These and Those

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

Pardes’s 2019-20 Shabbaton, a Student Refection

Posted on October 7, 2019 by Eitan Marcum

“We had a shabbaton, this weekend, and as part of that, we sat around a big table drinking, snacking, and sharing stories and zmirot (a certain type of Jewish song) after dinner on Friday until the wee hours of the morning (this tradition is called a Tisch, it’s german/yiddish for table). I shared this very cheesy dvar torah at the tisch and, despite writing it at midnight, was actually pleased with what I wrote, so I decided to share it more publicly.

Wise men say / only fools rush in / but I can’t help falling in love with Torah. With Shabbat. Maybe even with G-d. I’ve only been at Pardes for two weeks and my relationship to Judaism has already become almost unrecognizable in its depth. Last Shabbat, my roommate shared with some of us the Hazon song Magnificence, two parts of which I’d heard before, but then he added a new-to-me lyric, to a different melody I immediately recognized, and when we decided to bring Magnificence to the Tisch this shabbat, I determined to bring this song as well. When I proposed it to the tisch coordinator, he was understandably hesitant to let me bring a pop song unless I could tell him why it’s relevant to Shabbat. As I skimmed through the lyrics and started writing it this Thursday afternoon, I realized that I actually believed what I was saying, and what’s more, it was actually directly relevant to the conversation we had just finished in shiur about diversity and unity in a Shabbat community. A good portion of the conversation was about why Shabbat is important, and we came up with some great answers including that the essence of Judaism can be summed up as “act ethically and keep Shabbat”. If that’s the essence of Judaism, then it seems like something of an inevitability for Jews to eventually fall in love with Shabbat. To cherish it and, as I’ve been learning for myself lately, genuinely value the true rest of disconnection from the week and the wide world available to us through technology.

Even when I’d just gotten to Jerusalem and knew only one person in the city I didn’t live with (and I was living with strangers), I was able to find a peace in Shabbat i didn’t know I’d been missing, and a deep human connection with complete strangers who welcomed me into their home. I made a commitment to myself when I moved to Jerusalem that I would use the opportunity of it being a normative way of life to make a conscious effort to keep Shabbat in ways i hadn’t before. Through that kavanah to have more than a passing relationship with Shabbat and therefore with G-d, I am finding myself falling in love.

eitan marcum and friends

G-d says that Shabbat is a sign between G-d and the people of Israel (Shmot 31:13), which begs the question: A sign of what? My answer is that Shabbat is a sign of an ongoing relationship between us and G-d. We also see the phrase “a sign for all time” which, to me, speaks of an indication of a desirable future (Shmot 31:17). Not just that we get Shabbat (and should therefore keep it) for now, but לְעוֹלָם, forever. I can’t speak for G-d, but humans, at least, don’t do anything they don’t love for very long, let alone a lifetime, not to mention forever. If Shabbat is a manifestation of our relationship with G-d, and we fall in love with Shabbat, aren’t we – directly or indirectly – falling in love with G-d? As we are taught and learn through time to love Shabbat, it becomes a regular reminder of our direct relationship with G-d.

Getting back to the song: “Shall I stay? / Would it be a sin / If I can’t help falling in love with you?” I’ve asked myself many times whether i should stay. In shul, in torah study (before Pardes, of course), in a Jewish community, in touch with my Judaism at all, and yet here I am, more enthusiastic than I’ve ever been. The Rambam is very clear that it would be a sin as grave as idolatry to not keep Shabbat, and therefore to continue following my same line of logic that through time and dedicated repetition we fall in love with Shabbat and G-d, we have an answer to Elvis’s nearly-60-year-old question. No, it would not be a sin to fall in love with Shabbat. With Torah. With G-d. In fact, it would be missing the mark to NOT fall in love.
And so, to Shabbat, to Torah, and to G-d I say with conviction: Take my hand, / Take my whole life, too / For I can’t help falling in love with you.”