Week 3: Sharing our Torah

Welcome to the third edition of Sparks from the (Zoom) Windows, Romemu Yeshiva’s weekly newsletter. Our goal for this newsletter was simple — to compile the most exciting and meaningful things from our learning and combine them with thoughts from our students, and practices to try at home. Since we believe that the power of hazara (review) is integral to our studies, we hope this newsletter will help us bridge the gap of distance learning, and support the development of a community of engaged learners. Additionally, since there are so many different avenues for learning with us this spring, we hope this newsletter/digest will help cultivate community between the different classes, the cohort, and the broader Romemu community.

IN OUR OWN WORDS

The blessing that we make before studying Torah ends with the words “la’asok b’dvrei torah” (to engage with words of Torah). Many have commented that the Hebrew word “la’asok” (which literally means ‘to engage’) sounds quite similar to our English word “soak.” And that is exactly what we have been doing for the past three weeks in the Romemu Yeshiva — soaking in the words of Torah! You could say that we are ‘sudsy’ with the teachings of the ancient texts of Sefer Yetzirah and Talmud, from the sermons of the Hasidic masters, and from the contemporary teachings of our yeshiva staff.

In light of this, we decided that instead of spotlighting our core classes this week, we will first turn our attention to the Torah that has been bubbling over in our yeshiva students!

Soaking in the river of Torah

Sefer Yetzirah teaches us that the world is made out of words of Torah, and the Me’or Einayim takes this even further by asserting that we are all Torah. At the Romemu Yeshiva, we believe that this means each of our students brings with them unique Torah/teaching that only their specific positionality enables them to pull into the world. We are honored to provide a space for that Torah to manifest!

Below are the beautiful reflections, thoughts, writings, and poetry of our amazing student body.

Poem by Ivana Salander (she/her, NYC) inspired by the Me’or Einayim’s use of ‘animal nature.’

In one life you were my brother

In one life you were my mother

In one life I was your father

In one life we were lovers

In one life we were best friends

In one life we ate each other

In one life I was your dog

In one life you were my dog

In one life we were twins

In one life I was your wife

In one life you were my husband

In this life we are all of those things at once

In one life I was your son

In one life you were my daughter

In one life you were my turtle

In one life I was your turtle

Anonymous student

“Having gone to a left brain yeshiva as a ba’alot tshuva out of choice, now experiencing Romemu’s integration of right and left is so deep for me and I feel so grateful.”

Victoria Baker (they/them, San Marcos, TX)

The Three Mothers (Aleph/Mem/Shin) Meditation in Rabbi Jill Hammer’s class has had an incredible impact on me. Within the meditation we are asked to view the three mothers (whether as the letters or as figures) and receive the gifts that they offer. I’m an artist and I tend to view the world more figuratively than abstract. For me, the three mothers appeared in a primordial cave. The three mothers were dressed in shades of blue, veiled. They held hands in a way that is hard to describe other than it seemed their arms wove together- So Mem, even with Aleph between (Her) and Shin, held the other mothers’ hands. On their veils was their embroidered letter in gold that seemed to glow while delicate whisps of each mother’s letter floated around their covered heads and faces. I have come back to this image a lot in the last 24 hours and I hope sometime this summer to paint it.

Chavruta learning in small pairs!

Anonymous Student on R. Noam’s Tkhines Course

I wish I knew whether or not my grandparents and great grandparents said tikhnes…even though my mom says no. I feel they must have because of all my tears when I hear or speak Yiddish. Unless of course I’m connecting with their souls.

‘Sparks’ by Jessica Litwak (she/her, New York City)

Redeem the

fallen

sparks.

Stray fruit gathered in baskets at

Harvest time.

Sticks and feather to

Build the bonfire of my life.

Fears piles up to burn

Hot

Tears storm down

And flick the flames

Water and fire

Shape me.

Stir my soul from stagnancy

to grace.

I am alive.

How did I let the sparks fall

Did they drop out of my pocket on the subway?

Did the flutter from my open palm when I was pretending to be a butterfly?

How did they spill?

These precious pin drops of fire?

An original tkhine by Jaime S.K. Starr (they/them, Manchester, England). (Although they are not a Yiddish speaker, they used the resources from R Noam’s Tkhines class and a dictionary to craft this beautiful tkhine!!)

