Posted on July 27, 2021 by Jeff Hurok
This teaching was written by first time PLS participant Jeff Hurok. To learn more about the Pardes Learning Seminar program, which runs during the summer and winter, please visit www.pardes.org.il/seminar.
I have wanted to attend a summer Pardes Learning Seminar for a few years. I don’t recall the first time I heard about Pardes, but I definitely remember talking with a local couple who had attended Pardes for a longer study period, met at Pardes, and raved about the learning opportunities. After listening to one of them deliver a d’var Torah on Kabbalat Shabbat adapted from a Pardes weekly parashah podcast, I knew I had to learn more.
I have now been actively listening to Pardes podcasts for a few years. Many have been the weekly parashah podcast, Pardes From Jerusalem, and some have been more of a series such as The Jewish Story with Rabbi Mike Feuer.
This summer of 2021 was to be my summer to attend Pardes. Each of my kids was also to be in Israel this summer, so it would have been wonderful to be there with them. When the PLS went fully virtual, my wife and I decided I could attend while visiting friends and family in California. I was excited for the opportunity.
It was a truly wonderful and invigorating experience to start my day with my own davening, some exercise, and then a 7:30 AM Pacific Time session to reflect on the previous day’s themes and learnings followed by three 1 1/2 hour sessions. After five days, 22 1/2 hours of classes, 2 1/2 hours of reflections, many minutes after classes kibitzing with faculty and participants, 56 pages of typed notes, and many highlights and annotations on the course materials, the PLS was even better and deeper than I had anticipated.
The theme, Cultivating Courage & Resilience, was perfect for this summer’s session coming out of, hopefully, the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on my prior experiences with Torah study, I wasn’t sure how the text study would all fit into this theme, but I was eager to do it. Admittedly, it was hard to choose between two classes for each time slot. I learned that there really was no poor choice. Each session was excellent. I had no regrets with my choices.
Each faculty member was captivating and deeply cared about facilitating a discussion, engaged directly with each participant, and learned with us. The format of (1) introduction to the texts and topics, (2) breakout into hevruta for paired learning, and (3) regroup to discuss reactions and dive deeper enabled me to engage with the texts, the faculty, and my fellow participants. In many classes, we began with a familiar story from Torah and then dove deeply to read it carefully along with commentaries and each other’s perspectives to develop new insights regarding courage and resilience.
The faculty taught us new ways to read and reflect on texts, and my fellow participants opened my eyes to viewing the texts through their lenses of experiences different from my own. One thing I loved most about the interactions I had with the faculty and fellow participants was the level of engagement and participation among a self-selected group of individuals who remained present, interested, and engaged to deepen the conversation during each class.
While I’m still processing the many learnings, there are a few that immediately resonated with me and that I’ve already taught to some friends as well as to a minyan I led during the week following the seminar.
In Mike Fueur’s class on Devekut (cleaving), we initially discussed what it may mean to cleave to the Divine and with human relationships. Mike started our text journey with a familiar story in Genesis Chapter 2 about G-d forming Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. He then expanded with classical commentaries from Ramban and from Sefer Baal Shem Tov on this concept of cleaving. Mike encouraged us to consider our own relationships as he analogized to his counseling work and how relationships evolve. He framed evolving relationships as viewing our narratives with different perspectives. He taught: “Memory is telling the story of the past to create an identity of the present to build a future we want.” This demonstrates resilience in how we learn from relationships. I love this and will use it for next Pesach.
In Yiscah Smith’s class titled, “Walking with Your Inner Spirit: Cultivating an Understanding Heart”, we discussed using all of the senses to embody mindfulness to focus and consider how to thrive with an understanding heart. One aspect of this teaching related to our breath. Yiscah focused us on the story of how G-d blew into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life”. Yiscah encouraged us to view taking in a breath with intentionality as a gift and with gratitude, breathing out as partially giving back the gift, and then preparing to receive it again with gratitude. This takes courage. While this was a small part of our discussion, the next day I connected it to the last verse in Psalm 150: “Let all that breathes praise the L-rd”. Wow – that gave me pause and enabled me to focus. Then I taught that to a minyan as a small nugget from my week.
In Michael Emerson’s class titled “The Narratives that Shape Us”, one of several stories we read and discussed was the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph reframes the story from the brothers having sold Joseph to G-d having sent Joesph to Egypt ahead to save the family. Then we discussed what traits Joseph embodies by changing the inference of the story. We use stories to shape how we move forward. We reframe the story to permit us to move forward and elevate. This is resilience.
I’m already looking forward to more opportunities to engage with the Pardes community of life-long learners.