Dreaming of Jerusalem in a Jewish History Class

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Not sure if I ever mentioned this, but I am in love with Jewish learning. I am trying my best to match up to my new countrymen that had all the studying opportunities I was never able to experience in the Soviet Union. To set the record straight, the education system, generally, was much better there. Definitely in school. Granted, I did go to an elite one, where we had the best teachers, and I heard the name of George Gershwin and listened to “Porgy and Bess” in my music class and read Romain Rolland and Stendhal in literature. I obtained my degree in English while studying ancient history, philosophy, and world literature. I am very thankful for that. However, Jewish education was off limits. When I heard the memorable “Learn, learn and learn” – Lenin‘s famous quote, little did I know that the origins of this tradition lie in his long-forgotten Jewish ancestry. 

Fortunately for me, my love for learning, literature, and history was able to be channeled toward Jewish learning once I arrived in the blessed land of the USA. Each day I try to learn more, and each day I realize that I know so little.

Yesterday, I went to another class with the professor I liked last year, Dr. Jeffrey Woolf. The class is called “The War on Talmud”, and talks about the start of the organized campaign against the Code of Jewish Law in early Middle Age Europe. What is amazing, and is the reason I wanted to take a class with this professor, is the fact that Dr.Woolf has this vast knowledge of history, languages, Torah that I can only admire. He easily goes from Latin to French to Italian to Yiddish to Hebrew. He delves into early Xtian exegetes with the same ease, it seems, that he picks quotes from the Tanach or  the Talmud.

Sitting in his class brings me even more to my place of dreams – Jerusalem. Soon enough I will B’H be there learning at Pardes again. This year I am taking a class in “Beginner’s Talmud” taught by one of my favorite teachers – Yaffa Epstein. I will encounter people that are similar to me, different from me, and those whose paths I would have never crossed were it not for Jewish learning. People that sit and learn “lishma – for the sake of learning Torah itself. No prizes, no praise, no reward.

When we are talking about Jewish leadership, it would be nice to know that people aspiring to be our leaders are taking note of these and other multiple teachers of our nation. They love learning, teaching and do not put arrogance and judgment in front of those of us, who are aspiring to run after them in the hope of acquiring more wisdom. Not haughtiness, not kavod, but the humility that inevitably comes with more knowledge.

In this week’s Parsha Korach is coming at Moshe precisely because of wanting more kavod. A colleague of mine, Dr. Ackerman says “… Korach misses entirely:  Moses’ leadership is rooted in his self-awareness and humility.  Korach thinks leadership is about power and he grabs for it.  Moses is reluctant to assume power because he knows leadership is about empowering others.”

May our learning, whether Jewish or not help us see the power of humility and achieve peace in our time.

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