I was very lucky to spend the year between high school and college in Israel at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s seminary in Jerusalem. Like the other ninety-some girls who were my friends and comrades in the Beit Midrash that year, I was there to dedicate myself to learning Torah in all its iterations l’shma—for its own sake. Within days of our arrival, we established chavrutot (study partnerships) and chaburot (small study groups), and we got to know one another as we diligently prepared for classes in Talmud, TaNaKh, halakhah (Jewish law), Jewish philosophy, and parshanut (biblical exegesis) among other topics. We studied, discussed, laughed a lot, reviewed, and tried to predict the directions that our teachers would take in their expositions on the materials they had directed us to analyze. Still, while I enjoyed working with my sharp-witted and insightful friends to unravel the many textual problems, moral puzzles, and legal quandaries that we encountered, the highlight of my week came in a class that, I admit, I found difficult to prepare for: Dr. Avivah Zornberg’s Parashat Hashavuah shiur.
Late each Thursday afternoon, Dr. Zornberg would close out my week’s formal classes with her lucid, profound, and deeply moving discussions of the parashah—the weekly Torah portion. Before she arrived, we, her students, would study the parashah, and then examine the source-sheet distributed for the class. Each week, so it seemed to me, we would struggle to comprehend a fascinating span of materials—from Midrash and medieval exegetes to hasidic sources and modern literary criticism. Try as I might to trace the thread from one source to the next, I could never in advance fathom the connections that Dr. Zornberg would make. Yet her classes were always a revelation to me, full of beautiful explanations that ran as clear and vital as water when she worked through her materials. I could not anticipate how these themes and dynamics would coalesce—but coalesce they did, from disparate patches in my mind to a gorgeous mosaic, whole, coherent, and memorable. I looked forward to that transformative class as the pinnacle of my week’s learning.
Almost twenty years later, I feel that same excitement building now. Sunday evening, May 8, Ma’ayan will host Dr. Avivah Zornberg in Sharon. Her topic is the intriguing story of the daughters of Zelofhad. Dr. Zornberg will explore the quality of their relationship to Moses in “‘To Be or Not to Be:’ A Tale of Five Sisters,” which Ma’ayan will offer as part of our women-only Patcha b’Chokhma: Women Scholars Speak to Ma’ayan lecture series. Details and registration for this event can be found here, http://jewishboston.com/events/7685-patcha-b-chokhma-dr-avivah-gottlieb-zornberg-speaks-to-ma-ayan. If, like me, you are a long-time student of Dr. Zornberg, I know you will hardly be able to stay away. If you have never heard her speak, I urge you to come to study with this world-renowned scholar, author, and teacher. I am sure that it will be the highlight of your week, too.