Sunday, July 6 - The Beginning of a New Week

A new week of learning begins, and what better way to start the week than by remembering the beginning of the relationship between the Jewish people and Torah – the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

Melila Hellned-Eshed presented us with a diversity of texts remembering what happened at the mountain.

We looked at marriage and we looked at covenant. We looked at fear and we looked at love. We look at the sensual and we looked at the intellectual. We looked at that which lifts us up and that which grounds us.

She shared a number of modern Israeli poems as well. Powerful, brilliant morning study, at all times focused on how telling the story creates the memory, and how the way the story is told determines what is remembered. We looked with each text at what details are included, what kind of language is used, what images.

It is easy to be comfortable that the image that we have in our mind is what happened, but it all depends on which narratives we read and allow to shape our memory.

After lunch we began our second week of electives. For this week I will be studying each week with Moshe Halbertal – “Law and Narrative in the Talmud.”

Moshe has selected a number of fascinating examples in which the Talmud states the halakhic norm and the voice of the Gemara gives us an aggadic text, that is a “real” story of sages of the Talmud, that flows from the halakhic norm. Over the week we read examples in which the story follows and supports the halakhah, though in a context that couldn’t be predicted. We saw examples in which the story shows the sages behaving contrary to the norm. Each example offered a unique relationship between the law and the narrative that followed. Which raises the fascinating question: to what extent does the narrative influence the halakhic norm? To what extent can the legal text be nuanced or even abrogated on the basis of a normative tale about the rabbis? Fascinating study all week long.

We then spent time together just our group, finishing catching up. It is amazing how many of my colleagues have had difficult years in terms of health and in terms of tsurris within congregation life. Many rabbis tell stories about how difficult it is to be the rabbi of a congregation. Makes me more and more appreciative to be the rabbi of Ohr Shalom!

We then had what the Institute called a “Family Dinner” at 7:00 PM.

It is so much to be the participant of a program rather than its leader. When we create a program for the synagogue, we worry a great deal about all of the demographics which we serve – what about: singles, couples, families with babies, with little children, with school age children, with teens, empty nesters, older adults . . . . As a participant, I care about everyone but I don’t really worry about any demographic other than my own.

So a 7:00 PM dinner for us is too late and doesn’t count as a Family Dinner. It was fun to watch those who did bring their kids have a very different meal than those who didn’t. And of course, for some of the “grown-ups” on the program, they would prefer a dinner with no children.

Again, very fun to watch and very happy to not be in charge!

After dinner, Donniel Hartman gave a powerful lecture on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. Part of it was the oft repeated line that for the future of Judaism the message needs to be more than “they hate us and want to kill us.”

The really important part was the discussion of Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) from the perspective of a rabbi and scholar who is also a decorated tank commander, who lost a brother-in-law in the Lebanon War, and whose son is currently on active duty training in the tank division.

To distill it down to its essence, Yom HaZikaron is truly a day of mourning and of memory for all Israelis. It is not a day off, or a day to relax. It is a day to mourn.

Having been in Israel once for Yom HaZikaron, it is like nothing we observe in the U.S. It is amazing that even now, currently involved in two wars, each of which has been going on for years, that Memorial Day is not a day that we as Americans observe with mourning.

In the end, the lecture was powerful descriptively rather than prescriptively; that is to say, it did a very good job describing the world the way it currently is without pointing out to where the world should try to go.

Another very long day, from 8:30 in the morning until after 10:00 at night. Tired body, tired mind, miss my wife and kids, but happy and engrossed soul!

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