Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stam Experiences from Last Week

Something extremely unusual for summer happened today during t'filot.  I noticed our madrichim gawking outside the window, not sure what was the big excitement.  But it was evident that huge clouds filled the skies.  After t'filot, Noah (one of our madrichim) commented on the beautiful kavanah our k'vutzah (group) has and how great the davening was.  We happened to have learned the b'racha in the amidah today asking God for rain in its time, and Noah pointed out that because of our strong kavanah, clouds filled the sky!  By the end of breakfast it was slightly drizzling outside, but since I left my room five minutes after that it has been sunny all day.

I never got a chance to talk about Wednesday and Thursday - I often get mixed up, since the week is Sunday-Thursday instead of Monday-Friday.  So I often confuse Tuesday with Wednesday and Wednesday with Thursday.  But anyway, Wednesday was my first Talmud class at the yeshiva.  David Helfand (good friend, fellow international officer) and I are the two Nativers in our class, which is mostly comprised of rabbinical students from Ziegler and a couple of other advanced year-round yeshiva students.  For the time being, until the end of the chag season, we are studying Masechet Sukkah.  We spend about two hours or so in chevruta - 1/3 working, 1/3 talking about other miscellaneous stuff, and 1/3 messing around with David and Matt who work behind us (two rabbinical students, Matt was my Halutzim counselor at Ramah Wisconsin).  The Gemara we looked at on Wednesday was just an example of the crazy technicalities the rabbis discuss that honestly seem a bit far fetched.  But that's the whole fun of it, ain't it?

At lunchtime, I went with my friend Tyler to meet his uncle and go to Me'ah She'arim.  He checks mezuzot and t'fillin electronically and studies in a yeshiva in Me'ah She'arim.  I truly appreciated the time he took that afternoon, which he totally devoted towards taking us around the neighborhood and helping us find good deals.  We were looking for talitot - I bought one in Me'ah She'arim but then I found one I liked better in the Old City on Thursday, so I need to return the former - as well as new tzitzit, and I was especially interested in getting some new music.  Tyler's uncle is sephardic; at one point he realized that generally Ashkenazim don't wear talitot until marriage!  I explained that in our community it is general practice to do so at Bar Mitzvah.  So I bought wool tzitzit (as in talitot k'tanim), a seder slichot (which, given the lack of copies at the Great Synagogue and its concise explanations, was a great tool last night), and Shwekey, MBD, and Meydad Tasa CDs.  And then we got excellent schwarma. Mmm mm!  Me'ah She'arim's quite some place - b"h I don't live there, but it was an experience to see an exclusively Hareidi community and its crowded streets.

I arrived a few minutes late to my Poskim class with Reb Shmuel, the Rosh Yeshiva.  We studied laws of Shofar in the Mishnah B'rurah - not overly difficult.  But in that later part of the afternoon, while still jet-lag, it was very difficult to stay focused.  I tried.  One of the humorous aspects of those halachot for me was that the Shulchan Aruch provides a count for how many t'ruah notes equal a sh'varim or t'kia, etc., and what happens if one does a t'kia 17 but not 18 trumitin-equivalents, as if we're counting exactly!  But the review and back-to-the-basics is always appreciated, and it was good to do Mishna Berurah on a subject that is familiar (which most should be anyway since it's Orach Chayim)...

Thursday was an easy day for yeshiva.  We finished up the Gemara we had started the day before and then continued on to the new mishnah, in which we discuss some wacky situations involving the building of sukkot, including the permissibility of building a sukkah on a camel.  Intrigued by the physical possibility of building such a sukkah, I looked up a picture online and showed it to the guys behind us.  The whole thing was ridiculous, and as we were chuckling about it, Reb Shmuel walked by to admonish us about internet use during  zman chavruta.  Great timing, eh? 

Talmud ended early on Thursday because each week, on Thursday afternoon, we have sicha with the Rosh Yeshiva.  I was told to take notes for this, as he often lectures on deep, philosophical ideas and can be hard to follow.  Though it took lots of diligence to grasp everything he was saying, the ideas and messages he presented reflected scholarship worth "wowing," and it was quite inspiring.  He prefaced by saying that it used to bother him that so much time is taken to daven on Rosh Hashanah so that we lose out on critical time to study.  But now he understands the importance of davening, and related the Malchuyot part of musaf to creation and the world God plays in the role, bringing in some great texts.  Here's the gist:

RH – attempt to reflect picture of the world
·      We are in a world we didn’t create
·      Story of creation
·      Transcendence had no meaning for world
·      God created us to bring that meaning
·      Took great risk: presence dependent on us & whether we reflect his values
o   Malkhuyot: Reflect on this risk taken in
Later that afternoon, we had a just-Nativ course on contemporary halakhic issue with Reb Shlomo, who I always enjoy learning from - he has the most soothing voice.  We talked about pidyon shvuyim and how it relates to Gilad Shalit.  It's a sucky subject to have to deal with - I do not see any evidence in the texts that any trades Israel would make for Shalit seem reasonable, as sad as that is.
Class was over at 3!!!! For once we were done before Hebrew U and Ulpan!
Coming soon, my unique experience on the Conservative Yeshiva shabbaton.

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