Jewish Learning, Anytime
Dive into text learning any time of the year. Our 2017 learning theme is Beauty and Ugliness.
Click on any of the titles to expand the learning content. The most recent content is at the top of the list.
- Use the theme as a way to think in new ways about texts and concepts that you may have studied before
- Study texts and ideas that are related to the calendar of Jewish holidays
- Jumpstart your individual, partnered or group learning with some of the discussion questions provided
Jerusalem: Perfect in Beauty
The connection to the supernal worlds produces a flow of holiness through the Holy of Holies, Temple, and Temple Mount to the entire city – not just to the exalted things in the city, but to all its physical parts: its houses, its stones, even its thorns, and all who dwell in it, great and small. The stones of Jerusalem are different; its thorns are all of gold.
Jerusalem is “the city perfect in beauty,” more beautiful than many beautiful cities in the world. But the city’s beauty does not stem from handsome buildings or lovely external design. As a rule, the opposite is true. Jerusalem’s beauty, its sun and light and other beautiful things with which it is endowed, stem from its inwardness, from its holiness.
The surplus of Jerusalem’s inwardness, the drops that overflow from its holiness, are what make it beautiful and give it grace. The Midrash says that when God finished writing the Torah, He wiped the pen on Moses’ hair, and for that reason, “his face was radiant” [Exodus 34:29] and it was impossible to look at him. Similarly, the crumbs of holiness, the bits of surplus spirituality in the air, are what make Jerusalem beautiful in the physical world.
It does not matter whether the architecture of Jerusalem is extraordinarily beautiful or not. When one looks at the city as a whole, there is nothing more beautiful than it. When something is truly beautiful, its flaws do not detract from its great beauty; on the contrary, they give it added grace.
Thus, even the things that are not beautiful about it join in forming Jerusalem; every part, every corner, and every crumb are there in order to add beauty.
Jerusalem’s beauty slowly spreads to its various neighborhoods. Indeed, it takes some time until a new neighborhood is absorbed into Jerusalem and becomes part of it; its inhabitants must also with time turn into Jerusalemites. Just as when a person enters a perfume shop, perfume adheres to him whether he likes it or not, the Jerusalemite nature sticks to its inhabitants. To be sure, this process may sometimes take a generation, but ultimately everything is absorbed into Jerusalem, and this adds to its essential physical perfection.
From “Jerusalem Day”, Change & Renewal. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. Maggid Books.
“Learning is not just a matter of being a recipient of material but of acquiring it.”
- Creating Friendship, focusing on Ruth
*Please be thoughtful when sharing the Tanakh excerpt: while we encourage you to share your learning experiences, this very early preview is not for general distribution.
A Beautiful Passover
Dig into the story in the Hagadda about the rabbis having a seder in Bnei Brak, excerpted from Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Passover Haggada, Koren Edition.
Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 118a
Interested in gaining greater understanding about the tradition to drink four cups of wine at the seder? Dive into the Talmud’s conversation about this in Tractate
English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz in the Koren Talmud Bavli.
Example discussion questions:
- Have you ever wondered why these rabbis in Benei Brak did not realize morning had come? What are your explanations?
- What do you think of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s explanation? Do you have any of your own insights that can light up your Passover Seder?
From our videos
“The Taming of Desire“, with Rabbi Alex Israel
“How Moses Learned to Speak” with Rabbi David Wolpe
From our curricula:
Moses: The Birth of a Leader (from the 2014 Global Day curriculum on Heroes and Villains, Saints and Fools: The People in the Book)
Purim: Heroes, Miracles and More
“A Miracle is Breaking the Form”, excerpted from his Global Day On Air discussion about Nature.
Units from past Global Day curricula:
- Who is a Hero? Middle School students can explore Esther and Moses: Not All Heroes Wear Capes.
- Haman was a descendant of Amalek. What does it mean to be commanded to remember this group? Find out in Amalek: Remembering the Arch Enemy of the Jewish People, as a guided study-unit and with this great video class by Rabbi Morey Schwartz and Ruth Bergman of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.
Example Discussion questions:
- The Megilla describes Esther as beautiful. In the Talmud, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha is saying that Esther was “greenish” – not beautiful on the outside. How does he describe the source of her beauty?
- Does the possibility of Esther being “green” change how you think about beauty? About Esther?
The Ugly Vessel
The Babylonian Talmud (tractate Ta’anit, page 7a) tells us a story about the daughter of a Roman emperor saying to an unattractive rabbi, “Woe to glorious wisdom such as yours, which is contained in an ugly vessel.” English translation [bold text] and commentary [plain text] by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz via Sefaria’s William Davidson Talmud.
Read the three-paragraph story from the Koren Talmud Bavli
Example discussion questions:
- What do you find surprising or troubling about this text?
- In this metaphor, a beautiful vessel spoils its contents. What is the Talmud telling us about the value of beauty?
- What connection is being made between beauty and wisdom, inner and outer beauty?
This is our first time making Sefaria sourcesheets for our curricular materials. Do you like them? Let us know if they’re helpful.
Loving the Trees
Planting for the Future
The Power of Planting