Hello from the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) in Jerusalem!
My intention had been to write a daily blog about my learning and teaching at the CY during my 6 weeks here - but classes started on Sunday and this is my first post. Something about this visit seems different than my previous visits but I don't know what it is.
I've been in J'slem a week now and have yet to wander about the city or go to the Old City/Western Wall at night. That's very unusual for me. Also, the Yeshiva feels different to me - or perhaps it's that I've been feeling different at the Yeshiva. It might be because it's my first time there as a proper rabbi - whatever that is. But also, I had really looked forward to doing my favorite thing - learning in the Beit Midrash and until today, my learning has been very flat. Even my daily writing has been flat. But today that all changed.
Today was a near perfect day. I woke early and was at the Yeshiva before 7. I was able to spend a good 20 minutes meditating in the sunshine before anyone else arrived. This was very important for me as I teach a Learner's Minyan* (LM) each morning so I only get to daven 3 out of the 5 days of classes. I LOVE teaching the LM but I didn't realize how much I'd miss the structure that actualizing my daily personal spiritual practice provides me. The meditating this morning grounded me and I will continue to do it from now on.
*(Learner's Minyan - a class teaching the hows and whys and structure of daily prayer)
It's interesting - in the LM I made a point of telling the students in LM that our studying together each morning - with the occasional chant and prayer - is a form of prayer. And I stand by that. We are gathering together as an intentional community to study and learn liturgy and to learn/practice ways to increase our connection to the Awesome One. That is prayer. But even though I am totally energized by teaching this class of wonderful, thoughtful, interested people, my daily spiritual needs are not being met. So now they will be with the meditation. Thus the wonderful day began.
My intention is to spend the mornings writing - high holiday sermons, other divrei torah, curriculum, etc. To date I have not gotten very far. Today I was researching a dvar torah on parashat Balak and had an incredibly productive morning. Amazing how much there is to learn about Balaam's ass!
Afternoon learning was a class called "Shema, Tefilla and Bracha" taught by my friend and favorite teacher Rabbi Joel Levy, the Director of the CY. A class with such a title has great promise as it focusses on my favorite topics (how egocentric I am!). In this class we are looking at how the rabbis tried to create an infrastructure for spirituality and Jewish identity in order to sustain Jewish life in the diaspora.
In the first two classes we studied the mishna on the Shema and the parameters of when one is allowed to say the evening and morning Shema.
The message of this chapter, according to Rabbi Joel, is to provide a look at how the rhythms of our life are reflected through text and liturgy. The rhythms of our life are the rhythms of the Jewish people - and the story being told is how our individual stories and rhythms interweave with the rhythms of our people.
It reminds me of one of my favorite concepts - the idea of being one in a minyan. (I've written about this before). Exercising the status and obligation of being one of ten people in a minyan is a powerful action. One makes a statement of belonging, believing and of peoplehood. One also is meshing or interweaving one's individual story and rhythm with the rhythm of our people. To participate in a minyan is to an individual that is part of group but also to be part of a group that is made up of individuals. It proves that there is a way to be a member of a group, to be obligated and to fulfill that obligation without giving up one's individuality. For it is that very individuality that enables the group to exist and act on its purpose.
What does this have to do with the Shema class? Everything and a bit of nothing. But the point is the class got me thinking, B"H. And I'm pleased. My inner nerd is ecstatic. My inner yeshiva girl is dancing about and grinning widely.
I finished my day at the yeshiva doing more research on Balaam. Did you know that midrash has it that he buggered his ass b/c his affection for her was as if she were his wife? Scary, right?
Evening was spent getting a massage and then finishing the day with a group meditation session. The day was well rounded; I was grounded and centered; I got to teach; I was blessed with interesting learning both on my own and with a fantastic teacher. And I walked around Jerusalem a bit in the dark - one of my favorite activities.
Truly a complete and lovely day!