I am always asking and I am always learning. I tend to wonder about things a lot and seem to be in a perpetual pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Not necessarily in order to do things differently but just to have an appreciation and awareness of the multitude of factors that surround me in life. I ask my yoga instructor why bow pose is difficult for me (it turns out that tight quad muscles are to blame.) I have taken a course in glass blowing, having always been fascinated by it. I am no Dale Chihuly but I now understand why hand-blown items cost so much – it requires tremendous talent, skill and strength. I attend talks and classes by knowledgeable, and sometimes not so knowledgeable, Jewish educators from all affiliations and areas of expertise and use these to continually refine and define my personal practice and philosophy. I have taken a running clinic and learnt that you should lean forward when running downhill (not too much, though, you want to run down the hill, not roll!)
I pepper educators who come to the Macks Center for Jewish Education with questions to understand what they are trying to convey to their students as we consider available resources to enhance a lesson. The more I enquire, the better I understand, and in turn, the better I become at whatever I am doing.
It should come as no surprise however, that of all my pursuits mentioned above I am most enamored with Jewish learning. The appeal of the others wanes at times. I understand enough about glassblowing to be satisfied, I don’t have to master it. Yoga is good but the poses don’t change. For me, the traditional texts, contemporary thinkers, medieval commentators of our Jewish heritage provide me with an incredibly wide array of ever-challenging fodder for contemplation. At times it affords me food for action, but certainly always food for thought!
As a Jew, this constant probing of Jewish understanding both polishes and challenges me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I change what I do or the way I do it, sometimes the learning reinforces what I know or feel, but the understanding of various approaches, opinions and options lets me maintain a strong foundation. The opportunities for Jewish learning are as wide and varied as the population of our city. Formal or informal, organized or spontaneous, in person or online, public or private, large scale or just two friends respectfully discussing their opinions on a Jewish matter…the epitome of chevruta … there really are no excuses for not investing in our own Jewish literacy and awareness.
We all wonder about things related to being Jewish. I invite everyone to engage that curiosity and pursue understanding. When we are open to learning our Jewish life is richer. I have had the pleasure to sit with different groups as we grapple together with Jewish text. I heard incredible insight from a colleague who has had minimal formal Jewish education. She looked at the passage being studied and offered the group her understanding. It was rich and worthwhile and unique and valid. And she showed me, a truly life-long Jewish learner, a previously unnoticed message embedded in that particular text. To me, that is the wonder of Jewish learning. Just when you think you have heard it all you realize you can never know everything. There are layers and layers to be uncovered. Multiple angles from which to read the same passage, each providing a distinct understanding. Because I love Jewish learning I want everyone to. Typical lines one might hear from me are “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” “Your opinion can’t be wrong.” “You can’t say “nothing” when I ask you what you think!” We all have valuable voices to add to the Jewish conversation that has been going on for centuries. Everyone has a unique Jewish opinion, everyone has unique Jewish understanding, everyone has a unique Jewish experience and sharing that in Jewish learning makes Jewish living, yours and mine, more vibrant.
In the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 31:19 we find a directive to “write this song for yourself.” The traditional understanding of this verse is that we are each commanded to actually write, or participate in the writing of, a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll.) I have always seen another message. “Write it for yourself” – Take the texts of our Jewish heritage and make them your own. Define your own understanding through familiarity with the words that have been examined and investigated for generations. You will marvel at how something so old can always be so new, and how Jewish learning makes Jewish living more vibrant!!