In this week’s Torah reading, from BeChuko-thai, it says, “These are the laws, statutes, and Torot… established between God and the Children of Israel by the hand of Moses on Mt. Sinai.” The Torot, in this context, are understood to be a multitude of teachings and are associated with the learning that comes from our own life and the learning that comes from considering—and comparisons with—others’ lives. As Rabbi Akiva wrote, “God gave the children many Torahs. The Torah of Elevation. Torah of the Sinner. Torah of Grain. Torah of Wellbeing. Torah of the Guilty. The Torah of Sick. The Torah of the New Mother.”
As evidenced by all these figurative Torahs, each of which speaks to a different aspect of our selves, we are a people whose practice is defined and even shaped by discourse. Jewish tradition teaches us that meaningful dialogue, like that engaged in by our Talmudic scholars, is a sacred activity. It teaches us that listening and learning and speaking and sharing are forms of meditation or prayer. And the give and take, the back and forth as we do this is sometimes harmonious and melodic and other times rough and uncomfortable. But Judaism provides both context and space for this ongoing wrestling match of ideas and ideals.
Each week, in this message, I try to do a little wrestling myself. I try to share what meaning or lesson or solace I find in each week’s Torah reading, and I’m always humbled by the replies you send back. Some of you have expressed gratitude, and some of you have been open with your questions or critiques. I welcome it all. Because in this extracurricular call and response, we are doing that most Jewish of practices: engaging in dialogue.
In the next few weeks, JEWISHcolorado will present two programs whose primary ends are listening and learning, speaking and sharing. On May 16, we’ll host Rebirth, Renewal, and Revelation: A Community Shavuot Experience, which will be the second such online celebration we’ve helped coordinate for the community in the wake of the pandemic. Led by some of our community’s best educators, it features programs for all ages, from tots to teens to those whose bedtimes are after midnight.
And on May 19, the JCRC Speaker Series is presenting The Meaning of Reparations, an educational panel exploring the various ideas on reparations and the way they might address systemic racism. Moderated by Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, rabbinic scholar and public affairs advisor for Jewish Federations of North America, the panel represents a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives. Understanding this subject because of the history of the Jewish people and reparations, we are in a unique position to create the space for this conversation and the many ways reparations are defined by the Black community. And I believe that it is important that we do this work. As one community member put it, “In a real conversation, the goal isn’t happiness and agreement—it’s understanding.”
This spring, as we begin to emerge from our isolation, I hope we continue the great Jewish tradition of shakla vetaria, the give and take and back and forth that is the heart of our people. This Shabbat, let us learn together.