Ikh beyt dikh G-t, ikh beyt dikh G-t, ikh beyt dikh G-t, liber G-t, az mayn bunt ongenumen zayn azoy vi a korbn oyf dem mizbeyakh iz ongenumen gevorn.

I ask you G-d, I ask you G-d, I ask you G-d, beloved G-d that my rebellion/revolution shall be accepted just as a sacrifice is accepted upon the altar.

Yehi ratson milfanekha, yehi ratson milfanekha, yehi ratson milfanekha az mayn harts, mayn bunt, mayn tkhines, mayn neshome ongenumen zayn azoy vi zay mir.

May it be Your will as I am before you that my heart, my revolution/rebellion, my prayers, my soul shall be accepted just as I am.

Un shik unz ale di eltern un heylige melokhim tsu bahitn far ale beyzn, di groyzam fun kapitali’zm, has, un ale di vilkir in undzerik fareyn.

And send all of the ancestors and holy angels to protect us from evil, the cruelty of capitalism and all the brutality in our society.

Yehi ratson vos di sheynkayt fun ale velt fekhl durkh un di beyzen fargisn vi vaser, un di beyzen fargisn vi vaser, un di beyzen fargisn vi vaser.

May it be Your will that the beauty of all the world shine through, and the evil pour out like water, and the evil pour out like water, and the evil pour out like water.

Ikh dank dir G-t, ikh dank dir G-t, ikh dank dir G-t.

I thank you G-d, I thank you G-d, I thank you G-d.

Hanhagot (Spiritual Practices) inspired by Reb David’s Every Breath We Take: Jewish Spiritual Life Practices elective:

  • Gavriel Savit (he/him, Springfield, Illinois)

Stop & do not hurry.

Take out your headphones.

Turn off the speakers.

Hear the nign of the world.

You, too, may sing.

  • Roberta Wall (She/her, Asheville, North Carolina)

Greeting people when we are passing by and holding doors open for people.

  • Margo Wolfson (she/her, New Jersey)

Always pause to look up at the sky when walking.

Always smile and slow down when making a b’racha.

Anonymous Student

I loved in Hasidut Bet; “We start with acknowledging our hearts are broken and we bring ourselves into that deep inside to meet G-d and then you can join with that and bring it to the world. Chernobyl Rebbe: Keep my heart open to whatever may come through.”

HASIDUT

Our Hasidut classes were broken up by Hebrew level into Aleph, Bet, and Gimmel. Some folks studied the text from translation, while others from the original Hebrew. But interestingly, even these ‘Hebrew originals’ are not really the ‘original’ teaching!

As with all of Hasidic sermons, this teaching was originally delivered spontaneously and orally in Yiddish, most likely on a Shabbat or holiday. Not only does this mean that it was likely spoken around a bottle of vodka and many l’chaims, but in the traditional world in which R Manehum Nahum of Chernobyl functioned, this means that no one would have been able to write anything down! Therefore the text we have in front of us today is what the hasidim were able to remember hours or days later when they transcribed the teaching. Additionally, to craft it into a ‘respectable’ Jewish source, they felt compelled to translate the Yiddish sermon into proper Hebrew, thereby rendering our ‘originals’ already a reformulation.

A traditional Hasidic gathering (notice who is standing where. How might we drastically re-think that for our times?)

So our reading of an English translation is in truth a translation of a translated memory of the original. And since the sources are so multifaceted and dense, our own readings often result in their own interpretation/translation to make them understandable. In light of this, we wanted to include new renderings of the Torah, as refracted from our three groups.

Please find below the Living Torah of Romemu Yeshiva 2021!!

(To use the words of Rabba Dorothy , this is “a living, dynamic Torah that is still open to editing/wordsmithing/flow!” To get into the ‘Chernobylner mood’, we might suggest listening to this niggun (wordless melody) that is attributed to the Me’or Einayim while reading through our Torah.)

The original text of Parsha Lech Lecha that the Me’or Einayim was riffing on is usually translated as: “The Eternal said to Abram, “Go forth (Lech Lecha) from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (JPS 1985).

