August 2, 2022
Sondra Oster Baras
It is 7 in the morning and the temperature is fabulous — the only time of the day that I can say that. As I sit outside on my porch, just outside my kitchen, I can hear the birds waking to their day with their pleasant chirping. I am usually not up and about at this time of day — definitely a night owl—but this morning, like the other mornings this week, I am out early. I will leave soon for Gush Etzion, a drive of one and a half hours, to participate in the annual Bible Seminars, a highlight of my year!
These past two years were difficult for us all. COVID shut down so much and even after things opened, or during the various breaks we had from serious outbreaks over the past two and a half years, it left us all a bit hesitant. Two years ago, the Bible Seminars were cancelled and instead, we were able to view pre-taped lectures on our laptops. How I missed the annual gathering of thousands, hustling to and from the various lecture halls and classrooms to get to the next lecture on time! The energy of so many on one campus, all eager to study the word of G-d, could not be replicated by watching a lecture, in the privacy of your own home, given by someone looking at a camera.
Last year, the Bible Seminars took place live, in person, but many of the classes were also available on zoom. And we were all in masks. I was there, but relatively few were. We were present but it was hard to know who else was there, as everyone was masked. And so many opted for zoom. While I enjoyed the Bible Seminars last year, the energy was not the same. I felt we were all rather shell-shocked from the COVID experience, coming out of our shells and tasting the world of mass gatherings for the first time. And there was little mass at that gathering.
So it is no wonder that I looked forward to this year’s seminars with a strange mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would we go back to what it was? Could we really say that COVID was behind us?
It started on Sunday and the atmosphere was pleasant. The classes I enrolled in were wonderful and it was good to see old friends who traveled from all over the country to participate in the seminars. The seminars go for 4 days, Sunday through Wednesday, but many people sign up for a partial program. I have always gone for the entire program. Yesterday, the momentum grew. More people were there, the hum was louder and the enthusiasm markedly higher. It has changed since COVID — the older people, over 75, were mostly absent. But everyone else is there — from 18 to 75, enjoying the classes and basking in the feeling that we are back, studying Bible together!
Each day there are 5 sessions, and 8 choices for each of the 5 sessions. Most classes have several hundred participants, some have dozens. The topics range across every Book of the Bible. I have already listened to lectures on Isaiah, Kings, Samuel, Genesis. Sometimes, the topics cross many chapters and books, analyzing stories, a given Psalm, placing them in historical context, prying out the deeper meanings. Every day, I emerge with new ideas, new interpretations, new thoughts.
Yesterday, I heard a fascinating lecture about Saul, analyzing the chapters when he sets out to find his father’s donkeys and ends up being crowned king. The precise structure of those verses is fascinating, building the suspense, creating the impressing of happenstance, as Saul happens to hear that Samuel is in town, and his servant happens to find a small coin to give to the prophet in exchange for information about the donkeys. As Saul makes that journey, he is being led by circumstances beyond his control, which surprise him. But then we learn that G-d has been behind the entire episode, that He had already revealed to Samuel that Saul was coming and that Samuel would anoint him as king.
And that was the message. We live our lives thinking the one event leads to another in a sort of random way, or based on our choices. But really
G-d is behind it all!
My program includes the best Bible teachers in the country, probably in the world. One class on Numbers 11 connected that chapter to the conflict we all feel between the physical and the spiritual — can we engage in the spiritual and ignore the realities of life or do we need to find a way to incorporate the spiritual in our lives?
There was a fascinating lecture on the last chapters of Judges, a book I am now teaching weekly on zoom, which gave me brand new insights. (Sign up here if you would like to join my Monday Zoom Bible Study – It’s free!)
Each class produced new ideas, both on the particular Biblical chapters and on our lives, the political and community challenges we all face and the future of our country. And so many of the teachers referred to the lack of leadership we are facing today, the lack of a spiritual and G-d-oriented foundation among our political leaders. But our predecessors faced similar problems. A study in Jeremiah enabled us to understand the dilemma facing that generation and their difficulty in determining who is the true prophet of G-d when all the prophets were claiming they represented the Word of G-d.
Thank G-d, we have the written Word of G-d and it is, indeed, a lighthouse to us and to the world, helping us guide our steps and enabling us to make decisions. I just wish that more people turned to that lighthouse. Even if we disagreed on the interpretation of a given passage, there is no question, we would agree on the basics. And then we would all be in a much better place.