Now, where were we? As yes, Shabbat.
On Friday, after a Q&A session with current HUC students out of their year in Israel and a quiet afternoon, we returned to HUC for a pre-Shabbat program. There, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, the former director of our program, led a workshop on the meaning of Shabbat. We broke into pairs and examined (or at least aspired to examine) six places where Shabbat is mentioned in the Torah. My partner and I focused on several aspects of the texts we were studying:
1. Genesis 2:2, we read that God rested מכל-מלאכתו אשר עשה (from all the work that God did), while in Genesis 2:3, after God blesses the seventh day, we read that God sanctified it because God rested מכל-מלאכתו אשר-ברא אלוהים לעשות (from all the work that God created to do). One explanation my partner and I generated is that not only did God cease from laboring but God also ceased from designing more labor to complete. In other words, to fully embrace the sanctity of Shabbat means not only to cease from work but also to stem the flood of work-related thoughts and impulses that distract us from appreciating creation, which is by its nature
2. We also compared the commandment to remember the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments and the reminder to observe the Sabbath in Deuteronomy's retelling of the Ten Commandments. The second iteration of the commandment includes a requirement that all of one's servants are also to rest, for we are to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. My partner and I discussed (though not exhaustively) the process of specification that has taken place over the course of the Torah. First, Shabbat was an undiluted fact, then it became something that we were commanded to recognize, and then it became something whose recognition required a certain set of dos and don'ts. Although I use the language "Shabbat became..." what's more likely is that we changed and required more instruction in how to live in harmony with the sanctity of Shabbat. Today, it's harder than ever as we are constantly bombarded with distractions, so our study of the meaning of Shabbat takes on a more urgent tone than in generations past.
Therefore, we expanded our groups and shared what we'd like Shabbat to be for us this year. My answer was that I wanted (A) to find a way to recognize Shabbat by not doing schoolwork, (B) to explore meaningful opportunities of becoming better acquainted with people and places, and finally (C) to take advantage of the panoply of Jewish observances in Jerusalem and them time I have to sample them. Most future Shabbats are going to require me to work, probably at Shabbat services, so I want to take advantage of the chance to be led through Shabbat rather than the other way around. Additionally, to many rabbis, Shabbat services are extremely important moments of interaction with a Jewish community; I think it's important for me to find out what services mean to me. I didn't go to services last year while working at City Year, and though I missed what had become a weekly ritual for me, I nevertheless didn't feel a slackening of my Jewish identity. So the question remains: How important are Shabbat services, and in what way? I hope to find some answers (as there are, no doubt, many) to that question and to be prepared to help others find answers for themselves as well.
Naturally, this discussion led into a kabbalat Shabbat service, which was populated mostly by members of our class and guests. I've been to a small number of services this year (and I've written about them here before), but I continue to love and appreciate the beauty and strength of our HUC student congregation. Not since the "good ole days" of Hillel have I looked forward to services so much, and I'm endlessly grateful that I am part of a community again in which I feel I can pray.
After services, we were provided dinner (though sadly, we shouldn't come to expect such royal treatment!). The food was fantastic, but the song session that proceeded it eclipsed the meal entirely. Most of the class made it to their feet and found themselves dancing in place at one time or another. We had several song leaders who were all inspirational with their ruach and their guitars. When I returned home that night, the notes were still humming in my mind.
And the beat goes on...! Saturday morning services were also at HUC, this time with the entire community of HUC regulars and guests. Cantor Tamar Havilio (head of the School of Sacred Music here) and Rabbi Michael Marmur (director of HUC Jerusalem) led services beautifully and inspirationally. Rabbi Marmur's d'var focused on the relationships between קרב (battle) and קורבן (offering) and מלחמה (war) and לחם (bread) and the ability and necessity to "convert" one to the other.
After kiddush, I came home to eat lunch and take care of some paperwork and laundry (all the while wondering if I was exhibiting the true meaning of Shabbat!), and at 6:30, I went to a potluck dinner at the apartment of some of my classmates. They're on the bottom floor of the building and have access to a patio area which was big enough for all 40 guests that attended the event! There was excellent food (including delicious vegetarian chili), and I had several enjoyable conversations. After it got dark, we got into a circle and had a havdalah service (again with the beautiful singing!). It was an excellent evening, and I definitely look forward to the next one!
That havdalah, as Jaclyn pointed out, separated not only Shabbat from the rest of the week but also our pre-HUC lives from our in- and post-HUC lives, for as of today (Sunday), we are officially in school. (As such, we had an introductory biblical archeology lecture today as well as our first Hebrew lesson, about which I will likely write tomorrow or Tuesday.) Orientation is over, and it's time to get cracking on all that "learning" they have in store for us. But I'm really quite excited. I'm excited to be learning Hebrew again, and I'm excited to be in a community of people who are also excited to be here. Let's roll!