you might have to give yourself space tomorrow to slowly get back into the swing of things.” I don’t think I really internalized that, until coming home to a hundred emails over the past 4 days, a messy room, and the most noticeably- a lot of noise!

Growing up in New York City, noise was silence for me. In fact, silence was usually a sign that something will go wrong.  Even in my home growing up, we always had the TV on, there was no part of my day, or night that was silent. It wasn’t until Israel, on a trip to the Negev (desert) when I was 17 that I heard silence the first time. I will always remember having to sing the song “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel to myself to try to fill in the big gap that was silence in me.

“Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence”

This time was much different. The aspects of the retreat I was most worried about initially, – the silence, not being permitted to write, journal, read, or take pictures, were all not allowed since they were distractions from spending time with our true selves. Just the idea of not being able to express myself for three days terrified me to my core. I packed a journal, plenty of pens, my cell phone charger, a book, and my IPOD  because I thought there would be no way I could just be with my self. In the end, it was the best part of the retreat.

Whereas usually on shabbatonim I worry about FOMO (fear of missing out) and have a hard time going to bed, because I know there is still someone I could talk to, connect to, and have a wonderful conversation with. Here, no worries. We went to bed at 9:30, woke up at 5:30 and I slept wonderfully knowing I wasn’t missing out on anything,. I was focusing on the sound of my heart, soul, and mind.

By the time Saturday came around I was surprised by how much I missed learning Torah. “Who have I become!?” Almost 2 full days of no text study, no grappling, discussing, or challenging the text I realized how much I missed it all. At that moment I gave myself a bracha, that I will always feel passion and desire to learn and study Torah for the rest of my life.

If I close my eyes I can still feel the moments of pure joy I felt through the retreat.

Like walking back from going to the Mikvah (a water ritual). We had the opportunity to go to the mikvah, something I did not think I would do until after I got married. But I seized the opportunity thinking what a wonderful act to do before Shabbat. So I walked towards the mizvah mikvah, hair dripping wet from my shower, drenched towel in my hand thinking I don’t want to get wet again, I was just getting dry! But as I dunked into the mikvah, dunking 7 times, each time with a different intention I left feeling fresh and free.

I walked out to find a grapefruit tree on the way, picked a fruit off the tree, started pealing it and said a bracha (blessing)  “Baruch ata adoni, elo-heiknu melech haolam Boreiy pree ha’etz” “Blessed are you G-D, our Lord king of the world Who creates the fruit of the trees.”I have never before felt so connected to the words of my prayer, as I literally just picked the fruit off the tree.

I walked just in time to light candles for Shabbat. With my hands sticky from the fruit and my hair smelling of the chlorine from the mikvah, I covered my eyes and let in Shabbat.

The one picture I did take

Sometimes I felt like this snail. We did a meditation practice of walking where we walked very slowly, one foot in front of the other, usually only going 10 steps in a direction. My NYC past was yelling “GO GO GO, what are you doing!? You hate these people who walk slowly in NYC” But the teachings of Rabbi James, and our other wonderful teacher, Inbal, said “Imagine your feet kissing the earth with each step.” So here is to my slimy wet snail kisses.

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