Every day I open my email and have access to Jewish learning galore on every possible topic of Judaism. Sometimes I think I should unsubscribe from a site but then something catches my eye. The most amazing aspect of it all is that with so many commentaries on the Torah portion of the week, there will definitely be something for everyone. Let me focus just on Torah (although I also get great articles about people and recipes and jokes and…and…and…). Rabbi Ben Bag Bag (don’t you love his name?) in Pirke Avot says, “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.” When we learn Pirke Avot, we look at each section for understanding and then look at all the parts of the Mishnah together for thoughts. Right now, let’s just begin with “Turn it over, and again turn it over.” How many times can you read a story in Torah and find something new that relates to you right now in time? For those of you for whom this is new, try it. And go to the internet for the vast array of commentaries.
Today, I want to share Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig’s thoughts, not about the parasha but his introduction to his commentary. He begins by remembering and honoring a beloved teacher, Rabbi Kalman Packouz. First thing we learn — never forget those who came before you and guided you! What Rabbi Zweig shares about his teacher is this — a great lesson for all:
Aside from being one of the most kind and caring people you could ever hope to meet, Rabbi Packouz was a man of remarkable ingenuity and creativity. He was also an inveterate optimist with a wry sense of humor. He loved describing the difference between an optimist and a pessimist: The pessimist says, “Things can’t get any worse.” The optimist says, “Yes, they can!”
Funny, yes? True, yes, too often! Today that message hit home for me as I tried to read Torah instead of listening to the news — something I definitely recommend. And if you are addicted to the news today, read the Torah — there are lessons there to guide us today during our crazy times.
Now, one more thing from Rabbi Zweig about his teacher. He shares a “social experiment” from Rabbi Packouz:
The question: Did you read that as “Opportunity is nowhere!” or as “Opportunity is now here!?”
What a great experiment, and it is up to each of us to analyze what we read and what that means to us today. Just as with turning and turning Torah to find new meanings, it is not about the words but about us. Where am I today as I read? How is my life experience affecting the way I am interpreting? And will it be the same tomorrow? The words remain the same — but, thankfully, we change!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.