Thursday, September 30, 2004

School is delicious this term; I wish I didn't need to sleep.

I'm writing this after midnight on Sukkot, and the reason I'm up so late is that I came home from school yesterday and crashed into bed, after making the mistake of going to the grocery store while ravenous. I guess I need to work on the balance in my life.

I'd started the day at school at 7 a.m., doing some extra Talmud study with a senior student. I was skeptical of the time, originally -- ugh, do I really want to get up so early? -- but it was wonderful. There were a small group of us, lots of questions, and I learned a lot more about how to read a daf [page of Talmud]. Page layout is just the beginning of the puzzle: there are special words to let you know that "the following argument was brought up but ultimately defeated," and "the following argument resolved the question," and so on. There is a huge cast of characters to research, and it is hard to know what a sage is really saying if you don't have a clue who he is and when he lived. Gersh, our guide, was patient and encouraging, and by the end of the hour-and-a-half, I was jazzed: I can do this!

Then it was time for official school, with Prophets class. Dr. Eskenazi introduced us to Hosea and his "made-in-Heaven" marriage (which has to be one of the most horrible marriages on record.) We're reading Heschel on the prophets, and the prophets themselves, along with some commentaries, and it is very exciting, mostly because it's clear that I didn't know anything about those guys. I think I've had more of an acquaintence with them than most of my classmates, but as with the Torah class last year, I find that everything I thought I knew is at best only part of the story.

Then, history with Dr. Firestone. We looked at and compared the stories of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22 in Jewish and Christian Bibles) and the "Intended Sacrifice" in the Quran (37:99-111). That gave us a gate through which to look at the differences between the three religions and how they tend to see one another. It was fascinating stuff, and there is a feeling of urgency to this learning for me. Given my own feeling that Jews and Christians do not understand one another nearly as well as we think we do -- that our communications are confused by misinformation and misperception and projection -- I think it is no surprise that things between us and Muslims are even more of a tangle. The question in my mind lately is, if I were able to turn off all the projections and preconcieved notions I've got about Islam, would there be anything left in my head at all about the subject?

I went to lunch with a classmate, who showed me a little vegan restaurant not far from campus. I've changed my practice of kashrut [Jewish dietary laws] removing meat from my diet altogether, and I'm on a learning curve about that. We had a nice chat about kashrut, and school, and our pulpits, and then it was time to head back to school for Talmud.

In Talmud class, the day came full circle. We studied the sugya [portion of Talmud] from Kiddushin that a few of us had gone over with Gersh in the morning. It is encouraging to realize that even so early as the time of the development of the Gemara (200 - 500 C.E.) students and teachers were already looking at the Mishnah and wondering what some of it meant! The language of the sugya was easy -- amazing how quickly we're adapting to Aramaic -- but there were subtleties upon subtleties in the discussion. Thus the school day ended at 2:30 pm.

That's when I went to the car, realized the larder at home was empty, and headed to the grocery. I came home, put stuff in the fridge, and fell asleep until I woke at 10 pm!

I'm glad for the long weekend. I've a sermon to write, preparations for next week at my pulpit, lots and lots of preparation for class next week, and the housework that piles up from a week of stumbling in the door, running to do a few things, and then falling asleep.

It's Sukkot, and I am feeling a different connection to the little booths this year. It is indeed harvest time, and I am harvesting in the fields of learning as fast as I can, making hay while the sun shines. I need to construct myself a shelter in these fields, a shelter of balance and routine, of family and love, to get the most out of the experience. Family and love I've got: I am blessed in that department! Balance and routine is one of this year's extra-curricular tasks, I think.

I wish you a chag sameach, a good holiday!

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