Rabbi’s Message May/June 2018

What Torah Teaches, And What It Doesn’t

Rabbi Bill S. Tepper 

Said the Medzibozer [Rebbe]:  “We read the words: ‘In the sight of all Israel’ [Deuteronomy 34:12]. The Torah concludes with these words to indicate that each Israelite may see into the Torah according to his or her own ability.”

From: Butzina De-Nehorah by Rabbi Baruch of Medziboz, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, 1880

In: The Hasidic Anthology by Louis I. Newman, 1934, p. 481

Now as always, we Jews are journeying:   from Egypt and servitude, towards a Promised Land and people hood, and towards the healing of our world. And we are always on the path towards Torah.

On the evening of May 19 Jews everywhere will welcome the Festival of Shavuot, meaning ‘weeks;’ or more precisely, the ‘seven weeks’ since our departure in the Torah’s Book of Exodus – on Pesach – from Egypt.  It is during Shavuot that we recall the pivotal moment in our Jewish narrative when we stood together at the foot of Mount Sinai, celebrating the journey towards our embrace of Torah.

Torah is the foundation-stone of Judaism.  It tells our stories and shapes our view of the world.  It is our Jewish point of reference. It is with excitement that we welcome our reading and recitation of the weekly parshah, from which we continue to learn valuable life lessons.  And as Reform Jews, we of Temple Shalom, together with our sister congregations throughout the world, turn to Torah so that we may better understand not only the experiences of our ancestors, but how to best engage the tumultuous and evolving world we inhabit today.   It is in this regard that Torah sustains us.

But Torah does not provide the answer to every dilemma.  Torah cannot explain why there is war, poverty and hatred, or why persons are ill and injured.    Torah does not reveal why innocent people die:  in acts of terrorism or natural disasters, onboard a bus in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, or during a spring day on Yonge Street in Toronto.   Torah provides little or no clues as to why there are both good persons and evil ones.

But Torah does call on us to choose: compassion over contempt, kindness over cruelty, and life over death.  Torah is still, notwithstanding the infinite number of questions it poses – and that we as learners always welcome – Judaism’s pathway towards emotional, spiritual and ethical growth.

On the evening of May 19, we at Temple Shalom will enjoy a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, the traditional gathering for learning, socializing and partaking in delicious foods with which Jews welcome Shavuot.  Please plan to attend this most-special experience.  I look forward to being with you.

A young man was asked by the Gerer Rabbi if he had learned Torah.  “Just a little,” replied the youth.

“That is all anyone has ever learned of the Torah,” was the Rabbi’s answer.

From: Siach Sarfei Kodesh by J.K.K. Rokotz, 1929

In: The Hasidic Anthology by Louis I Newman, 1934, p. 478

In the year to come, let us continue to grow and learn with Torah, and among one another.   There is everything in the world to gain.