Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Come In, We're Open!

Excitement was in the air today. Whether it was due to the promise of pizza, or the fact that we all looked a little bit nicer, there was a sense of anticipation that hung over the learning today. After countless e-mails had been sent to friends, family, and random strangers, logistics were coordinated, and the usual last-minute dramas were attended to, my own feelings could best be summed up picturing Rav Elie in my head saying, in his own inimitable way, “Folks, this is it.”

The food was good. People of all ages and (non)denominations came. We celebrated Hadar’s transition to permanence, and the establishment of a place of constant learning for men and for women. While the topic of the text study was “Is Life About Torah or is Torah About Life,” the real theme of the evening was to work on closing the gap between the existence of the “Hadar Bubble,” and our mission to be present, often as actively as possible, for the community. After all, the work we do is meaningless if it only serves to impacts the lives of eighteen people until we lock the door of the yeshiva at the end of the day. Yet at the same time, the religious journeys that many of us are going through can be deeply personal. How do we navigate between the life of the mind, and our desire to live in the world?

Rav Eitan brought in a source by the Rambam, who expressed this very concern. The Rambam worries that the individual learner who sits in yeshiva all day studying Torah will not be able to translate his or her knowledge into a real-world context. When that happens, ironically, the Torah that the full-time scholar is studying ceases to become Torah. Yet the question doesn’t end there. The Kesef Mishneh and the Yam Shel Shlomo have their own worries; what can be done on a communal level to transmit Torah to the next generation?

In the end, there are two pieces to this puzzle, the individual and the community, and they each have to make a commitment to meet the other halfway. Rav Shai put it nicely when he said that “every step towards God is a step towards—not away from—the world.” As we engage in this intense, sometimes deeply personal process we should be aware of a constant movement towards connection with others. At the same time we move to connect with others, they can take the step of joining us in the Beit Midrash, and providing us with a support system that we can rely on. And what a glorious meeting that will be.

Folks, this is the start of something big.

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