What a remarkable experience to see your baby having a baby. To see your daughter responding with love and maturity to the demands of a new life. It is hard to know where to look first at the baby or at the mother – both are an incredible cause for amazement and thanksgiving. We are grateful that our grandson is healthy and well. We are grateful that mother and father are fine and blessed with everything they require to raise our grandson well. We are truly blessed.
And now we are in Israel – studying at the Hartman Institute. I am participating in the Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar, which has as its subtitle: “Foundations for a Thoughtful Judaism.”
The topic for this summer is: Crisis and Uncertainty: Paradigms of Response.
It has indeed been an amazing year and many of us have “felt the ground moving under our feet” – this year it became almost an earthquake. There is an uncertainly and vulnerability in the world that many of us have never experienced before. Things look very different this summer than they did just one year ago – and the future looks much more challenging for us as individuals and for our institutions than it did just a year ago.
As a result our teachers at Hartman decided to focus our learning this summer on how our tradition responds to crisis and uncertainty.
Rabbi David Hartman gave an opening lecture entitled: “The Contingent Feature of the Jewish View of History.” A religious person is tempted to believe that everything that happens is ultimately part of God’s plan. David Hartman showed that is not the only religious response to crisis and that our sacred sources have other complex ways to respond to history – not only by ascribing everything to God’s will. Sometimes it is very much the absence of God that is experienced in the things that happen to us.
In dealing with crisis we recognize that there is personal crisis and national crisis – and while they are very different in some ways – they are also very similar in the responses they demand from each of us.
We have sessions with colleagues from around the country where we speak about our own sense of how each of us is experiencing: “The ground moving under our feet” – there is a comfort in knowing that others are experiencing what you are experiencing and a wisdom that comes from sharing.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Rabbi Donniel Hartman gave a two-part shiur (lesson) on “Ethical Responses to Uncertainty.”
On Tuesday evening we met with the new mayor of Jerusalem Nir Birkat and were briefed on the challenges and opportunities he sees for this most unusual of cities.
Last night we had a most remarkable lecture presented by one of my favorite scholars here at the Hartman Institute, Dr. Michah Goodman – that was titled: “Personal Crisis and Theological Audacity – Job and the Rabbis” It was one of the most incredible presentations on the book of Job that I ever heard. I am sure you will hear much about this in the months to come.
This morning, Thursday July 9 our study session is led by Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed whose expertise is mystical literature and poetry. We studied Midrashic, Zoharic, and Hasidic strategies for surviving and transforming crisis. We read sections of the Zohar and sermons delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation by Kalonymus Kalman Shapira the Rebbe of Piaseczno. We studied poems by the contemporary Israeli poets Zelda and Yehuda Amichai as well as one poem written after the war in 1945 by a polish Jew, called “The Bridge” – it goes as follows:
I didn’t believe,
Standing on the bank of a river
Which was wide and swift,
That I would cross that bridge
Plaited from thin, fragile reeds
Fastened with bast.
I walked delicately as a butterfly
And heavily as an elephant,
I walked surely as a dancer
And wavered like a blind man.
I didn’t believe that I would cross that bridge,
And now that I am standing on the other side,
I don’t believe I crossed it.
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