On Wednesday night, the Denver Jewish Day School community came together to honor Amity and Marc Cooper for their dedication to education at DJDS, Denver Kollel, and elsewhere. DJDS also honored Jerry Rotenberg for his remarkable 32 years as teacher extraordinaire at DJDS, formerly the Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy. Attendees also heard from Nathan Schweid, a DJDS alumnus who has found purpose and a means to lift community through trash collection. Check out our community’s “holy hauler” at Junk Trunk.
As for Jerry, his 32 years at DJDS and Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy represents only a portion, albeit a significant portion, of the years he has dedicated to his students. Prior to DJDS, Jerry worked at Beth Joseph in the education program, where I was privileged to participate in his Junior Congregation programs. It’s through the lens of Jerry’s own reflections that I offer this comment on this week’s Torah portion.
In his talk on Wednesday, Jerry noted that a teacher of his commented that Torah is not history. Regarding this week’s reading, Torah is neither history nor science. As Jerry remarked, Torah is, in a way, a record of behaviors and actions—or, if you will, a reflection of the human condition.
This week’s reading describes a multitude of skin conditions and causes for spiritual uncleanliness, which might be easily dismissed as archaic. As history. As incorrect science. All of which misses the point. Our sages explain that the skin conditions, the tzara’at, are punishment for an evil tongue and for the types of toxic communication that erode relationships, families, and community.
Our Torah teaches that the disease begins in the walls of the house. Then, if not corrected, it affects the offender’s bed and other furniture. Then his garments and his body. This tzara’at is said to be both a contagious disease and one from which people recoil. And so it is with wrongful speech: it is objectionable but also compelling. Most of us, if we’re honest, enjoy a bit of gossip, particularly when that gossip involves the misfortune of someone else. Someone who we may not like. But as contagious and pervasive as it is, gossip leaves a dirty residue that is difficult to ignore.
So thank you, DJDS, for amplifying four of our community’s lights. For elevating rather than denigrating. And thank you, Jerry, for offering a framework for reading Torah that enables us to learn from that which we might have otherwise dismissed.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.