These and Those

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

Bittuling out the bittul?

Posted on June 1, 2014 by Sam Stern

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From my blog:

SamsteThese past couple of weeks have been full of “reflection time.” Teachers want to meet to discuss how the year went, administration wants you filling out evaluation forms to express your feelings, and every single student seems to have stopped mid-sentence and screamed out, “In 2 weeks, I’ll be in America.” It’s a strange time around these neck of the woods.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting myself and I want to be frank with you. Whenever someone asks me how Pardes is going, I immediately answer with a big ol’ “AMAZING!” And then I realize that that’s not always how I feel about this place. Should I mention to this person that the learning isn’t as intense as it could be? Should I make a comment that most people only have this one year to dedicate to Torah study, yet the Beit Midrash can be more of a social scene full of “gossiping” and bittul Torah? Is it too petty to complain that we can’t even think about advertising anything that happens during school hours, yet sound-checks in the Beit Midrash in the middle of chevruta time is encouraged? And what about all those times that lengthy class discussions revolve around mundane topics?

As I sit here and think about the year, I’m content with the concept of it being over. So where does this “AMAZING” come from?

With the year coming to an end, the faculty have been on a mission to figure out what’s worked in the past and to identify problems that need to be worked on in the future. They’ve turned to various students for help on various sensitive issues. For me, it was conversion (surprise, surprise). Meesh asked if I would be willing to come talk during lunch… and then she sent me the “official” email invite:

We invited only your most trusted companions: Rahel, Meir, TLN, DLK, Michael H, Zvi H, and David Bernstein, so there is no need to be nervous.

No need to be nervous!? I was just invited to walk into a room with 8 of the most brilliant, beautiful minds I had ever met… and you think I’m not going to be nervous?

I walked into that room with a list of things I wanted to say. Concepts of things that had affected me negatively, words spoken by other people that had left a mark, and potential ideas for how to change things in the future. To be honest, I’m not sure that I articulated any of that. As I started talking, I looked around the room to see 8 pairs of eyes staring at me. Behind those eyes were 8 incredible souls that had all helped me on this wild journey- some in very direct ways, some in more indirect ways, but all in some way. I felt like I was betraying them by pointing out every thing that “went wrong” when these were the very people that helped make things right.

At some point I had the urge to scream out “please stop looking at me.” I decided to resist from doing so and therefore continued with my half-incoherent rambling. It wasn’t until after, however, that I realized just how powerful it was to sit in that room.

Once upon a time, I had 3 sets of eyes staring through me, burning holes into my soul. Yet in those 20 minutes of lunch, 8 sets of eyes saw those holes and taught me how to heal.

Pardes isn’t just a place for Torah- it’s a place to build a supportive family for life. And that right there bittuls out all of the bittul Torah.