By Laura Seymour
The month of Elul has begun, and it is a month to think and reflect on the past and on the future as we prepare for the new year. The rhythm of the Jewish year works well with our Texas academic year — now is the time we go back to school remembering the summer yet excited about another beginning.
This past week, I was teaching this text (one of my many favorites): Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 82a, a compilation of teachings of third-sixth century scholars in Babylonia, with the final redaction in the sixth and seventh centuries.
“ … It was taught: ‘And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water’ (Exodus 15:22). Those who interpret the law metaphorically explain that ‘water’ refers here to the Torah as it says: ‘Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the water’ (Isaiah 55:1). Since they had gone three days without Torah, they became exhausted.”
This is one interpretation used to explain why we read Torah on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat — we cannot go three days without water, without Torah. There are numerous texts comparing Torah to water — both being essential to life.
So how can we study Torah every day? Ideally, Torah study is to be done with a friend. You read together and learn together. Today, for better or worse, you can have a million friends who you never talk to but can learn with — the Internet has opened Jewish learning to anyone with a computer.
I start each day with email updates on Jewish philanthropy, Daf Yomi (a page of Talmud) and “Jewish Ideas Daily.” Sometimes I spend five minutes, sometimes longer and, yes, sometimes shorter, but there is something that works better than caffeine, and that is stimulating your mind with new ideas.
Can you afford five minutes a day for Jewish learning? Can you afford not to? Both the ancient rabbis and the psychologists today remind us that learning new things keeps our brains growing instead of connections dying.
Learning specifically Jewish is good but even the ancient rabbis knew we had to live in the world — in fact in the old days, rabbis had day jobs just like we do. Learning Torah means learning life — everything is in it.
During this month of Elul, as we prepare for the new year, think about what you are going to learn this year. It could be a subject you’ve always wondered about, it could be learning to play mah jongg, it could be tennis (combine the physical with the mental).
Don’t stop learning — it is as important as water.
Laura Seymour is director of youth and camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.