28 Elul 5772 / September 14-15, 2012
“The Torah is not beyond reach. It is not in the heavens and it is not beyond the sea. It is close to you – in your mouth and in your heart…” (paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
The ancient rabbis used these verses, found in this week’s Torah portion Nitzavim, to argue that while the Torah had divine origins (which is the traditional understanding), it is now an accessible earthly object, to be studied and meaningfully interpreted by human beings.
The Torah in many ways is the original collection of Jewish wisdom, belief and cultural values. It contains the traditional narrative of the Jewish people, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land.
The ancient rabbis placed an incredibly high value on setting aside time regularly to study Torah. For example, we learn in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, that we should make our study of Torah a fixed habit (Avot 1:15), and that we should not say that we’ll study Torah when we have the time, because it’s possible that we’ll never have time (Avot 2:5). Rather, we need to make time, and the best to do so is to have that time be a fixed one.
How do we go about studying Torah today, after setting aside a fixed time to do so regularly?
First, it’s key to remember that Torah is both available and accessible. There are more resources at our disposal now than ever before, including plenty of wonderful online resources.
Second, there are wonderful people out there who can help guide you along a course of study.
Third, one of the best ways to ensure that you engage in regular Torah study is to have a study partner who you enjoy studying with!
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (one of four Jewish new years – true story!), begins on Sunday night. As you consider what types of resolutions you might like to make for the year ahead, if any, I’d encourage you to consider adding the following:
“From this Rosh Hashanah until next Rosh Hashanah, I will commit to studying ________ (10min, 30min, 1hr) of Torah per ________ (day, week, month), in order to enhance my understanding and appreciation of my roots, and to be a more literate and knowledgeable Jewish community member.”
If you need a study partner I’m happy to be that person, and/or to set you up with someone else who might like a learning partner.
Whether you believe in the Torah’s divinity or not, whether you believe in God or not, understanding where we’ve come from is essential in knowing where it is we’re going. Set aside a fixed time, no matter how short. Open yourself up to a new type of learning. Recognize that the Torah is not in heaven – it is here, and it is ours. Claim it.
Here's wishing you and yours a year of happiness, health, and sweet sweet Torah learning.