By Laura Seymour
I grew up, like many of you reading this, with Disney movies and “Father Knows Best.” We were led to believe that what we saw on screen was the perfect life. It wasn’t my life, but it was something to hope for. It seemed possible that people could live “happily ever after,” because we saw those ideal outcomes on TV.
But our modern sitcoms and movies are entirely different. Who could possibly want to live the life we see in some of these reality shows and scary movies? We have gone from one extreme to the other.
The purpose of stories is to teach us life lessons, and for hundreds of years our stories came from the Torah. To which side does the Torah go in presenting those real-life stories? To the perfect “happily ever after” or to the horribly dysfunctional?
To find out, the assignment is simple: Read the book! Reading Torah for the story value is wonderful. Once you get past worrying that you won’t understand all the details or even all the words, you can really get into the stories (which are not so different from the life problems we all face today).
Read the stories listed below, and think about our Torah heroes. They were all far from perfect, and yet they were heroic. Can you learn from imperfection? Can the heroes be role models in spite of their mistakes? Have we changed so much from biblical times?
- Start with God: Why did He put that tree in the Garden? Was He a good role model as a parent for Adam and Eve? Why did He like Abel’s gift better than Cain’s?
- Noah (Genesis 9:18-29): This is a great story for children, because they love the animals and the ark. But think about what happened later, after the flood. What caused the family breakdown?
- Abraham: Where do we begin? He made lots of mistakes. How did he handle Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16:1-6)? And later, the ultimate test, the Akedah (Genesis 22:1-18). Did Abraham pass or fail?
- Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot and his daughters: Talk about dysfunctional!
- Sibling rivalry and favoritism: Rebecca and Isaac; Jacob and his wives; and Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. The list goes on and on.
All of that, and we aren’t even out of the Book of Genesis. So what can we learn? Many students in my classes say to me, “Tell us the answer.” And my answer here is the same, “What does the story tell you about how to live your life? What does it tell you today, at this point in time, and what will you learn when you read it again?”
Enjoy your reading. The Torah is an amazing book!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.