These and Those

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

My Speech from the Closing Seuda

Posted on May 31, 2013 by Derek Kwait

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 When I spoke at Community Lunch yesterday, I only had an
 outline. This is the closest I can remember to what
 I actually said.

Hi, my name’s Derek. I’m from Pittsburgh. I’m a Fellow here at Pardes, which means I’m in my second year, so if you have any questions about Pardes or Jerusalem, I’ll be happy to try to answer them.

Oh wait, wrong speech.

That’s the speech I wish I was giving—it’s so much easier to say hi to a stranger than to say good-bye to a loved one. And for me, Pardes is very, very much a loved one.

But you know, when I thought to start my speech this way, it occurred to me that when you study a text and when you meet good, smart, Pardes-kinds of people, every meeting is really a new introduction. It never ceases to amaze me how each time you go back to a text or a person or anything holy, it’s like meeting them all over again, because each time they surprise you with new insights, surprises, nuances, innovations.

There’s a great quote from Andrew Lustig (though I actually never heard him say it, I heard Shira quote it before she left) that when you enter a new experience, 50% of it will work out as you planned, and the other 50%, the parts that transform you, that change your life the most, will be the parts you never saw coming. I came to Pardes two years ago expecting to learn a lot of texts and make new friends, but I never could have never seen coming how much it would transform myself. The mere fact that I’m standing up here in front of you today not clutching something in my hand with every word I need to say on it for support shows how far I’ve come. My whole life, I’ve always felt like there’s this person inside me struggling to get out, but I was never able to fully let it. Now, here, for the first time, I feel like I’ve finally been able to live as this part-novelist, part-stand-up comedian, part-talmid chocham that’s always been inside me.

Something unexpected happened this morning that that really moved me, which is why it’s good to not always have a script so you can be flexible in what you want to say. I got the second aliya. That wasn’t so unexpected or moving, but what was was that the last line of that aliya is when Moshe changes Hosea’s name to Yehoshua, adding part of God’s Name to his to give him strength as he moves forward. My Hebrew name is Yehoshua. I don’t know if there’s any theological significance to this (after two classes in Jewish thought at Pardes, my best answer is ‘I don’t know’), but to have the last word of my last aliya at Pardes be Yehoshua, when he first gets his name, just seemed too perfect. I hope that I also can move forward from here as my best, fullest self and that God will give me strength and give me and all of us strength to move forward.

Since they’ll always be so inextricably intertwined for me, I can’t end the year without also ending Moed Katan. And I thank Meesh, Leah, and Hayim, without whom this [a page of Talmud] wouldn’t mean anything to me.

ואמר רבי לוי כל היוצא מבית הכנסת לבית המדרש ומבית המדרש לבית הכנסת זוכה ומקבל פני שכינה שנאמר ילכו מחיל אל חיל יראה אל אלהים בציון אמר רב חייא בר אשי אמר רב תלמידי חכמים אין להם מנוחה אפילו לעולם הבא שנאמר ילכו מחיל אל חיל יראה אל אלהים בציון

Rav Levi said, ‘All that go from the synagogue to the beit midrash and from the beit midrash to the synagogue merit to receive the face of the Shechina (Divine Presence), as it says, “They will go from strength to strength and see the Lord God in Zion [Psalms 84:8].”’”….

Whether you’re like me and leaving this beit midrash to go back to the shuls in America, or whether you’re staying here or going to another beit midrash, may go from strength to strength, taking some of that Divine Presence we’ve received here in Zion and bring it back with us.

Rav Ashi said in the name of Rav, ‘There is no rest for Torah scholars, even in the World to Come, as it says, ““They will go from strength to strength and see the Lord God in Zion.”’”

There is no rest for Torah scholars because if you’re ever too comfortable, it means you’re not growing. So may none of us ever get rest, that we keep growing and moving from strength to strength, taking the Torah, the Divinity we’ve encountered in the texts as much as in each other in Zion and bring it back to wherever we’re going, and that we only have introductions to great texts and people that are forever new. Thank you.