Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talmud Torah K'Neged Kulam

Two days later, the attack of the cough persists.  Generally, over the past few days, this problem has been worst when I wake up; I don’t have any way of sleeping upright, so I’m guessing that the problem lies in me lying down (haha) when I sleep.  The worst consequence of this has been my inability to pray without coughing after every two words, resulting in an inability to worship my Creator with joy and with kavannah.  Otherwise, the only time I’ve had an issue coughing was after I came back from Emeq with Sarah, when for some reason I set a really fast walking pace.

In other exciting news, I have an accordion file folder (what my campers this summer called the “Geek Files”) for all of my papers, and while I am cutting back on taking notes on my computer during class, I will be able to keep much better track of my papers and make good notes on those for the future.  Plus, when I can, I write in my sefarim and will study those a lot in the future.

Tuesday morning, Shaiya (my Chumash teacher) was not here, so the other chumash teacher taught our class as well.  We took a break from Joseph to discuss the barrenness of the Matriarchs.  Many of the midrashim were troubling at first glance; I felt that they were trying too hard to excuse God’s decision to make them barren and to bring an apologetic reading to the stories.  On the other hand, I learned in Shaiya’s theology workshop that it is important to read Torah through the eyes of the Sages and not separate ourselves by saying “x is chazal and what they want me to believe but I’m not actually part of that tradition.”  So I wanted to be open to finding an understanding of the midrashim that would portray God as not cruel by depriving our matriarchs with children, something that was so essential to society at that time and the self-esteem of the matriarchs.  I remember someone recently quoting Rabbi Joel Roth as saying “don’t say you don’t agree with the text, say you don’t understand it” because often times we are quick to judge a text without having dug deep enough to derive a meaningful understanding of the text.  Without going too much into the midrash and my issues with it, some thoughtful insights I gained were that the Torah does not want to portray perfect ancestors should we be discouraged from relating to them and also that when the midrash says that God desires their prayers, God does not want to look at life in perfection and lose their sense of mortality and humility.  In shiur, I lost focus many times so I did not gain quite everything from it.

At the beginning of lunch I met with Reb Shmuel to discuss something we had learned in Poskim class week.  We studied the issues against codification that were raised as codes were brought to life.  One particular rabbi strongly objected that by issuing a code, among many things, Jews would become highly ignorant, and instead of halakha being arbitrated through a process, Jews would only experience one way of doing things.  My questions, therefore, came from two sides: on the one hand, people are ignorant in understanding halakha with which they aren’t familiar because they only understand halakha through codes, and on the other hand, we have ignorant people who do not understand halakha through the halakhic lens but through what they think Judaism should be like.  We discussed the issue for a while, and what I came out with was essentially a hope that people will understand how to separate biases from the way halakha works and that people will attempt to educate themselves in the best way possible when attempting to take a position and understand the halakha in its own light.

I had a great afternoon on Tuesday in Modern Jewish Thought.  We studied a chapter in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed the Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students titled “Books.”  We discussed the importance of studying literature of the past in light of the past and not in light of the present, but at the same time gaining from its wisdom.  From there we ventured into a discussion of Bloom’s assertion that the failure of high school teachers has resulted in students’ lack of passion for literature and the truth (or lack of) behind that statement.  Bloom then brings in the idea of heroes – the idea that one keeps a book by Plato under his bed or aspires to be Moses – and the way students appraoch the question of whether s/he has a hero.  These discussions impact me in two ways: first, that they teach me how to think and expose me to different ways of understanding the world; secondly, they inspire me to read and educate myself more so that I become a complete person with a well-informed understanding of life and things to aspire to.  One of my favorite things about Aryeh’s class in general is that he insists at the beginning of each class that the definition of a Talmid Chacham is one whose desire to advance his knowledge and understanding with an open mind.  I appreciate the idea that there’s no reason to be offended by anything that we discuss in a thought class.

Tuesday night was even more interesting.  Rabbi Artson spoke to us for Erev Nativ about God and how to approach or think about understanding God as a Conservative Jew.  I’ve heard him speak about God before, but this discussion was like nothing I’ve seen before.  He shared his views of how the Greek ideas of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence in God permeated Jewish views of God for the worse, and offered a view of God working within the very logic that God created.  The questions started by taking interest in particular things he said but eventually broadening to general questions of theology.  People found him very intriguing and thought provoking.  Many people came out thinking that he contradicted himself in explaining that God is not the things I mentioned above, precisely because those are the things that we’re used to hearing.  I happen to like his logic a lot.  At any rate, it definitely engaged many people and left many more intrigued.

Some observations to share about yeshiva:
*The concept of Bitul Torah has never been more real for me.  While at home, the lines of bitul Torah can be blurry because there’s really not that much fixed Torah study and there are so many layers to life; however, now that there are fixed time for studying Torah, I see the loss that comes with wasting time.
*Yeshiva can be a struggle sometimes in that I sort of lead a double life here.  During the day, I’m a yeshiva student and need to focus as much as I can there.  However, with all of the other things on my life on Nativ filling my mind, and then going home and the Nativ portion of my day just starts, it can be hard. It’s a good struggle to have though.

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