These and Those

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

The Magic of Torah

Posted on June 1, 2016 by Elana Weiner

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If I were to be accused of avodah zarah, it would be to name among the mortal world a God of Audre Lorde. Since I first met her words, I have found meaning and comfort in them. One of my favorite quotes of hers aptly describes what I have learned here at Pardes: “Your silence will not protect you.” And indeed it won’t. To speak can be terrifying, but to remain silent and in silence, to hold ones words inside when they need to be revealed outside, stifles the self. Because to speak is not only to enter into the uncertain banter of conversation, confront the painful rejection of one’s request, or experience the awkward reception to one’s attempt at answering that seemingly simple question posed by the teacher.

To speak—to use words as a tool to build relationships, form ideas, and explore the worlds of imagination is, in a word, extraordinary. With words, God created the world from chaos, and with words we reveal ourselves, build and change and order our own worlds, which brings me to my mantra these past so many odd years and which has caused chagrin to at least one of my teachers here, Zvi: “Judaism is just like magic.”

Honestly, I don’t understand the objection! In magic, the practitioner uses words in the form of spells and incantations to affect metaphysical realities. In Judaism, we use words to affect moral and normative realities. In magic, words can be used to transform an object or person into something else, and so, too, with their words, the teachers I have studies with here have transformed me. Their words have caused my imagination to expand, Michael Hattin, my heart to stretch, Meir Schweiger, my passion and confidence to develop, Elisa Pearlman, my vision to clarify, Daniel Roth. Your words have encouraged me to trust more myself, Zvi Hirschfield. Your words have directed me through the process of applying to and freaking out about rabbinical school. They have given me reason to passionately love the מפיק ה, דגש קל וחזק, Howard Markose. You have helped me speak and understand words I never thought I could, Rahel Berkovitz; you have taught me how to learn, Levi Cooper; you have strengthened my connection to this land, Jamie Salter, and I am falling in love with it; you have helped me know myself, Nehama Goldman Barash and you have shown me that the details of Torah I love so much fit together to form those larger theological ideas, Neima Novetsky. Your words have given me the skill of writing them beautifully, Dov Laimon. And from the teachers I have not studied with directly, Judy Klitsner, Meesh Hammer-Kossy, Leah Rosenthal, Tovah Leah Nachmani, DLK (David Levin-Kruss), and others, I have learned from you, too.

So, to my teachers who have transformed me with their words, I would like to thank you. Thank you for working your magic on me. I am truly and deeply grateful.

Elana Weiner