Lots of wonderful things have been happening here in Jerusalem over the past week. I opened an Israeli bank account with the aide of a lovely woman named Batsheva (for a more in-depth account, read Miriam's blog here), I went to two yoga classes at Pardes, had an amazing conversation about the mikveh with Will, went to a delicious dinner at Caffit with Miriam (Kelly - you were right, the salads are amazing!), ate falafel, studied the story of the casting out of Ishmael (did you know that Hagar actually fits the archetype of a patriarch rather than a matriarch? she talks directly to God [really an angel, but whatever] and finds a wife for her son), and had two great lessons on Martin Buber. Also, I went to Pomerantz, which is a great religious bookstore downtown and purchased some books for class and also a new siddur.
This past weekend was the first Pardes Shabbaton of the year. We left Pardes Thursday afternoon, and spent Shabbat at what used to be the home of Young Judaea YearCourse (not Beit Riklis - the new place) until Hadassah lost all of their money and had to sell their fancy new building, and is now the Judaea Youth Hostel. It was a beautiful Shabbat, full of singing and dancing and rest and relaxation. And, because it's Pardes, text study and shiurim (lessons). Lots and lots of text study and shiurim. We talked about teshuva, we talked about Jewish journeys, we talked about dealing with the diversity of the Pardes community, etc., etc. I had a really good time, which seems like an understatement to describe the weekend, because it's much more complex than that, but I'm tired and a little sick, and all I can think of right now is I had a really good time.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about teshuva lately - much of that is because of Pardes, and the fact that almost all of my classes are studying things related to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but a lot of it is just because of me. I've had several conversations recently about what teshuva actually is - is it just repentance, or is it something more? I think the definition I've settled on for myself is that doing teshuva means taking stock of where I am and what I've done during the past year. It's not just reflecting on those things, though, because I think teshuva is also about taking action; it's about deciding what I'm happy and unhappy with about my life, and making changes based on those decisions. And definitely not treating my repentance in a superficial way, like when all of my friends posted Facebook status last year declaring "If I've done anything to hurt or offend you in the past year, I'm sorry," which I actually found very offensive, but that's another story...
One of the many text studies I did this weekend was about how to begin teshuva - that is, how it can seem overwhelming at the start, because it's a big task to ask that we repent for every little thing we've done wrong since last Yom Kippur. Yaffa Epstein, the teacher leading the shiur, brought us a text that told a story (which I'm paraphrasing) about a king and his son. The son had traveled far from home, and the king was asking him to return. The son says "It's too far - I am a hundred days distance from home." And the king replies "Go as far as you can, and I will meet you there." In case you weren't sure, in this story we are the son, and God is the king. I think it's an incredibly powerful statement - that during this time of teshuva, we should do as much work as we can, but we don't have to finish. God expects of us only what we are capable of doing and nothing more - we have to take the first step, but if that's the only step we can take than God will understand, and meet us there.
It's a philosophy that I think I want to apply to all of my religious life, and not just to teshuva - because there are times when I want to take on more mitzvot and there are times when the only mitzvot I can think about doing are the basic ones, like "don't steal" and "don't kill people." But God understands - God knows that I am tired, or frustrated, or overwhelmed by the things that have happened during this past year, and doesn't need me to do any more than that. It's a comforting thought.
The other thing I took away from the Shabbaton was a greater sense of belonging within the Pardes community. We needed some quality outside of class time together to get past some of the social awkwardness of meeting a new group of people, and it definitely worked. Yay for making new friends! And with that, I wish you all a lovely Monday.