Tuesday, July 1 - Our First “Regular” Day

Our first regular day, if you can count a day that begins at 4:30 AM to be regular.

Since it was the first day of camp, we began with video phone calls to all of the grandparents to say good morning (actually goodnight) to them.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the meshugas of our rental agent in terms of finding our apartment. He had a place. He didn’t have a place. He had a place, but the street didn’t appear on any map we had. Then he had two places – one for the first three weeks and then moving for the last two. When I called him to confirm that arrangement, it turned out that was no longer available, but he had one apartment, good neighborhood, available for our dates.

Turns out, the location is perfect! We couldn’t have picked a more perfect spot.

Jen’s walk down to Ramah with Shayna is less than we thought. We had gone to the wrong place last week. So that also means less of a hill for Jen to walk up for the return. My walk to Hartman is also very short – 10 minutes. It all seems to work!

The kids were all very excited.

Shayna couldn’t wait to meet her campmates! Her kevutzah (group) is called Yehudah and she loves her madrichim (counselors) and the other campers – including the children of some of my classmates at Hartman.

Another fabulous day for me at the Institute. Moshe Halbertal taught the morning major learning: “The Spiritual and Ethical Dimensions of Memory.” He explored various biblical texts, some Midrashim and some commentary by the RaMBaN about how the way in which we remember our story creates and ethical obligation to treat each other and all peoples with real care.

We discussed how there could be many ways to remember the same history (whether it is a real or imagined history) but our tradition remembers our history in a way to obligate us towards a specific set of values.

He is a wonderful teacher of text, and about half of the time is spent in chevruta – allowing us to prepare the materials in pairs before his lecture. It is a thrill to have a couple of hours to sit across the table from a learned friend and study – nothing else competing for attention. An incredible thrill.

We took a break in our program to allow us to meet together in small groups to process our learning, our experience in Israel, or anything else that we would like.

Again, to sit in a small group of accomplished, learned colleagues and discuss issues is unlike any opportunities I have throughout the year.

After lunch, I continued my learning of the Idra Rabba with Melila. This is either a brilliant, mind opening text, or just whacky – depends on my mood – which, with my level of exhaustion can change in the blink of an eye.

By the way, the Idra, like much of the Zohar, is structured with a very loose, flow of consciousness style. So for example, my exhaustion, becomes my mood that can change with the blink of eye, which reminds me that the Arikh Anpin (the Ancient Face of God, or the highest three sefirot – if you want to understand that, come to Kabbalah classes at the synagogue) has no eyelids and can’t ever blink and stop its gaze from shining blessing to the other aspects of God and the world below. The proof that the Arikh Anpin has no eyelids is from Psalm 121:4 (Hinei lo yanum, vlo yishan, shomer yisrael) – Behold the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. Which is one of the Psalms from the Dead Sea Scroll which Jennifer sang for the Museum of Natural History. The Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which are at the Shrine of the Book ten minutes away from where I sit writing. The curator of the San Diego exhibit, Dr. Risa Levitt Kohn, member of Ohr Shalom, arrived today, and unlike the Guardian of Israel, I have eyelids, I need to sleep and to slumber, neither of which I have done much of. And so the Zohar goes.

The class is amazing. The text is staggering, shocking, confusing and dense.

While I was looking on line for a good Hebrew translation of the Zohar to purchase (the Zohar itself is written in a very difficult Aramaic) I discovered that the RaMChaL (Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto – 18th century Italian Kabbalist) wrote a commentary to the Idra Rabba, this specific section of the Zohar, called Adir Bamarom. And just because I love moments that just can’t be coincidences, the sample page available to view at mysefer.com was a comment on a specific passage that we read that day, and the RaMChaL had a very interesting reading on a question that was asked in class. Another book to add to my reading list – only this one is a very complex Kabbalistic text!

I have a very long relationship with the RaMChaL. I used to read his most famous work, Mesilat Yesharim, The Path of the Just, every summer. It is the defining work of a genre I refer to as Kabbalistic Musar or Kabbalistic Ethics. It is a book I would love to have the opportunity to teach at shul.

After the shiur (lesson) we listened to presentations from David Ellenson and Avi Weiss about “Visions of a New American Judaism and its Relationship to Israel.” They both understood the topic totally differently. David spoke about his relationship with Israel in very personal and moving terms, and how, as the President of Hebrew Union College, he is very committed to continuing its legacy of steadfast Zionism. For example, David spoke about how even in the darkest days of the 2nd Intifada HUC continued its program for American Rabbinical Students – especially in those scary and dark days, the leaders and those who would be leaders of American Judaism could not shirk their responsibilities or commitments vis-à-vis Israel.

Avi used the opportunity to talk about the importance of the new Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary he created. Interesting talk.

Finally after dinner, we had an odd concert from an Israeli musician – Shlomo Gronikh. He is a Willie Nelson look alike, who writes kind of folksy Israeli music, but for the past number of years all of his lyrics are taken from traditional sources – Siddur, TaNaKh, etc.

He had a very prickly personality – kept knocking the Hartman Institute for not having the proper lighting, as opposed to the much more common – “Thank you so much for inviting . . . .

For the last bit of the concert, he invited out a wonderful clarinetist who played some really groovy jazz along with Shlomo’s piano and a drummer. That part was great!

Finally, I headed home – even more exhausted than before.

Of course I found my bookish wife with her face buried in her homework.

Gave her a quick kiss, and went to sleep!

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