I hope you have been enjoying your summers thus far. I am grateful to be in Jerusalem these few weeks where I have been enjoying my time learning with incredible teachers and over 150 rabbinic colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, including a number of rabbis and educators from Westchester! Most days go from 8:30am to 9:30pm and are filled with fascinating courses and lectures that have been filling my mind and my notebook with precious Torah, which I am excited to share with Shaarei Tikvah.
I want to offer you a few nuggets of Torah from the learning I have done this week- each course connects to the general theme of derech eretz, which is a term in Hebrew which means common decency. We have studied this term from different perspectives- both how it comes into play in our personal lives- our marriages and our parenting as well as in the political arena as we engage in civil discourse in both America and Israel.
This week’s parashah, Pinchas, is in one reading, a rebuke against extremism. Pinchas responded to the immorality in his community by taking up violence, to which he is rewarded by God with a reminder for humility- a brit shalom, a covenant of peace.
I have been repeatedly challenged by Biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern Jewish texts to think about our rhetoric and actions and their impact on our families and in society. Interestingly, anava, often translated as humility has been a reoccurring theme in a number of lectures about common decency. Anava, it has been pointed out, does not mean only silencing your own voice at times in order to make room for another. Anava means knowing yourself and your own voice and using it when it is most necessary and most appropriate. The patience necessary to do this requires respect for other human beings as we engage in issues of moral relevance. And sometimes as the Torah teaches, we are forced to speak our truths even when it is difficult to do so. And however and whenever we speak, our texts remind us again and again how important derech eretz is in the way we relate to one another in the many ways in which we communicate.
We have also engaged in discussion on Israel, learning from leading scholars in the field as well as Ilana Dayan, a well-known Israeli journalist, helping us understand Israeli perspectives on the current events happening in the region. Additionally, we saw a new documentary called, Ben Gurion, Epilogue, about David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, which gave us insights into his ideology and personality in 1967. Discussing the film with the producer gave us interesting insights into how Israeli citizens and politicians think about Ben Gurion’s legacy in light of the many issues Israel faces today.
Next week I will continue to learn here and will continue to reflect on my learning during my time here by writing. There is so much more I could write about what I am learning but I also need to save some for the High Holidays and the teaching I will be doing at Shaarei Tikvah this year 🙂 It has been a wonderful opportunity to feel re-energized by studying here in Israel and I look forward to sharing more about it soon.