Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"You shall draw water in joy from the springs of salvation"

I started my new Talmud class! I am now studying at my alma mater, Nishmat, which has moved from the Bayit Veigan neighborhood to a gorgeous new building in Pat (much closer to where I live). For those who are wondering why I opted for Nishmat rather than return to Pardes, it was really a toss-up, with both having compelling pros and cons. The deciding factor was that the class at Nishmat is only 6 hours a week, a reasonable time for me to take away from work, whereas at Pardes I would have been in class for 13 hours a week - way too much of a commitment for me right now.

Another advantage is that I have the privilege of studying under Rabbi Moshe Ehrenreich. Just to give you an idea of how revered and prominent he is . . . in many yeshivas and seminaries, there is a custom to address one's rabbi in the 3rd person, eg "I have a question for the rabbi" and "How would the rabbi explain such-and-such?" Well, two days ago, a member of Nishmat's administration was showing Rav Ehrenreich where our class would be, and the administrator, himself a respected rabbi, was saying "This will be the rabbi's classroom . . . the rabbi can sit here . . . would the rabbi like me to photocopy anything for him?"


Anyway, the class is twice a week. Each time, we spend about 2 hours studying the text in pairs -- I am learning with an English-speaker, who is actually a former NCSYer of mine. Then, for an hour we have class; Rav Ehrenreich speaks in Hebrew. I'm really proud that I'm able to follow him, though I often have trouble understanding my young Hebrew-speaking classmates, who speak very quietly, very quickly, and often let their thoughts trail off at the end . . . I'm amazed at how pervasive their inaudibleness is. I sometimes want to shake them and say "speak up! It won't kill you if we can hear you!"

But anyhow, I can mostly follow the class, and it's very interesting. We've spent two class sessions teasing meaning and questions out of a Mishnah in the fourth chapter of Tractate Sukkot, about a water ceremony they used to do in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Sukkot. Rather esoteric material, but the topic is not the point. For me the point is seeing how much can be learned from just 15 or so lines of text, the contradictions in logic that emerge, and how commentators attempt to reconcile them. We've already gone through so many threads of commentary, my head is spinning. But, yes, this is my idea of fun!

Also, an unexpected benefit is that Rav Ehrenreich is so grandfatherly, I just have this temptation to bring him hot cocoa. And my classmates, despite their apparent inability to speak louder than a whisper, are very nice people. The school has a genuinely holy atmosphere, in a really accessible way. I've been feeling rather spiritually "blah" lately, so maybe this class will help.

Finally, another aspect I want to share: The new building isn't quite ready yet, so we are learning in the synagogue next door. It is shaped like two igloos stuck together, and looks almost exactly like the Lars farmstead on Tatooine, from the Star Wars movies. Anyhow, this morning we had the study-in-pairs session outside, in the synagogue's Sukkah (quite appropriate, given the subject matter), and it did not escape me that I am really lucky. I was studying Torah all morning, which I am able to do because I work for myself, we were in the shade of a Sukkah, the weather was beautiful, and I was in Jerusalem. Life just doesn't get any better than that.

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