Hello from your Correspondent on the Ground at ALEPH Kallah 2013. This is my first Kallah, and I’m inspired to post as a naive participant in this week long adventure of Torah. My goal is to post at least once a day. I’ll post tonight again if I am able. I would appreciate your words of support and comment, and any stories that are sparked for you.
I am in the middle of a forest, a stone’s throw away from a lake and a mountain, davennen, learning and schmoozing with 600 of my closest friends. The largest contingent is from Boston, but we’ve got folks from all over the country, and from as far away as Israel, Brazil and Australia. This morning’s session (I was only able to take one class out of a dizzying array of 15) was Talmud with David Ingber of New York’s Romemu.We studied a text from Tractate Ta’anit, 20A, which tells the story of a sage who encounters a very ugly man. The ugly man says hello to the Rebbe, and the great man refuses to acknowledge him. Then the sage says the man is so ugly, and he wonders aloud if all city dwellers are as ugly. Notably, he calls the man, ‘ empty one,’ implying that he is empty of Torah knowledge. So our great sage has made a human being feel invisible, has insulted, offended and harmed the ugly man’s spirit, AND he’s insulted the city he comes from. The ugly man replies that he doesn’t know if he’s ugly or if the city he comes from is filled with ugly people, but he exhorts the Rabbi to go to the Craftsman who made him and report to Him how ugly is the vessel he made.”After the ugly man speaks, the Rebbe immediately recognizes the error of his ways, prostrates himself before the ugly man and asks his forgiveness. But the ugly man won’t let him off the hook so easily. He says he won’t forgive him until he take the matter of the ugliness of this vessel with God. Rabbi Ingber explicated this bit of text by saying that of course we must imagine this man, who is described by the Talmud as being exceedingly ugly; ugly without need for context; the very definition of ugly. And naturally, Rabbi Ingber continues, he’s got a beef with God for making him this way, such that everyone who sees him responds in such a way as to let him know that he is ugly. OF course he has a chip on his shoulder!! And Rabbi Ingber invited us to consider that the ugly man is asking the Rebbe who wronged him to bring the matter up before God as a matter of Justice.
This is only a very brief snippet from a much longer and more complex series of readings of this text, to give you the flavor. We studied in small groups — one of my partners was a secular Israeli, (so his Hebrew/Aramaic was good, Baruch haShem) and another was a Rabbi from Florida, and yet another was a media personality from Rhode Island. Together we struggled with the text, thinking through ambiguities, looking at the story’s structure and trying to determine the function of the story from being able to discern its structure. Text study is my way to the heart of Judaism (and my own Jewish heart), reflecting light back and forth from one to the other. This class was a gift, and I can’t wait until tomorrow’s session. The gift, the Jew-el of this class is a combination: the teacher, my partners, our collective discussion and meaning making, so much inquisitive serious wrestling with minutiae, the messages we receive and craft from Talmud, and of course Kol Echad: the idea that through the generations and into the future, we are all one brilliant and beautiful, expressive and creative symphony of life, continuously contributing our actions to the Source.
One more thing I will mention – I am meeting so many people, and as you would expect, everyone has a story. And every story is a huge whomping emotional ride. People come to Kallah for so many reasons. For healing, for rejoicing, for reconnecting, to try something new … but all of those generic terms do not hold a candle to the actual stories I’ve heard. People are here because Jewish Renewal feeds their souls. Nourishes them with vital nutrients that make possible so much more than simple survival. I’ve heard people speak from the place where they’re just beginning to ride the wave of their own destiny. I’ve met shattered people who have come to us from places of loss and significant bereavement, to heal and begin to regain their foothold on the world. I’ve seen people here to celebrate life together, and to support one another as they grow in Jewish Renewal Yiddishkeit.
More later from ALEPH Kallah. We’ll keep you posted. —- Noach Dzmura, ALEPH staff