Beit midrash questions for “We All Stood Together”
-What is the pshat of this poem, what’s going on here?
-What is the dilemma the poet is describing, what is her experience of Sinai? How does her experience differ from that of her “brother”? What is the “journal” her brother kept?
-What is the significance of the poem’s title?
-How does the poem speak to your life, your longing, your understanding of revelation?
-The poem explores a tension between “particulars”/”hard data” and “feelings” – how is your Jewish life and practice informed by each side of that tension? How do you mediate that tension in your understanding of revelation, of Torah?
-Are there ways in which, like the poet, you feel “outside the norm” of Jewish experience? How do you find yourself in the Sinai story?
NOTE - when you reproduce the poem for the study sheets you must properly credit it at the bottom - (c) A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition by Merle Feld - revised edition 2007 SUNY Press All rights reserved.
PS - a number of people have emailed me that they can't find the poem on the website - that's because I can't put it on the website - my publisher would have a fit!! But the poem is everywhere - in my book A Spiritual Life, in several prayer books and in many many anthologies - I'm sure you all have it on your bookshelf in more than one place even. So I am inviting everyone to find the poem and then email back to the website where they found it - have fun!
[a few simple guidelines to set up the beit midrash] -
Read the poem with everyone gathered together. Invite those who've come to study to find a partner or a threesome - I encourage people to choose as partners someone they don’t know, don’t know well, would like to get to know better – it sets a tone of inclusion and openness. Each person gets study sheets with the poems[s] and discussion prompts. Tell them how much time is allotted (in this case with just one poem, 20-30 minutes is good) and explain it's a free-flowing not a linear process. You don’t need to move from one question to the next, rather let the poems, the questions and your chevrusa take you on a journey. The goal – finding and deepening meaning.
I like to end a poetry beit midrash by asking participants to reflect a bit on the process they’ve just been engaged in: What was this experience like – with this text? with each other? Do you have some new awareness of yourself? of your study partner? What is special about this way of talking together and where might you want to go from here? Finally, they have the texts and questions to take home, to continue exploring later and with others – a successful beit midrash workshop is deliciously infectious!
I’ve repeatedly been told that participants who had sat at a polite distance from one another, perhaps for years, through this text study suddenly came to see each other as if for the first time. The payoffs often reach far beyond the session itself in the ongoing life of a group or community.