A Siyyum

On Tuesday, I had my first real siyyum, a “completion” of a book. Since the Fall I’ve been learning Sefer Yehoshua / the Book of Joshua with a chevruta. We went through the whole book, recapping really quickly what we had learned, but, hokey as it sounds, I learned a lot more from our conversations than from the book itself.

I specifically wanted to learn with an Israeli, so that I would still be able to use my Hebrew after finishing ulpan (my line of work heavily involves English). The whole time I was humbled by constantly playing catch-up in terms of language and general Torah knowledge to someone 6 years younger and in many ways wiser than myself.

So, we sat in the shade of a pergola, with Coca Cola and cookies, and recapped what we had learned.

While I really chose to learn Sefer Yehoshua because it is the first book of the Prophets, and I find that Nach – the Nevi’im and Ketuvim, or the Prophets and Writings is a fundamental part of Jewish textual knowledge that often gets overlooked. Aside from a class that got me through half of Sefer Shmuel/Samuel, I haven’t learned any of it in a meaningful way, so that started this year.

But there probably couldn’t have been a more fitting Sefer to learn. In this book, the Jews enter in the Land of Israel – pretty fitting for my first year of aliyah. In a way, it was for me a סגירת מעגל , a phrase that came up many times in learning the Sefer, which literally means “the closing of a circle”.

It happened to be that just this week I got back in touch with two of the guides for my birthright trip that I went on four years ago and which I consider the beginning of my journey towards coming to Israel. Today I feel like we’re more or less in the same place – the same age, Israelis with American parents, observant Jews. Four years ago, we were literally and figuratively miles and miles apart.

Two years ago, when I returned to come study Torah, I remember that the first person I called was one of the guides I had just got back in touch with on Tuesday (now married and with a baby girl). Now that I had begun to realize that I could not lump together observant Jews into one bunch, and that there were a million opinions on how to do everything, how would I know what to do? What is the law? What is a custom? She reminded me that there have always been twelve tribes, and in exile, things got even more complicated. Eventually, we all find our way. It’s a never-ending process.

Eleven months into my aliyah, yes, a stage, or a circle has been closed. I’m past an initial orientation phase of Hebrew classes and governmental assistance, and will shortly be working full-time. Back to starting over on the career path after an unexpected detour. In the סגרית מעגל in Sefer Yehoshua, the Jews finally enter the Land of Israel after taking a 40-year detour through the desert. Closing the circle, they once again split a body of water (this time the Jordan River), undergo circumcision, and eat a Pesach offering. At the end of the book, they also reaccept the Torah and its law.

The Jews entered the Land together, not as tribes, clans, or families. Even the tribes who territory lies on the other side of the Jordan cross over the river in order to help the others. When all of the fighting is over, they build a monument to physically signify that they are part of their Jewish brethren on the other bank, lest they get cut off.

Seeing the Jordan “river” today, it seems laughable that a group of Jews could really get cut off from the rest, but upon further thought, it’s not so ridiculous. Jews from Ethiopia, India, and other farther-reaching lands have been cut off from the rest of “mainstream” Judaism. The whole issue of deciding who is Jewish and who is something I’ve thought about but will have to leave for another post, but meantime, check out this article in the New York Jewish Week about one of the first Ethiopian Israelis to be ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is writing a new code of Jewish law based on Ethiopian customs, in order to reconcile Jewish practice followed in Ethiopia with that followed in most of the rest of the Jewish community.

Last week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha details the seven-branched menorah that went in the Temple. A commentary I read said that each of the seven branches symbolizes a different group of Jews. Perhaps this is related to the idea of “seventy faces to the Torah”. All are equal, and all join together to form the light.

It reminds me actually of this video that has been circulating around recently.

I gotta admit, it’s really hokey, but it makes a point. From a U.S. perspective, all Jews can get lumped into one bunch, or all religious Jews. I certainly though so for most of my life. A religious Jew is a guy with a black hat, right? Not so simple, especially not here. In Israel, it’s Jew vs. Jew a lot of times. But to the rest of the world, it’s all the same. When the world condemns Israel, all Israelis get condemned together.

On a more positive, scientific note, a new article in the Jerusalem Post discusses new research on a genetic link uniting all Jews from around the globe.

Shortly into the conquest of the Land of Israel, in Jericho, Gd commands the Jews not to take from any of the spoil. One fighter, Achan, does not listen (Chapter 7). As a result, all of the people get punished. Likewise, the Talmud says, “All of Israel is responsible for one another” (Shavuos 39a). If a fellow Jew is violating the law, it is not “just his business.”

So what now? Well, as in any proper siyyum, we ended by beginning with the first few lines of the next book! In this case, it was Shoftim / Judges. I need a game plan for figuring out how to get through that Sefer, now that life is busier than ever.


1 Response to “A Siyyum”

  1. 1 Chananya June 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Mazel tov – an appropriate book to study indeed. Admittedly it has been far too long since I dabbled in Nach, thank G-d for the weekly haftarah! I will also be making a siyum – on Sanhedrin – this shabbos and will keep you in mind 🙂


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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