Expanding Torah in the Chat

by Chava Shapiro, SVARA Fellow

a svara-nik wearing a grey hoodie and black beanie with red, short hair peeking out is seated at a table filled with colorful learning materials, an open volume of Talmud, and their laptop open. They are wearing a black KN95 mask. The laptop screen shows a zoom room with another learner and materials being screenshared.

Every weekday SVARA-niks gather for 30-minutes and move through a handful of words of the Mishnah, our Mishnah, with a slowness and depth that far exceeds what seems possible to fit inside such a brief window of time. Not only are people dropping in to read the words of the Sages, but they’re bringing their own commentaries and adding to the tradition every time. The chat of Mishnah Collective is bursting with the juiciest, most luscious, and incredible Torah. Every weekday queer and trans people are bringing themselves to our tradition and expanding it in ways our ancestors could never have imagined or dreamed. This is one way that we’re consistently ushering in a beautifully unrecognizable future! 

Mishnah Collective is designed for drop-in learning, which means people come as they are able and participate when they can. Since SVARA first launched Mishnah Collective back in early 2020, we’ve seen a core group of regulars emerge alongside a consistent stream of folks who pop in to get a feel for what this space is all about. We also have an incredible group of followers on the daily learning emails, many of whom have never attended Mishnah Collective synchronously. To further support this learning, we’ve recently introduced the Mishnah Collective’s Yoma Learning Guide. The guide is updated regularly and makes it possible to review past material and even learn asynchronously.

Every day after the collective gathers, our teachers compile an email of their own reflections, summarized themes from discussion, and highlights of the brilliant, ephemeral wisdom that arises in the chat after participants have returned from learning in chevrutah groups. While the chats don’t make their way into the Learning Guide, they add to the ever growing oral tradition!

For those of you who have yet to pop into Mishnah Collective as we learn our way through Mishnah Yoma, we hope this compilation of amazing noticings and brilliant Torah will inspire you to come on through. The chat box is waiting for your commentaries!

This week the collective learned the following text from Mishnah Yoma 1:4:

כָּל שִׁבְעַת הַיָּמִים לֹא הָיוּ מוֹנְעִין מִמֶּנּוּ מַאֲכָל וּמִשְׁתֶּה, עֶרֶב יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים עִם חֲשֵׁכָה לֹא הָיוּ מַנִּיחִים אוֹתוֹ לֶאֱכֹל הַרְבֵּה מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַמַּאֲכָל מֵבִיא אֶת הַשֵּׁנָה

Throughout all the seven days [that the High Priest was in the Parhedrin chamber], they would not withhold from him any food or drink. On Yom Kippur eve at nightfall, they would not allow [the High Priest] to eat a lot, because food induces sleep.

Brilliance from the chat:

“We thought that this restriction was to prevent the High Priest from having the worst side effects of fasting- eating too much right before a fast makes it worse. The seclusion mirrored the precautions we take when we get together mindfully during the times of COVID. Social isolation before a big event.”

“We wondered how the sages perceived the relationship between what is happening in our bodies and our ability to communicate with the Divine. If I am comfortable safe and satiated are my prayers less worthy than if I am in pain or scared or hungry.”

“The high priest needs to be ritually in-sync to focus for the whole community”

“We found real hope in seeing that the Sages were able to make such great change from sacrificing bulls, rams and sheep to being in relationship with the divine through prayer. If they can change ingrained culture…so could we!”

“Taking such care that the HP (high priest) is familiar with and comfortable with the animals to be sacrificed reminds of a thought I had about parshat Emor, where there are ableist restrictions on the bodies of which priest can perform sacrifices. My thought has been about the physicality of the labor of sacrifice,and the care that’s being taken to make the ritual go well.  Perhaps we can read some protection for a priest who isn’t physically able to perform the task, in addition to the ableism that makes all so mad.”

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