These and Those

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

Tea With Sage

Posted on November 14, 2015 by Yaakov Feinberg

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After my first month of the Pardes Year-Program, I was on a first-name basis with most of the teachers. Even if I didn’t attend a particular teacher’s shiur, I had either been invited to their house for Rosh Hashanah dinner, or spoken with them during a tiyul, or sat with them at community lunch, so there were hardly any strangers in the beit midrash. There was one, however, who had somehow remained fairly anonymous. I would often see him pacing the corridors lost in thought, or at mincha bellowing a loud “yihay SHMAY rabah mvarach…” during kaddish. Since he appeared to be the most senior member of the faculty, I assumed he only taught the most advanced students, and so I resigned any hope of learning from him.

Some time later I remembered a social club that I founded in college called “Afternoon Tea.” The purpose of the club was to bring together students and faculty from multiple academic disciplines to facilitate the exchange of ideas. I then thought, why not bring the concept to Pardes? I introduced myself to the rabbi in question – Rav Landes – and after listening to the idea, he graciously agreed to host a gathering of students in his office for tea and pastries.

On the appointed day, Rav Landes’s office was filled to capacity with students eager to learn. The format of the session was Q&A, thus allowing the content to be focused on matters specifically of interest to us. For nearly an hour, we listened to and were captivated by Rav Landes’ unique blend of mentshlechkeyt and halacha. For example, he reminisced about being a pulpit-rabbi in Los Angeles, and the creative ways he would help congregants deal with difficult problems. Then, he mused on the importance of balancing Torah in one’s life, using the metaphor of fire and ice to explain that if halacha is not implemented with great care, the soul will either burn up or freeze.

We also heard a humorous story about Rav Landes’ early days of teaching at Pardes, in which he described bringing a very frum friend into the beit midrash so that he might see the mission of the school in action. However, because he didn’t want the bias of his friend’s strict religious code to result in a rash judgment, Rav Landes instructed his friend to enter the beit midrash and listen to the discussion with his eyes closed. After some minutes of listening, the guest was invited to open his eyes, and his face turned to shock. However, after a moment of reflection, he spoke optimistically.

Perhaps most inspiring, Rav Landes shared some memories from his own yeshiva years. At his school, he identified two different types of rabbis. When a student would approach the first type with a very difficult life-problem, the remedy would be to pull a heavy volume off a bookshelf, quote an esoteric verse, and send the student off. Invariably, the student would walk away feeling worse than before he walked in. However, the other kind of rabbi (often a heavily accented and bearded chacham from the Old Country) would take the student by the hand, listen to him attentively, and offer a few simple soothing words. This approach – the more human method – always worked far better.

In short, the tea with Rav Landes was a fantastic success. We are very fortunate to have access to a teacher who can draw upon so many years of experience, and who so eagerly shares that accrued wisdom with his students. Please G-d, we will continue this kind of learning in the future and have many more lunch-time teas with Rav Landes!