What I Learned in School Today
Posted on September 3, 2013 by Stefanie Groner
Tags: Amidah, Chassidut, courses, Elul Program, faculty / Pardes teachers, High Holidays, identity and/or self, learning, meditation, Mishna, personal growth / transformation, Pirkei Avot, prayer / tefillah / davening, Rabbi James Moshe Jacobson-Maisels, Rabbi Levi Cooper, Rosh HaShana, Self / Soul & Text Track, shofar, t'shuva / repentance
From my blog:
I had more class hours today than I attended in an average week of college. This post is a ‘typical day’ post, but you might notice this is not a ‘typical’ school in any way. Here’s what I studied:
- 8:30-11:15 am: In our intro to Mishneh class (early biblical commentary), we studied the 48 qualities of a student, and then in partners, categorized them, identified the top three we have, the top three we consider weaker, and the three we seek in a study buddy. Back in class, we went speed dating, sharing our qualities and what we’re seeking, and then we went off to study the beginning of pirkei avot. My first hot date Jessica and I only got through three little grafs of goodness before our time ran out. We worked in the Hebrew and the English and our knowledge really complemented each other. Solid start to the day.
- 11:30 am – 12:15 pm: In a workshop on repentance, we sat at individual tables and answered 13 top secret questions about ourselves in order to think about what we could do better and what we want to accomplish. A classic, tasteful and interesting personal exercise. I approve.
- 12:15 pm to 1 pm: A debate on the structure of the Amidah during Rosh Hashana and whether or not the shofar should be blown during Malchuyot, and where Malchuyot should be placed (the answer is in the middle, as all additional or special blessings are put there). I was pretty unsatisfied with the answers from the Sages, and ended up in a complicated dialogue with a peer over why people need to call God the King in a special part of the prayer. If God’s the King, he knows it. So what’s the purpose of the blessing then? If He is The King, is God also Elvis? These, and other big questions were asked, but not answers.
- 2:30 pm – 5 pm: In an effort to do what I came here to do, explore my identity and grow as a human, I went to Self, Soul and Text with some skepticism. Our teacher, a rabbi and spiritual retreat leader, informed us the class would be about experiential education, where we would study a text about some sort of personal growth practice, and then emulate that practice. Daniel and I tore apart some divine attributes that people are supposed to try and embody, particularly, the Godly ability to forgive. We argued extensively over the meaning of forgiveness, if there is a line on what sins are forgivable (stealing a stick of gum or being a mass murder – different, no?), and came up with a practical two step strategy to forgiving people.
Back in the classroom, we discussed whether or not God has a body, (which presupposed a belief in God), and we talked about imagining people you don’t like as babies in order to recognize the pure goodness we all most intrinsically possess at one point. Then, everyone meditated and said this mantra and hummed this tune and I couldn’t focus and kept opening my eyes and I was trying not to laugh but then I really liked the tune and ahhhhhh, it was a little bit of mindblowing.
So, even though I’d already ‘studied’ for a billion hours, I decided that I should attend the after-hours class…
- 5:15-6:45 pm: on Chassidut (the ways of Chassidic Jewish tradition), taught by a Hassidic rabbi named Levi, where he put the word Chassidut on the whiteboard and silently, over twenty minutes, people flocked to the board to throw up their preconceptions and notions about what Hassidic Judaism is. I wrote something about the Rebbe, other people wrote about kiruv (community in-reach) and Chabad and streimels (big furry circle hats) and the Old Country and scotch-drinking. I am looking forward to these stereotypes and assumptions being challenged in all 4 sessions I’m in town to attend. We’re expected to have spiritual partners so we can work on that more mystical side of Chassidishism, learning to love our spiritual selves. I have a supercool partner and I think that in three weeks, she might unlock the secrets of the Chassidic masters that are embedded in my soul, I suppose.
So, you could probably say I learned a lot today…