Summer should be a time of relaxation, of allowing your body to get the needed rest from the harsh winter and yearly toil. While the majority of the Jewish world works through the summer, I am sure that some sort of vacation or time off is on the agenda as we would literally fall to levels of fatigue and overwork, not to mention not taking advantage of the summer warmth and sunshine.
Therefore, when a student asked to see me a few days ago, I assumed that she was intending to thank me, perhaps give me a gift and ensure that my blood-pressure remain stable, as should be during the summer months.
As you can already imagine, the opposite happened.
This former student met with me and was very disturbed. Her quandary revolved around her work in the Maternity Ward of one of Jerusalem’s hospitals. A woman was admitted after her contractions had become increasingly close and, in the midst of the pain and breathing, her “water broke.” At that moment, a moment that she would not only be allowed to violate the holy Shabbat [Code of Jewish Law, OC, 330/1] but must if she didn’t invite it and it was a necessity [Tractate Shabbat 129a], this women began to look behind her, as if someone was following her. About a half an hour later, this woman was…gone. All attempts to locate her were unsuccessful. The police were called, and finally, after a (long) hour and a half, she returned. When the aghast staff asked where had she disappeared to, her answer was “The Mikvah.“ When asked why, she matter-of-factly answered that she would never consider giving birth to a baby without immersing in a Mikvah first, as a segula for an easy birth!
This story, to my dismay, was not the only one that gave my former student cause for concern. She went on to describe other such events, asking if this was a form of higher religious observance, a sort of a מידת חסידות [acts of the pious].
As my blood pressure levels began to rise, I looked out to see the beautiful summer skies, and recalled a forgotten experience I had many years ago, when spending the summer in the USA. As a day camp counselor, my nights were fairly free, and therefore I joined a typical “Daf-Yomi” class that would meet after Maariv each night. Like any Tractate of the Talmud, this one dealt with real-life scenarios, amongst them a known discussion about the punishment administered upon a violator of a sin in the realm of inappropriate sexual conduct. The “Magid-Shuir” [teacher of the class] was a very sweet and modest Chasidic Rebbe, who would teach each “daf” clearly [in a mixture of simple English and Yiddish idioms], and devotedly taught us each night, even in the so-called summer “vacation” months of July and August.
Thus, to my surprise, upon stumbling on this particular folio of Talmud, instead of explaining it, he said: “Look in the English,” waiting about two minutes till all the participants did so. Being a bit “Israeli,” just visiting for the summer, I admit that I didn’t own a translated Tractate and thus a chunk of that evening’s page was left unlearned. As the class continued, I found it rather strange that a part of God’s holy Torah was relegated to “the English” rather than be learned. As I was about 20 years younger than the rest of the assembled, I stayed quite; while another participant, apparently as agitated as me, decided to speak: “Rebbe, why don’t we learn it together, it’s the Torah, after all?”
The kind Rebbe smiled, and answered as follows; “When I was a kid, I asked my “Tatte” why don’t we Chasidim learn Tanach like the Litvaken? He answered that we don’t learn it because there are immodest episodes in Tanach that would not be appropriate.” Being young, perhaps (too) cynical, and surely naïve, but having just completed high school saturated in the study of the Bible, I just couldn’t contain myself; “Rebbe,” I asked, “Are you saying that we are frumer than the Bible? Are you suggesting that we are too frum to learn what God said to the prophets?”