Tuesday, July 17 – 3 Great Shiurim, Amazing Babysitter Story & Schwarma with the Rosentals

How many days can man live on adrenaline alone? A little sleep would go a long, long way! Actually, I went to the doctor this morning, and he told me I was sick, I should take it easy, get more sleep, and he put me on antibiotics – nice to know I will be able to follow at least 33% of his general prescription (and probably not more!). Needless to say I was a little bit late to school, and dragging a bit when I got there.

But the dragging didn’t last!

David Hartman was teaching in the morning, and even though I missed the hevruta-prep time, my apologies to Rabbi East for not studying with him, I came on time for the lecture.

It is probably true in the long-term that antibiotics, taking it easy and sleep will make me feel better, but in the short term, 5 minutes of listening to David teach and the ails of the body are gone!

David continued his reading of Maimonides, and offering his own 2 cents (worth more than a million bucks) throughout.

We studied texts reflecting Maimonides’ belief that God is unknowable in this world, but we are able to empirically observe what God does – no knowledge of God directly, only through the actions God performs in this world. Those actions we experience through a vocabulary of moral virtue. It does not mean that God has that virtue, but that is the way we understand it.

For example, when something good happens in this world, we say God is good – not because God is actually good, but God’s actions are such as we call good.

So the basis for morality for Maimonides is to learn from the actions of God that we witness in this world – just as God is compassionate, we should be compassionate; just is God is merciful, we should be merciful, etc.

The second shiur (lesson) of the day was with Moshe Halbertal, an amazing teacher. The time was spent discussing Kant. It never totally works for me to read philosophers in a Jewish space, especially in brief. I sometimes feel that we caricature these authors a bit, asking: What does he look like to Jews, rather than what is he really teaching?

Nevertheless, Kant is critical for an understanding of how Jews move into the Modern World. His ground-breaking description of Modern Ethical Behavior created the vocabulary for many nineteenth century Jewish thinkers. He created the understanding that to be good, an action must be chosen by an autonomous agent, not someone commanded by a hierarchical God – literally earth shattering in the Jewish world. Also to be ethical, an action must be performed not for self-interest, or to receive a prize (i.e. go to heaven) but must be chosen simply because it is the right. Powerful philosopher!

The third shiur for the day, as my strength was waning, was an introduction to Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed by Adam Afterman. The Guide is our next “Great Book” unit. It will be one of the topics for the first 10 of our 20 video conferences during the year.

Adam is a rising star in the Israel academic scene. He brings a background more associated with mysticism and spirituality rather than the traditional background of philosophy that most Maimonides’ scholars have – though he clearly has taken all of his philosophy classes too!

I am very excited for this fresh reading of the Guide in the coming months!

Tuesday evening was significant because it was the first time in the almost month that we have been here that we had a babysitter, and that is an amazing story.

Eitan, who we have mentioned before, found for us a babysitter at the Conservative Yeshiva Ulpan, where he is currently studying Hebrew. Nice young woman, late 20’s. Turns out she is here for 3 years to do a Masters in Jewish Education, very cool.

Also turns out we know her from before. She was a participant in BCI, the 20’something college program I ran North-West of LA at Brandeis-Bardin.

Not just was she a participant, but she was part of a very difficult experience in the Summer of 1999. It is definitely an experience I go back to, wondering if I handled it in a way that showed respect and care to people who behaved in a way that was highly problematic and very much against the ethos of the place and program.

I struggle with how does one say difficult but important things to people in a way that will be part reproach (tochechah in the tradition) but also educative (chinuch) so they don’t just feel bad, they also feel cared for, and motivated to move in the right directions.

For the record, as part of that experience, besides having to confront these young adults in a way they didn’t like, I also had to fire two members of my staff – both friends.

It was a very difficult summer for me, but also very important for my growth.

Turns out this young lady saw us in shul the week before and was embarrassed to say hi. Then when Eitan asked her about babysitting and she realized who it was for, she wanted to chicken out, but she didn’t.

So there we were, Tuesday night, about to go out for the evening, our first babysitting night in Jerusalem – and she is the babysitter.

She is an amazing young lady. In the eight intervening years, she has earned her Bachelors Degree, Masters Degree, lived over seas for a year, worked as a lobbyist in DC, worked in the Jewish Community and grown up into a wonderful young woman who is now about to begin a Masters program in Jewish education.

And Jerusalem has a sacred way of giving people the opportunity for Tikkunim (repairs). Of course it would be here that our paths would cross. Of course it would be here that we would be able to sit in my apartment, talk about that summer and the intervening eight years. Of course it would be here that I would then entrust her with the three most sacred things in my life. Hopefully, it will be here, next Sunday, when she babysits again so Jen and I can go out!

Actually, she is supposed to be here for Shabbat lunch!

Very powerful and meaningful moment for me on many levels!

Then we went into town and had a delicious Schwarma with Fanny and Ruben Rosental. Then a little shopping, walked them back to their hotel, and home to go to sleep!

Another powerful day – engaged in our ancient past, recent past, present and future! It is a gift to be here!

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