To learn more about the Pardes Learning Seminar program, which runs during the summer and winter, please visit www.pardes.org.il/seminar.
Where do I begin? I spent five days last week with Pardes for the first time. The experience was revelatory.
A few weeks previously, the new Senior Rabbi of our synagogue in New York City had contacted several congregants, including me, and asked if we would be interested in learning with Pardes. I knew about Pardes but had never participated in their programs before. I did not know what to expect, but I readily agreed to register.
The 2021 Pardes Learning Seminar was entitled Cultivating Courage & Resilience. This was an apt title for a post-pandemic seminar, but I was apprehensive about spending a week reliving some of the issues of the previous year. Nevertheless, upon inspection of the schedule, I realized that I was familiar with some of the faculty (in fact, I had been reading the book of one faculty member) and was intrigued by the titles of the courses. With registration completed, I waited for the seminar to begin on July 4th with a houseful of the family I had not seen in a year in tow and clear instructions that I would be occupied most of the day for five days straight.
Once the seminar began I was completely absorbed. The schedule was jam-packed but well organized. The instructors were well prepared and engaging, some were even remarkable in their presentation of new perspectives on texts that were very familiar to most. For me, the most memorable aspect of the program was the havruta breakouts. Attendees from all over the world thoughtfully and richly shared their input on the topics under discussion. To be frank, I was the most concerned about the havruta part of the curriculum, and am still somewhat surprised that it was the part of the program that I looked forward to each and every day.
It is hard to single out any one session from the week, truthfully, all were good. Each class that I took proved to be strong and thought-provoking. Each session contributed to my understanding that Torah is made and remade by those who engage in serious study. Traditional interpretations contrasted with newer perspectives, yet all were firmly rooted in text and a deep devotion to learning.
I thrill to think of this week with Pardes. I miss it already and look forward to the next time I can immerse myself in such a sea of learning. Also, I fully intend to thank my Rabbi for inviting me to attend the Pardes Learning Seminar. I believe many individuals would cherish the experience, and I fully intend to return to Pardes as often as I can in the years to come.
Several months ago I became interested in studying Torah. It’s not something I have done before. I grew up in a secular home with limited exposure to formal Jewish education. My father was raised in an orthodox environment yet renounced his orthodoxy as a young adult. So I was exposed to a strange mix of Jewish knowledge within the shadow of rejection. It took years for me to find my footing and get to this point, and now it has become important for me to know more and connect to my Jewish heritage.
One day, in a casual street stop-and-chat with my rabbi, I expressed this interest. Like a good teacher, he listened, so I wasn’t surprised when he reached out a few weeks later and suggested that I consider the Pardes Summer Learning Seminar as a way to begin this journey. This seemed to me like a good way to test the idea of Torah study to see if this was truly something I wanted to fully commit to.
The theme of the 2021 Summer Seminar was Cultivating Courage & Resilience. Now that I have completed the seminar, I see how much courage it took to say yes to engage in this week of learning and how much resilience I needed for each day of study.
Within a few minutes of beginning the seminar, self-doubt kicked in. I could hear how learned and knowledgeable other students were. I questioned whether I would be able to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. Like the spies in Parshat Shelach (Numbers, 14 & 15), I turned myself into a grasshopper in the eyes of my fellow students.
I found immediate inspiration from Sefer Yehoshua, Chapters 1 – 5, “The LORD said to Joshua…Be strong and resolute….be very strong and resolute.” With the study of Yehoshua, I began the process of learning.
From my first Havruta session I began to engage with the text. My partners helped me to understand that we are all on the periphery, working our way to the center. I came to see that there was no right or wrong. I learned that each text has an author, and that author has a plan. Our interpretation reflects who we are, what we believe and what we relate to.
As the week progressed, I enjoyed getting to know my classmates. I began to feel more comfortable with the material and in contributing to the conversation. I could feel myself slowly believing, like Calev in Numbers 13:30, that surely I can do it.
So many of the teachings resonated with me. I will hold onto the idea from Deuteronomy, Chapter 11, verses 10-13, that it takes faith to live with uncertainty but we can act upon and have gratitude for what we do know
10. For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden.
11. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven.
I was particularly moved by the classes on Cultivating the Spiritual Practice of Self Confidence and Walking with Your Inner Spirit with Yiscah Smith. I was inspired with the idea of having the courage to find the divine in yourself. From the teaching of Bnei Machshava Tova, Entry 8 – The Piaseczner Rebbe – Rav Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira,
“For Every feeling that is connected to something of “this world” opens a spark of our soul, but with this our soul becomes revealed a little bit. Let us then consciously draw her out even more. Let us endear ourselves to her, greeting her with words of love, awe and pure God directed mindfulness.”
Participating in this Pardes Learning Seminar has helped to affirm my interest in continuing to study Torah. I am excited to have embarked on my journey and look forward to what lies ahead. I am thankful for having been recommended to study with Pardes, a learning environment that is open to students of all levels and backgrounds. The seminar was well run and the teachers and staff were very accessible and knowledgeable. All I can say is thank you and see you next year in Jerusalem!