A Rosh Hashana Message from Rabbi Leon Morris, President

Dear Friends of Pardes,

Today marks the end of the third week of classes here in Jerusalem, and the sense of miraculousness I felt as we first welcomed our students to Pardes on August 31st is still palpable. As the sounds of learning fill the beit midrash, dining room and the park next door, I am filled with so much gratitude. We have seen the fruits of our labors and our greatest hopes realized.

Tomorrow evening we begin Rosh Hashana, which defines Judaism’s insistence on starting anew despite past challenges and an unknown future.

While our holidays come with a rich prescribed liturgy, the profound experience of re-opening Pardes in the midst of this pandemic is also deserving of a special blessing.  But which blessing from our treasure chest of berachot would be most fitting for this moment in our institutional life?

The most obvious, of course, would be shehechiyanu. This well-known blessing is recited on holidays and other special moments in our lives.

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe who has granted us life, sustained us and has enabled us to reach this occasion. 

Without question, we have immense gratitude for arriving at a time where our students can return to the holy work of in-person text study after a long period of separation. 

Another possible blessing we might say is Birkat HaGomel.  

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם. הַגּומֵל לְחַיָּבִים טובות שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוב

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who rewards the undeserving with goodness and who has rewarded me with goodness. 

This blessing is said upon surviving a harrowing experience. Indeed, we feel we have survived a period that threatened the life of our institution but from which we ultimately emerged with strength and hope for the future. We express our thanks for successfully navigating the treacherous paths laid before us these past six months, recognizing that many individuals and organizations were less fortunate.

Perhaps we should recite the prayer that concludes the second blessing of the Amida.  

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, מְחַיֵּה הַמֵּתִים

Blesses are You, who revives the dead. 

This is a moment filled with potential for renewal and rebirth, and we have been compelled to clarify that which is most essential for Pardes institutionally and what is most essential for Pardes to offer the Jewish people. We are reflecting with gratitude on that which gives life to us as an institution, and that which we can provide to strengthen Jewish life in America and around the world. 

Each morning, in the series of opening blessings recited at the beginning of the service, we say:

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם הַמֵּכִין מִצְעֲדֵי גָבֶר

Blesses are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who steadies the steps of humankind. 

During these past six months, we’ve been bold and marched through periods of unsettling uncertainty. We’ve continued to make plans even as numerous plans are upended. We’ve summoned the courage to keep taking steps and marching forward, for which we offer our thanks.

Mishnah Berachot 4:4 provides the text for what one is to say in a place of danger.  

.הוֹשַׁע הַשֵּׁם אֶת עַמְּךָ אֶת שְׁאֵרִית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל פָּרָשַׁת הָעִבּוּר יִהְיוּ צָרְכֵיהֶם לְפָנֶיךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ שׁוֹמֵעַ תְּפִלָּה

Save, O Lord, Your people, the remnant of Israel. In every time of crisis may their needs be before You. Blessed are You, O Lord, who hears prayer.  

We have rededicated ourselves this year to collectively abide by the many guidelines that will hopefully protect us and our students, while also directing our prayers to God, requesting the wherewithal to meet this time of crisis with confidence and resolve. 

For our Pardes faculty, staff and board members, one blessing that might be offered at this moment is:

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם הַנּותֵן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who gives strength to the weary. 

It’s been a challenging six months and we may find ourselves a bit weary and tired. This blessing carries with it the hope that we will all be granted new strength in the year ahead.  

I feel blessed to be part of this community at this moment in history and I pray that this new year truly is one of renewal, rebirth and unity for the Jewish people, here in Israel, and around the world.

.תִּכְלֶה שָׁנָה וְקִלְלוֹתֶיהָ

.תָּחֵל שָׁנָה וּבִרְכוֹתֶיהָ

(May the year and its curses end, and may the new year and its blessings begin.)  

Shana Tova, Metukah U’vriah – May you have a good and healthy new year.

Rabbi Leon A. Morris