This was understood through the Me’or Einayim by Hasidut Aleph as:

Go through your body by way of humility in connection with the Divine to the Land of the Living. Through our shared connection we serve together in partnership. We will graft ourselves together and share our source of nourishment of all things.

And through the prism of Hasidut Gimmel, we got both:

A voice called out, go down, down into and out of your comfort-zone, allow revelation to find you, to allow you to be and to do blessing in the world within and beyond.

And:

And the Unknowable One connected to the One who would be One Chosen One, travel beyond, beyond your core assumptions that tether you to materiality and parental pressures, to a space of unknowing that One will reveal to you in your Youness.

And finally, from Hasidut Bet, one student had the following reflection:

At first I found the Me’or Einayim on Lech Lecha troubling. Are our souls, in their purest form, sitting in heaven, incapable of receiving a gift without guilt? Without debt? Are we not able to receive a gift purely and without those troublesome feelings? What does that say for gifts? Can human selflessness only ever cause its recipient to feel shame? That felt too bleak for me to want to accept. Lately I have been getting more interested in the concept of gift economies. The idea that the most basic and common form of non-currency based economy, rather than being barter, as is often assumed, is in fact a gift exchange economy formed around, well, gifting. People have things, and when others need things, they give them those things, with the understanding that someday a gift will flow in the opposite direction. Perhaps humans are so innately adapted to gift economies because our very neshamot (souls) are unable to countenance receiving without returning, that just as we have a need to share with HaShem in the act of Creation, we have a drive to share creation with one another. That feels much less bleak.

May we continue to add to this ever-flowing stream of Torah to nourish all beings.

Amen, Amen.

SEFER YETZIRAH

In a bittersweet moment of spiritual endings/beginnings, our learning of Sefer Yetzirah with Rabbi Jill Hammer came to a close Thursday. After three weeks of opening the Book of Creation and exploring the vast corridors of wisdom contained therein, we now return to the Created world with newfound insight into the mystical functioning of the elements, letters, time, space, and the body-soul.

For those of us who were mystified by Rabbi Jill’s expositions of such a dense and multi-layered text, all of her commentary on it is available in her book Return to the Place, which includes both a new translation as well as commentary and practice instructions.

Rabbi Jill’s new translation of Sefer Yetzirah

As she has made very clear throughout our learning together, Sefer Yetzirah is not only a text but a call to practice, to ritual. To support this belief, Rabbi Jill has created practices and meditations for each chapter, recordings of which can be found on the book’s website. These recordings will greatly benefit our engagement with the text going forward now that our organized time with Rabbi Jill has come to an end.

While there is so much we could write about for the last week of our class, we are going to focus for our newsletter on the very last chapter we studied, Chapter 6.7, in which Abraham was mentioned for the first time:

When

Abraham our father understood

formed and

transmuted

engraved and carved

delved and reflected

power arose in his hand

and God appeared to him

and made him his friend

and made a covenant with him and his seed

forever and ever

throughout all the

world

This verse frames the brit (covenant) with G-d as “an ongoing carving of relationship and connection.” This is to say it is less of a ‘do this, do that’ relationship, and more like the relationship between water carving a path through rock; what Rabbi Jill described as “the relationship you make when you keep returning to the Place. And the Place keeps returning to you!”

Interestingly, there a few different covenants in the Torah, and when asked why Sefer Yetzirah uplifted the Abrahamic Covenant (instead of the central and oft-mentioned Mosaic Covenant), Rabbi Jill responded that it was because Sefer Yetzirah functions not in the realm of text (which is to say, not in the Mosaic revelation of the Torah at Sinai) but in the realm of “something that comes before that” (i.e. Creation).

The text is therefore framing “engraving” and “carving” as not only something G-d does in creating the world but an exemplary spiritual practice that all humans (as represented by Abraham) can emulate. Reiterating Rabbi Jill’s assertion that this text is a call to action, Sefer Yetzirah presents Creation as something ongoing with which we are always able to interact.

May our work in the world be that of “engraving” and “carving” holiness into the mundane.

Amen.

Thank you so much for reading this week’s edition of Sparks from the (Zoom) Windows!! Click here to join our email list to hear what’s next and how you can get involved!

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