By Laura Seymour
The holidays are over and soon it will be Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan — a month of no holidays except for Shabbat (which is the most important). So what do we “celebrate”? That’s easy — we ended the fall holiday cycle with Simchat Torah and read the last story in the Torah and the first one as we danced with the Torah. A month with no holidays is the best time to commit to reading Torah and it is so easy because we are guided through the book with weekly readings — maybe the first book club ever!
A rabbi with a strange name, Rabbi Ben Bag Bag, says this in Pirke Avot: Turn it over and [again] turn it over, for all is therein. And look into it; And become gray and old therein; And do not move away from it, for you have no better portion than it. Ben Bag Bag reminds us that each time we read we discover something new, because each time we read we are different. Some may read because it is something they have always done each week, some may read for enjoyment (the stories are great and filled with mystery, imperfections, mistakes, drama and more), some may read to find answers from the past through interpreting for today and some of us just like to read and have made Torah reading part of our habit. So how to decide where to begin? First, you need the real words whether in an actual book (yes, people do still read real books) or you can get the Torah online and even read it on your phone. Next, find a website that delivers interpretation/commentary that you like. This is the hard part as there are so many to choose from and we all have our favorites that resonate with our understanding of the world.
Most important is to make it a habit! Read the words, ask the questions to go deeper, find meaning for you in each story. Will every Torah portion teach you something? Yes, even if the lesson is that you can’t figure out what it is all about or what it might mean to you. Keep reading! It will definitely give you a lot of trivia answers and your friends and family will be amazed at how you can take an ancient text and apply it to today — you will find parenting answers and business ideas! When reading the weekly Torah portion becomes a habit, the next challenge is to jump into Talmud! Sound daunting? The internet has made it possible to get a daily dose of Talmud!
We Jews are the people of the book and that means more than Torah — Rabbi Ben Bag Bag is teaching a lesson about Torah learning but truly lifelong learning. Never stop learning and being open to seeing things, even old things, with new eyes each day!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.a