These and Those

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

Song of Clarity

Posted on January 24, 2013 by Eric Feldman

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From my blog:

In this weeks parsha, Beshalach, one of the most famous events in all of the Tanakh occurs when God splits the Red Sea through the staff of Moses, allowing the Israelites to finally escape the centuries-long enslavement in Egypt and become a free people.

The result of their freedom is that the Israelites break into song, “The Song by the Sea”. This is very unusual, as only ten songs existed from the time of Creation to the end of the Biblical period. One explanation for this song is that it was a rare moment in which the people were able to make sense of how all of the daily, seemingly disconnected events in the world existed for a purpose and understand how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit into place. This manifested itself in song because the Torah’s concept of song is the situation in which “all the apparently unrelated and contradictory phenomena do indeed meld into a coherent, merciful, comrehensible whole” (Artscroll). Finally, at that moment when they saw the sea split, the exile and slavery in Egypt, Pharoah’s constant deception, and demands from the Israelites to return to slavery not only made sense, but were understood as absolutely necessary.

My splitting of the sea occurred this past Saturday night, when I finally received a deferral from Teach for America (TFA), allowing me to stay and learn in Jerusalem for the next year and a half before moving on to teach high school science in Chicago. This landmark moment was the culmination of months and months of seemingly unrelated events, which all finally made sense when becoming privy to the end of the story.

During my senior year of college when I was deciding what to do next year, I set up a meeting with a TFA rep. to discuss possibly applying. I ended up not being able to make the meeting, but not wanting to cancel, I sent a friend of mine instead who was also facing the same question. She ended up applying, getting accepted, and then later inspiring me to apply.

In the springtime, I applied to ~10 different places for summer internships/jobs. I didn’t get any, and remembered hearing about a summer program at Shapells, so I decided that I would do that in order to get to Israel early, before my program in August began. I knew nothing about Shapells.

July 2012: I ended up really loving Shapells and couldn’t decide whether I should stay there for the year, or stick to the plan of going to Pardes. After tons of thought and reflection, I decided to stick with the plan. One of the major deciding factors was a class that I sat in on at Pardes called “Relationships”.

November 2012: I needed to start thinking about what to do next year, so I spontaneously applied to TFA (as inspired by my friend, see above). I finished the final interview on December 5.

Dec. 2012: The day after the final interview, I went to Shapells for the first time since the summer to spend Shabbat there. I remember how much I loved it there and began thinking about coming there to learn at some point, either next semester or next year. I thought more and more about staying to study there throughout the month, and nearly forgot about TFA.

January 2013 – On the 7th, I heard back from TFA…I got accepted to teach secondary science in Chicago! Now I have a decision to make, and only 11 days to make it, as the deadline is next Friday, January 18.

I begin by submitting a deferral request in hopes that I can push it off a year and stay at learn at Shapells. However, I heard back from them on Monday the 14th, with the response being that my request had been rejected. Not being able to take a no for an answer, I immediately submitted a more emphatic deferral request, mostly out of desperation. I now have the week to make a decision.

During the week, I do a lot of thinking, pitting the two against each other and weighing pros and cons, talking with tons of people, becoming more educated about both, and praying for either clarity or a miracle, but still could not decide. I also went on a 3-day trip down south to the desert, in which I was able to meditate on it while on mountain tops overlooking Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Finally, while on a mountain top looking out into Egypt on Thursday, the day before the deadline, the decision came to me – I would turn down the offer from TFA and stay in Jerusalem to learn at Shapells next year.

End of story, right?

The next morning, on the day of the deadline, I woke up to an email from TFA, specifically their admissions office, and became intrigued. When I opened it, I saw that they said they were going to re-consider my request for a deferral. WHOA! Upon receiving the email, I immediately sent them another, even more emphatic message about why they should grant me the deferral.

As the sun went down over the hills of Jerusalem on Friday evening and I disconnected from technology for Shabbat, offices were just opening in Chicago, so I would not know of their response until Saturday night, after the deadline. Although uncertainty remained, I un-plugged with the satisfaction that if they granted me the deferral, that would be great, and if not, that would be okay too.

Over Shabbat, I was able rest, spend time with friends, and completely take my mind off of the matter that had been consuming my mind for the past ten days.

Finally, as the sun began to set on Saturday evening, I set my sights back to the decision. After ending Shabbat, I went straight to my computer, but before opening my laptop, I took several minutes to breathe and calm my nerves, preparing to accept the final decision either way. I then checked my inbox, and the verdict was in –

Thanks again for your patience as we re-reviewed your case. I am pleased to inform you that we have decided to overturn our initial decision and have granted you a deferral to join the 2014 Chicago corps. We expect that your acceptance of this deferral is a good faith commitment to join the 2014 corps in Chicago.

We wish you the best in the upcoming year, and we look forward to having you join the corps in 2014. Thank you again for your commitment to expanding educational opportunities for all children.

WOOOHOOO!! Immediate reactions included freaking out, jamming to “wavin’ flag” (I could now sympathize with the Israelites desire to sing), hopping on my bike with no destination in mind and finally ending up at the old city where i proceeded to hop, dance, sing, etc. like a maniac. I then decided to visit the Kotel to express gratitude and celebrate with my partner in this whole process. I also didn’t realize until I was there that the wifebeater I was wearing wasn’t the best attire for the holiest site in Judaism, but I was too pumped up to let anyone stop me.

And then when I finally could calm down and breathe and think, I realized that it worked…it actually worked. And by being honest with myself and not giving up, I was able to have it all. Just four days ago, I didn’t even know what I was going to be doing on Sunday, and now I had my next 3 years planned out.

Looking back, if I had received the deferral right away, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pit the two against each other and really assess my motives and priorities and whether I really wanted to do either.

And only after I finally made the decision to give up TFA and turn down the offer, proving to myself just how important learning here was to me, is when I was actually given it. A bit like Abraham and Isaac – only when Abraham was finally ready to sacrifice his son is when he was saved from doing so.

So a meeting that I skipped 18 months ago, rejections from every summer job I applied to, a hiking trip down south, and a rejected deferral request all became instantly clear and interrelated at that moment. And I was finally able to piece together the puzzle and see the Divine plan that had been laid out for me the whole time.

The next day was the first day of our new semester at Pardes, and I sat in on the the Relationships class. I came in and felt immediate deja vu – same room, same teacher, same words written on the white board (“The Doors of the Soul”), and I realized, in a very trippy and surreal way, that I had come full circle. Only this time, although the setting hadn’t changed, I had.

Epiologue: The next night, I was able to witness the same moment of clarity occur with my beloved Baltimore Ravens. After losing in the AFC Championship game last year in New England in heartbreaking fashion, the circumstances this year were again identical: playoff game in New England with the Super Bowl on the line. Only this time, the outcome was different. And if I had to guess, I would say that there was some singing in that locker room after the game. After the victory, Ray Lewis had a comment for reporters – “God doesn’t make mistakes, and there was no way that he was gonna bring us back here twice to feel the same feeling. He had a real plan for us the whole year.”