It’s the Gift That Keeps on Giving…

Even after all these years, I find myself captured by the glistening silver and gentle jangle of the small bells.  Regardless of how large or small, the weight is both considerable and light as a feather.  And when deep diving in the rich waters of stories and statutes, I always find a dusty old treasure or sparkly new gem.

By now you might have guessed I am thinking of Torah, a natural line of thought for a rabbi.  However, it not just rabbinical school that brought me to appreciate our ancient scroll.  It’s somewhat ironic, given that English class was not my forte.  In my teenage years, I always preferred the pure logic of those STEM classes (math and sciences) to the seemingly arbitrary interpretive approach of literary discussions.  I still recall the angst I would feel in trying to decode let alone provide personal reflections, especially when it came to often-read classics like Steinbeck, Hemingway, and the granddaddy of them all Shakespeare.

Yet now, most math equations have fallen away, scientific principles lay dormant resurfacing only rarely.  But one of my greatest joys is taking a piece of text from Torah, wrestling with it and pulling it apart like taffy – stretching and turning and spinning until you press it together and have a go at it again and again.

Torah is an incredible gift, and it truly does give to us constantly because with each passing year, the experiences we have and changes in the world around us can bring new understandings.  Each time we encounter a story, a conversation or even what seems like the most archaic law, we see it through a different lens.

One of my favorite stories on Torah is told by a rabbi I knew and worked with in Massachusetts.  One day, he met with a group of younger children in the Sanctuary.  As they say before the closed Ark, he asked them what lay behind the curtain.  Immediately, hands shot straight in the air.  A few knew the answer right away – the Torah scrolls.  One or two others offered cute answers that youngsters might dream up.  Then one thoughtful child raised her hand and said, “A mirror.”

Torah is a mirror for us.  Though we sometimes might struggle to find meaning in strange tales and obsolete commandments, there are still powerful ways we can see ourselves in the text – examples and non-examples of ways to live, ancient thoughts that dealt with safety and security as well as spirituality, and so much more.

If you have never had the opportunity to encounter Torah and see yourself in it, I invite you just once to try.  The major festival holiday of Shavuot starts Saturday, June 4th.  Though perhaps lesser known than sister festivals of Sukkot and Passover, Shavuot is said to correspond to the date Moses received the gift of Torah.  Traditionally, an all-night study session is held to honor this gift and to immerse in as many areas of Jewish teaching as possible.  At Temple Beth El, we don’t study all night, but we do take the opportunity to share a little bit of Torah and find our own sparkling gems in these ancient words.

So, take it from this former STEM guy – this is one gift you want to unwrap.  I hope you will join Cantor Alison, myself, some of our adult choir members, and a host of others as we do what so many Jews have done for generations going all the way back to ancient times – celebrate the gift of Torah.