randomness...: March 2007

My opinions, updates on my life, all sorts of "randomness"...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This weekend there was a scholar-in-residence at Anshe Shalom, Rabbi Alex Israel. He's an amazing teacher, and I had the opportunity to hear him talk several times over the weekend. He said so many great things, and I know I can't really do it justice, but I wanted to share a little bit of what he taught...

The shiur (class) this morning was called The "Seder" of the Seder and mostly focused on the structure of the Magid section of the Seder. He suggested that rather than the the mitzvah of zocher or remembering, on Pesach we also have the mitzvah of sippur or telling a story. In order to keep the seder exciting, the seder itself it enormously creative & inventive, and uses many different methodologies in the way it tells the story. Besides keeping the story interesting, and keeping people engaged, it also has the dual purpose of allowing some Torah learning to seep into the story, even if only in teaching us how to learn.

There's a cycle of four methods that repeats throughout the Magid section: 1) Questions, 2) Matchil b'ganot, oomasim b'shevach (telling a story starting with the bad, ending with the good), 3) Talmud Torah (torah study) , & 4) Hallel (praise).

Even people who know very little about the text of the seder often know one line. "Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot" "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Especially for children, asking a question is a great way to start a conversation, start teaching. There's a great story in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 115b) about a student, Abaye, attending a seder at the house of his teacher, Rabbah. To Abaye's surprise, when the seder had only just begun, Rabbah ordered the dishes cleared from the table. In surprise Abaye asked his teacher, "Why are you removing the seder plate before we have even eaten?" to which Rabbah replied, " We're now exempt from saying 'ma nishtanah'!" From this we learn that the purpose of Ma Nishtanah is to begin a conversation, to begin the story, and getting someone to ask a genuine question by doing something out of the ordinary fulfills that need.

2-Matchil b'ganot, oomasim b'shevach
"There once lived an evil witch...and then the all lived happily ever after!" Everyone's heard these type of stories. They begin with the evil, and end when everything is okay. In the seder this repeats several times, starting with "We were slaves...now we are free!"

3-Talmud Torah
Studying the text and the laws of the the seder through the rabbinic system of learning Torah or Gemarah or any Jewish text not only helps us top learn the laws, but it also helps us to learn how to learn! Taking a sentence, taking a law, breaking it down into it's smaller parts and seeing the background behind it all...A method that works in other types of learning as well, not just learning Torah. The first example of this methodology in the Magid section, is "ma'aseh b'rabi eliezer..." "It happened that Rabbi Eliezer..."

The idea of Hallel, the need to spontaneously burst into song of praise for Hashem. This is one of my favorite parts of the Seder, and I love the subtlety of it. The paragraphs that we learned fun tunes to when we were kids, actually have an important role and have a real purpose! Continuing through the beginning of Magid, the first example of this is Baruch Hamakom.

I just want to end by mentioning one more thing that Rabbi Israel spoke about. During lunch on Shabbas the topic was "The Pesach Experience in Jerusalem," and Rabbi Israel painting this vivid scene for us about what it used to be like in Temple times when everyone would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pesach. He kept speaking about the carnival atmosphere, the sense of compassion, and people everywhere sharing in the holiday together. I immediately thought about my trip this past fall. Being in new locations, surrounded by other people doing the same thing, there was this bond with complete strangers, this need to help each other out, to share food, watch each other's belongings, give each other directions and advice...Now imagine how much stronger this bond would have been in Yerushalyim, such a holy city, during such a holy time!! The spirituality must be immense, a tangible feeling even...just thinking about it gives me chills!

I'm spending the seders with my family for the first time in 5 years. I spent last Pesach in Alabama with Rachel & Avi, the year before in Israel, the year before in Ann Arbor (again with Rachel), before that in Oak Park with Kimmie's family...and now I'll be back in Florida with my family and the Bergers. And while I'm sooo excited about this Pesach, I'm also looking forward to the time when we'll all be back together in Israel.

B'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalyim!
Next Year in Jerusalem!

Monday, March 12, 2007

One of my former Young Judaea kids, Julia Young, is a finalist in the American Eagle Campus Comedy Challenge. Check her out, she's crazy funny, and make sure to vote for her (she's in the bracket for region 3)!

Been crazy busy lately, working tons of hours, constantly doing things...Loving work despite the annoying commute...I started doing the layout for the Coffee Table Books at Agile and it's been crazy fun, plus I just revamped all the wedding packages so there's some cool new things going on...

Some fun trips coming up. Going snowboarding in VT with Katie & Yoni this coming weekend, Florida with the fam for Pesach, then San Fran with Yael the weekend after Pesach. All awesome, exciting trips :)

Okay, back to watching The Black Donnellys!!


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