Posted on July 12, 2021 by Cindy Scheinfeld
This teaching was written by first time PLS participant Cindy Scheinfeld. To learn more about the Pardes Learning Seminar program, which runs during the summer and winter, please visit www.pardes.org.il/seminar.
Several months ago I became interested in studying Torah. It’s not something I have done before. I grew up in a secular home with limited exposure to formal Jewish education. My father was raised in an orthodox environment yet renounced his orthodoxy as a young adult. So I was exposed to a strange mix of Jewish knowledge within the shadow of rejection. It took years for me to find my footing and get to this point, and now it has become important for me to know more and connect to my Jewish heritage.
One day, in a casual street stop-and-chat with my rabbi, I expressed this interest. Like a good teacher, he listened, so I wasn’t surprised when he reached out a few weeks later and suggested that I consider the Pardes Summer Learning Seminar as a way to begin this journey. This seemed to me like a good way to test the idea of Torah study to see if this was truly something I wanted to fully commit to.
The theme of the 2021 Summer Seminar was Cultivating Courage & Resilience. Now that I have completed the seminar, I see how much courage it took to say yes to engage in this week of learning and how much resilience I needed for each day of study.
Within a few minutes of beginning the seminar, self-doubt kicked in. I could hear how learned and knowledgeable other students were. I questioned whether I would be able to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. Like the spies in Parshat Shelach (Numbers, 14 & 15), I turned myself into a grasshopper in the eyes of my fellow students.
I found immediate inspiration from Sefer Yehoshua, Chapters 1 – 5, “The LORD said to Joshua…Be strong and resolute….be very strong and resolute.” With the study of Yehoshua, I began the process of learning.
From my first Havruta session I began to engage with the text. My partners helped me to understand that we are all on the periphery, working our way to the center. I came to see that there was no right or wrong. I learned that each text has an author, and that author has a plan. Our interpretation reflects who we are, what we believe and what we relate to.
As the week progressed, I enjoyed getting to know my classmates. I began to feel more comfortable with the material and in contributing to the conversation. I could feel myself slowly believing, like Calev in Numbers 13:30, that surely I can do it.
So many of the teachings resonated with me. I will hold onto the idea from Deuteronomy, Chapter 11, verses 10-13, that it takes faith to live with uncertainty but we can act upon and have gratitude for what we do know
10. For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden.
11. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven.
I was particularly moved by the classes on Cultivating the Spiritual Practice of Self Confidence and Walking with Your Inner Spirit with Yiscah Smith. I was inspired with the idea of having the courage to find the divine in yourself. From the teaching of Bnei Machshava Tova, Entry 8 – The Piaseczner Rebbe – Rav Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira,
“For Every feeling that is connected to something of “this world” opens a spark of our soul, but with this our soul becomes revealed a little bit. Let us then consciously draw her out even more. Let us endear ourselves to her, greeting her with words of love, awe and pure God directed mindfulness.”
Participating in this Pardes Learning Seminar has helped to affirm my interest in continuing to study Torah. I am excited to have embarked on my journey and look forward to what lies ahead. I am thankful for having been recommended to study with Pardes, a learning environment that is open to students of all levels and backgrounds. The seminar was well run and the teachers and staff were very accessible and knowledgeable. All I can say is thank you and see you next year in Jerusalem!