These and Those

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

Blessed for 13 Days

Posted on September 17, 2013 by Stefanie Groner

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I shared these parting words at
Community Lunch today at Pardes:

901079_2412197989053_939910674_oIn three weeks, I will start my first-ever, grown-up, real-life job as a consultant. From my understanding, a consultant comes in as an outsider to a space, gets to know the ins and outs and upside-downs of that place, and develops creative and effective strategies to improve the client. As a Jew studying torah, it’s not too different of a story. You get a puzzle of cryptic words that people struggle with, you try to get to know it thoroughly, and then you interpret it for worldly and Divine success. PaRDeS has an inherent consulting framework in its name: Pshat, Remez, Drash and Sod. In an effort to prepare for my next stage of life, I’ve analyzed my time in the Elul Program according to this age-old consultation.

Here’s our pshat – it’s something you’ve probably relayed to your friends back home a million times. I attend a school called Pardes, in Jerusalem, where students of all ages and backgrounds and identities, study Jewish texts and themes year-round. My personal pshat: I had some free time, I wanted to go to Israel, and I wanted to study a little torah somewhere I thought I’d be comfortable based on my ‘Conservative Judaism with a dash of keiruv learning’ background.

I have decided to use ‘Remez’ as a chance to speculate on the pshat, to build the questions that will form a drash. Based on the pshat, one might wonder, why would a student go to school for three weeks? Do these students have anything in common? What makes them interested in Jewish studies? Why would they go to Pardes? To Jerusalem? What can realistically be accomplished in 13 total days of classes? (Yes, we’ve only had 13 days of class.)

In creating a drash, I start to fill in the answers with stories. On the first day of Aleph level Humash class, Tova Leah wrote on the board: ‘It takes a lot of humility to be a beginner as an adult.’ Getting over the fact that there is more I don’t know than that which I do was the biggest obstacle that stood before me. But, I also knew I only had three weeks to negotiate that, and everything else. Within the first few hours, Pardes offered me meals, excursions, text studies, and hevruta learning, and I quickly realized my personal potential through innovative exercises, like DLK’s hevruta-characteristics speed-dating, James’ Self, Soul, and Text meditations, and David Bernstein’s teshuva writing exercise. But, the time was flying by! So I racked up a tally of experiences in an exhaustive way – quickly. I coordinated a lunchtime Elul study program to solidify my experience, as if I weren’t spending enough time with texts already. And then, when Rosh Hashana rolled around, I wanted to host an open beit midrash on a day off from classes – I couldn’t go 48 hours apart from fellow Pardesniks doing what we all love: arguing about archaic Jewish things – in a modern, relevant way.

On my last session with my fellow Elulians, I looked at a particularly validating mishna from Pirkei Avot, a saying by Shimon, son of Rabban Gamliel.

“I have been raised among the Sages, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. The essential thing is not study, but deed.”

I was raised among New Yorkers, but I have experienced a sense of coming into myself among all of you wise folk in the last three weeks. And I did some of my best thinking, and even better, my best learning from hearing what all of you shared in class. And for me, the ‘essential thing’ right now is not continued classroom study, but deed, going out into the world and starting my professional life with the application of and foundation in Torah.

The last line of Shimon’s mishna is: “And one who speaks excessively brings on sin.” So, I’ll wrap up with a quick sod, the secret. Studying Torah is just like I imagine consulting. The deeper you dig, subdivide, scrutinize, argue, and pull apart, the more vastly complex the systems become. You also find, in the tiniest of pieces, in single words, in the crowns of single letters of the Torah, the greatest bursts of inspiration and creativity. The more questions you ask, the fewer actual answers you get. Once I accepted that mishnaic premise in reading Tzvi’s coursepack for Intro to Halakha, the more personal questions I was able to answer – even if the minute legal details and the great philosophical themes seemed endlessly beyond my comprehension.

What profound effect does spending time at Pardes have on someone? That’s the real ‘sod’ – it’s the part that you can’t one hundred percent bottle up and label and export. It only exists right here, and it exists differently within each of us. You may not have found it yet, but you have all year. I only had 13 days. I am relishing in my incredibly envious thoughts about how much more you can unlock in a full year, how much of your own potential you can unleash.

Over 5000 years of studying, arguing, teaching, thinking and practicing, and I feel blessed to have had just 13 days.