Thursday, February 2, 2012

I learned a brand new blessing just in time for Tu Bishvat

I earned a double degree when I was an undergraduate student.  I graduated the joint program between Teachers Institute, now known as List College, of JTS and Columbia University.  I earned a BA from Columbia and a BHL, Bachelors of Hebrew Letters from T.I.  Despite carrying a full load of Judaic courses at the Seminary as an undergraduate and rabbinical student, I always found chevrutot, study partners, to study Torah Lishma, Torah for its own sake, unrelated to my class work.

I continued this tradition of Torah Lshma, first in Springfield, MA, next in Framingham, MA, and now in Queens.  Ever Since I moved to NY some 8 ½ years ago, I’ve been studying with Rabbi Marvin Richardson of the Jericho Jewish Center once a week.  I have studied Talmud, Biblical commentaries, and Hassidic Masters.  I am constantly surprised how interconnected my Jewish life is.  Inevitably what I am learning lishma, for its own sake without any conscious connection to my practical life, is relevant to what I happen to be learning or doing elsewhere.  This happens too often for it to be a coincidence.

Take my latest example.  For the last 4 years Rabbi Richardson and I have been working our way through the tractate Brachot.  As I am preparing to leave for Israel on my Leadership Institute for Hebrew School Principals Israel Seminar next week, Rabbi Richardson and I learned a new blessing.  “The Rabbis taught in a baraita:  If one sees Houses of Israel in their inhabited state, he says ‘Blessed are You…who establishes the boundary of the widow.  (58b)  Rashi in his commentary says this refers to the Second Temple period  because it was only after the destruction of the First Temple was Israel describe as a widow in the book of Lamentations, Eicha. Rashi implies that this refers only in the Land of Israel. 

Wouldn’t you know we leave for Israel on Tu Bishvat! I know from all my previous trips that the National bird of Israel should be the Building Crane.  There is constant construction go on, changing the landscape.  I am constantly impressed by the beauty of these new apartment buildings.  I can hardly wait to land in Israel and be able to recite this bracha when I see the land of Israel being redeemed and flourishing with Jews living in their own houses in their own state.  Baruch Matziv Gevul Almana!”Amen!