Here we are back in real life.
Neve end of the year siyum was (as always) deeply moving and very beautiful. One of the most noteworthy things this year was that the girls spoke less about themselves, the classes, and what they learned from books, and more about how much they learned from each other. They spoke about seeing what Torah looks like when people actually live it…
This was in my mind stowed away yesterday. I walked to the Old City after a class at Neve. The class there took place in the community center, because it far outgrew a living-room venue. There were about seventy women who came because they wanted Shavuos and receiving the Torah to be more experientially alive. One of my favorite students who some of you know, Marianna, celebrated her 95th birthday there by listening attentively and asking a couple of really on the target questions. At about twenty minutes before the sunrise tefillah was going to start we ended, giving everyone enough time to get to the Kotel. An acquaintance in the Rova has an apartment with a rooftop porch overlooking the Kotel plaza and organized a minyan there. Later in the day, the combination of the way these people extended themselves to others by letting them troop through their home at 4:20 am somehow entwined in my half awake half asleep drift during mussaf with my recollections of the Neve siyum.
YOU CHOSE US- yeah. These people know that all of these people on their roof are family.
YOU GAVE US THE DAY OF SHAVUOS (OATHS) We all were there. We all said that we'd do it.
WE ARE DISTANT FROM OUR LAND Not only our land. The girls sometimes come with no sense of who they are and where they started. Living with friends who are ahead by a step or two changes that.
Much later in the day after a long snooze I found myself at an unusual Yom Tov table. My hosts are worldly sophisticated and unusually welcoming and kind. There was a former Israeli general, a hotel executive, the Canon of Baghdad who among his other responsibilities takes care and gives protection to the six remaining Jews in a city that once had a population of over 20,000 Jews. The conversation was fascinating. One of the questions that the host put to us was, "What do you think the perfect world would be like". The answers were predictable. Peace. Fairness to the poor and oppressed. No hunger. Unconditional love towards everyone. He then asked, "Did the Romans or the Greeks achieve any of these goals"? The answer of course was "no". "How about today's governments" The answer was a more emphatic "no". The Torah's laws are laws that give validation to these goals, and generate a lifestyle that makes them come closer to your grasp" the host maintained. The guests took a few seconds to take it in, but in the end agreed.
That took me back to the speeches at the siyum, but at the same time to the many discussions that I had in the computer room with girls who had suffered deeply while they were still In The System. Their parents, or their teachers, or their rabbi had treated them with distain, or emotional distance when they needed validation and trust. Their questions were either trivialized or served as a springboard for "proving" that they were not really One of Us. Of course there were times their own pain blinded them to the fact that the Bad Guys were just doing their best to protect the precious garden that they were committed to guarding. There were other times that this just wasn't the case. The Bad Guys weren’t innocent; they were ego or desire driven. That left me with a question. How come there is such dichotomy between the experience of the girls who spoke at the siyum and the girls who are part of the Nation of the Disenchanted. It suddenly struck me that my host really had it right. Their suffering wasn't caused by the Torah, it was caused by people who consciously or subconsciously made a decision that they would obey only the laws that worked for them emotionally. The ones that demand unselfishness, humility, and self-control were edited out. They stayed with the ones that demanded less from them internally.
Now that it’s the day after Shavuos, it’s a good idea for you to ask yourself what your face to Face encounter with the truth of Torah really means to you. You can change yourself (at your own pace, and with compassion as well as determination) or you can fall into the trap of getting lost because you are unwilling to look at the GPS you just held in your hand. One of the guests will be calling. She wants to learn more, and to see where it gets her….
Have a great summer!