Shabbaton Reflections

Tuesday, 15 May, 2012 - 10:50 am

Professor Lewis Glinert  

Being with Chabad of Dartmouth as Scholar in Residence for Shabbat  Tazria-Metzora in April 2012 was a dizzying experience -- and an intensely personal one. Looking around at 40+ buzzing students and surveying the Shabbat banquet, regally presided over by Rabbi and Rebbetzin Gray, it was hard to believe that just nine years earlier, almost to the day, my wife and I had sat in our living room with the Grays and pondered how things might pan out if they decided to make their home in the wilderness of Hanover. The tiny condo that they called their first home, in which they raised their first child, and which doubled as the first Chabad House at Dartmouth, could barely fit a dozen students -- but in those early days a dozen students was a miracle.  Their first shul was my own office at the top of Bartlett Hall, and that depended on a miracle of a different kind: On the fact that I have one of the largest, indeed spectacular, offices on campus.


Much has happened in these last breathless nine years. Once again, like the ancient tabernacle in the wilderness, Chabad in its new home at 22a School Street is bursting at the seams.  And today, Chabad at Dartmouth is of national significance. The national Sinai Scholars program, which has brought so many Dartmouth students into their first serious dialogue with the Torah and its values, has taken an exciting new turn at Dartmouth. In 2008 Rabbi Gray and I proposed holding an annual symposium at which Sinai Scholars could present original papers on Judaism in the modern world, with senior Jewish Studies scholars acting as a jury and discussants. We are now already planning the fifth of these symposia in April 2013, G-d willing.  


But back to the present. My visit, as a Scholar-in-Residence, centered on scholarship. What a magical way to usher in Shabbat. For 45 minutes, I had the challenge of taking Dartmouth's Sinai Scholars through two famous Talmudic ethical dilemmas, concerning the choice of "Who shall live and who shall die?'  In the one case, the enemy had besieged the Jewish city of Lod and were demanding that a named individual be extradited to face a possible death penalty -- or else the city would be razed. May one (should one?) give him up? And what if this were not a judicial demand but rather a demand that some Jew -- any Jew -- be given up to an anti-Semitic enemy?  In the other case, even more famous, two travelers are in the desert and one of them is holding enough water for one of them to make it to safety. Who, if anyone, should drink the water?


Later, at the meal, more learning (Isn't that the essence of a Shabbat meal?)  Rabbi Gray taught a fascinating devar torah -- and then I delivered my own. My subject -- close to my own field of linguistics:  Language as a weapon and the risk to Jews today of anti-Zionist communications campaigns. 


One of the greatest gifts that Chasidism has given the World is the Seuda Shlishit, the third Sabbath meal -- traditionally a humble affair, as the day winds down,  just as one starts to sense the week's worries drawing in.  This is when the Chasidim spin yarns and sing wistful songs. A spiritual high. But not a time to which most Dartmouth students sync their hectic lives.  But this Shabbat was different. Rabbi Gray's Sinai Scholars gathered again, the fare was as mouth-watering as ever,  and I delivered my third shiur (Torah class), on the Creation of Woman, not from man's rib, as the popular imagination has it, but as one side split off by G-d from the bisexual first human, so that each might feel wholeness when joined in a secure relationship -- and Woman's role as 'ezer', avant-garde and sentinel to her family and to her husband against the slings and arrows of the world.  

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