Sinai Synagogue, Shabbat AM, January 28, 2017
When Rabbi put out the offer to us members of the congregation to share d'var Torah, I was intrigued. But as a relative newcomer--and as someone not even sure what a d'var Torah is--I was hesitant. I had no idea what I could possibly say to you, my friends and mentors.
What I can say to you is: thank you. I've come to appreciate so much over the last two years the incredible richness of Jewish tradition. In the simultaneous simplicity and complexity that is Jewish life and thought. It's all there--just waiting to be uncovered. With a little digging or a lot of digging there are beautiful pieces to tickle mind, heart and soul.
In the Pirke Avot 5:21:
“Yehudah ben Teima used to say: Five years [is the age] for [the study of] Scripture, Ten [is the age] for [the study of] Mishnah, Thirteen [is the age] for [observing] commandments, Fifteen [is the age] for [the study of] Talmud. ..”
Okay, well here I am well past the age of five, ten, thirteen and fifteen and I am still a beginner at Scripture.
During our first year of study I remember being at Fiddler’s Hearth along with some of my classmates one evening and. With Rabbi’s guidance,we were puzzling over the story of Abraham and Isaac. After a beer I told Rabbi that I'd never understand how Abraham could actually intend to kill his son. I have since learned that there are many layers to that story, many lessons that can be drawn from it.
Also during our first year of study came the intoxicating and sublime discovery of the life and writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Thank you Rabbi for that.
After conversion I had the opportunity to study chant. It was an amazing moment when I was privileged to chant Torah for the first time. Even now, just thinking about it makes me smile It took a lot of practice. As an adult learner I had to become much more open to experiencing frustration and failure. But when the Hebrew words and the tropes finally came together
there was nothing like it! It was another connection between our community and the generations that came before and that will follow us.
So far this Jewish journey has been one very fun, wild ride. The minute one challenge is finished I want another. And another…and another. It’s never too late to learn new skills: if I could do it, anyone can.
In today's parsha we hear about Moses acquiring some new skills. He speaks with his new mentor, Adonoi. You just can't do better than that for a mentor. But, even so, Moses is daunted. Finally Adonoi gets tired of Moses' overthinking and tells him to just go out and do it.
I can in some small sense have an idea what it might have been like for Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam to roll with the tide of events. At this point in time, we are reminded that Moses is 80, Aaron is 83 and Miriam is at least 87 years old. I try to imagine them getting up in the mornings (without benefit of coffee--and then up each day for the next 40 years!)
We hear that our guys, Moses and Aaron, try to rally their dispirited and disheartened community. Then they are off to speak to Pharaoh; then, they're back to persuade the community to trek off from home base, and lose three days of work for a spiritual retreat in the wilderness.
The story continues with twists and turns and plagues--and the parsha ends (to be continued next week) with the Israelites still enslaved, Pharaoh still uncooperative, and the boys (who are 80 and 83) still with so much more to do.
Medieval commentator Ovadia Seforno (Spain 1500s) commented on Exodus 7:7 verse: In spite of their advanced age they rose up with enthusiasm to fulfill the will of their Creator Indeed he who had reached the age of 80, even in those days, had already passed the age of elder status and reached those of strength, as Moses attests to in the psalm ascribed to him, Psalm 90: The days of our years are 70, or even by reason of strength, eighty years. (P 90:10)
The cool thing about these three, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, is that they rose up and did all those remarkable things. These octogenarians, the ultimate poster children for AARP.
As Jews we are called upon to do amazing feats--at any age. I watched a documentary last week about a 91 year old Holocaust survivor who speaks to prisoners and to schoolchildren AND runs a her own small business 6 days a week. Why does she do it? Because she feels called to speak on behalf of all those who cannot speak. And what she has to say resonates 70 years later, to convicts, to trauma survivors, to schoolchildren. They all know she understands what it is like to be imprisoned and powerless--and yet to emerge with and to effect a different life script--one of service and compassion.
We all can say we are too young, too old, too busy, too sad, too frustrated. But regardless what we say, and what we sometimes feel, we as Jews are nevertheless called to act. That inner drive to better the world is neverending. The drive to learn new things and to keep learning at any age is strong. That is what I love about this community and about the Jewish people.
Thank you all again for the honor to be part of this community, and a part our Jewish journey.