These and Those

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

Volunteering & “La’asok b’Divrei Torah”

Posted on May 23, 2014 by Deborah Renert

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Bringing balance to my life ;)

Bringing balance to my life 😉

Every morning when we recite Birchat haTorah we say “Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us “la’asok b’divrei Torah.”

It has always struck me that this blessing could have utilized clearer wording if it were meant to refer specifically to studying or to teaching Torah or to speaking words of Torah.

Hence, what I would suggest then is that the recitation of this bracha followed by the recitation from Mishna Peah a.a and Talmud Shabat 127a represents together a sort of unit –an intentional dialectic, so to speak– suggesting the ongoing tension between being involved in Torah study indefinitely and being involved with the practice of mitzvot and acts of tzedukah and chesed.

Is the Jewish ideal to be involved in Torah study full time (“k’neged kulam”) or to be involved in acts of Torah, many of which are endless in their opportunity for fulfillment?

Is the purpose of Torah study the practice of the mitzvot learned through Torah study or is the purpose of Torah study learning for its own sake?

This appears to represent an “elu v’elu” type of spiritual machloket.

Now to mention the practice at Pardes of asking students to combine their Torah learning with a select volunteer activity of each student’s choice.

Would we be fine if we learned all day and left volunteer activities to those who are not part of the Bet Midrash or if, on the other hand, we were to engage in mitzvot all day without studying Torah would we be fulfilling our spiritual potential?

In any case it is my experience that it is Torah study combined with Torah-in-Action that makes me feel like a more complete Jew.

In my case, I volunteer with The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. I consider this weekly experience on the most humble level to be a taste of the sacred work of assisting Holocaust survivors at this late stage in their lives. We are the last generation who will be able to get to know Holocaust survivors in person and to witness their stories first hand.

I visit a woman who was a participant in the kindertransport during WWII. At this time in her life, her husband lives in an old-age facility for elderly people with Alzheimer’s Disease and she has great difficulty walking, shopping, and caring for her dog. Also, she experiences loneliness.

Since I live in Israel at this time, I will continue my volunteer activity after Pardes classes end.

I know that many other Pardes students have participated in other types of volunteer experiences. I hope that these opportunities of actualizing the Torah we have learned will continue to have a meaningful impact on your lives as have my volunteer experiences had on my life.