Archive for the '8.4.5 Shavuot' Category

The Wholehearted Hurt of Revelation: Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash, and Rava

Recently I had a chance to teach a class for the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s S’more Learning: A Campy Pre-Shavuot Celebration. It was a great event. We have a great team. Noting the COVID-19 pall that has fallen over us this year I wanted to give some voice to the anguish and sadness that many of us are experiencing. I wanted to share with you a taste of that class.

During this time of extended social isolation I keep finding myself listening to Johnny Cash‘s 2002 cover of Michael Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nail‘s song Hurt. Enjoy this video:

 

There is a lot of emotion in this song. While it might have originally been a lament of drug addiction and depression, Cash’s rendition seems like a painful retrospective of a long life. One line that I have been mulling over is:

I hurt myself today

To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain

The only thing that’s real ( Hurt, NIN 1994)

While I hope no one wants to hurt themselves, I think many of us can relate to experience of feeling numb after weeks of sheltering in place.

I was thinking about this image when reviewing a Gemara in Shabbat that discusses what happened on Shavuot at Sinai. The Israelites receive the Torah with the words  Na’aseh V’nishmah- we said “We will do” before “We will hear”. In the Talmud our merit is our belief and conviction coming before our discernment and understanding. It is in this context that we learn a strange story about Rava. There we learn:

The Gemara relates that a heretic saw that Rava was immersed in studying halakhaand his fingers were beneath his leg and he was squeezing them, and his fingers were spurting blood. Rava did not notice that he was bleeding because he was engrossed in study. The heretic said to Rava: You impulsive nation, who accorded precedence to your mouths over your ears. You still bear your impulsiveness, as you act without thinking. You should listen first. Then, if you are capable of fulfilling the commands, accept them. And if not, do not accept them. He said to him: About us, who proceed wholeheartedly and with integrity, it is written: “The integrity of the upright will guide them” (Proverbs 11:3) ( Shabbat 88a-b)

Like the song Hurt we see Rava injuring himself. In this context the heretic seems very reasonable. Why would anyone want to hurt themselves?

I have no interest in defending Rava, Nine In Nails, or Johnny Cash, but I do want to understand this urge to experience reality through an exploration of grief and pain. I have many thoughts here but for now I just want to offer one word alluded to in Rava’s response to the heretic- wholeheartedness.

As Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The risk of revelation is that we will be forced to confront the darkness. If we are brave enough to explore this we will be blessed to share the infinite light. One of the lessons of Shavuot is that if we can get in touch with the hurt, we can wholeheartedly experience the joy.

-For full class check the source sheet

 

Merry Shavuot?

Recently a non Jewish colleague wished me a happy holiday and than surprised me with an apology. She was worried that it might not be appropriate to wish someone a happy Shavuot. Is Shavuot a joyous or sad holiday? Be it a harvest festival or the celebration of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, Shavuot is clearly a happy holiday. But her apology did leave me thinking. Most of calendar a is filled with they-tried-to-kill-us-and-failed-so-lets-eat holidays.  Maybe for Jews our surviving the never ending cycle of violence is the  definition of a happy holiday. So is Shavuot a merry holiday? 

This question gets spelled out graphically in the Gemara in Shabbat. There we learn:

“And they stood under the mount” ( Exodus 19:17)  Rabbi Avdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: This [literal reading ‘under’] teaches that the Holy One, blessed be God, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,’If you accept the Torah, all is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ Rabbi Aha ben Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah [It provides a legitimate excuse for non-observance, since it was forcibly imposed in the first place.] Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahashverosh [the King from the Purim story in the book of Esther] , for it is written, “[the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.]”( Esther 9:27) [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had accepted long before. ( Shabbat 88a)

While the Gemara reframes the acceptance of the additional commandments instituted around the holiday of Purim to be an acceptance of the entirety of the Torah, it starts by framing Shavuot as another violent holiday. In this context Shavuot is not unique in terms of it being a celebration of our near brush with extinction, it is unique that the the assailant here is God God’s self. Is why we get rewarded by eating cheesecake?

Image result for cheesecake MERRY SHAVUOT. Stay safe and have a joyous holiday.

Camouflaged Education: Another Look at Israel Education

photo2How could I try to hide in plain sight? Well if I was well camouflaged I might use any combination of materials, coloration or illumination for concealment. In the wild I might do this by making myself hard to see in my environment or by disguising myself as something else. In terms of education I might do a great job by simply not announcing what I am doing as educational. I was thinking about this during a recent conference for the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History. Thanks to generous support of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations with contributions from The Marcus Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the iCenter brought together representatives from 27 camps to have their staff explore how they might animate Israel in their camps for their campers.

It was in this context that one of the fellows remarked, “I used to think that there are Jewish camps that taught about Judaism and other camps that were fun. Our camp is a fun camp. And now I get it. You are asking us to make learning about Israel fun.” All of these mostly college aged fellows came together with many Israeli counterparts to enhance the Israel educational programming at their camps. The goal is to get them serious content through activities and materials in a way that they can customize to fit naturally in their camp environment. I am confident that fellows get it. Israel education can happen with rich content and subtle complexity, but at camp it needs to be camouflaged as fun.

Camouflaged education might be the essence of Shavuot, which begins tonight. The premise of our getting the Torah was our promise first to observe the laws of the Torah, and only afterward to study these laws. We received the Torah at Sinai because we said, “na’aseh v’nishma– We will do and we will hear/understand.” (Exodus 24:7) If we needed to study it in a formal setting first we might never have committed ourselves to the venture. There is a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric out there today, especially on our college campuses, and it gives me peace of mind to know that we can create a utopia of Jewish camp in which Israel education can hide in plain sight.

– Reposted from The Canteen.

 

 


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