By Laura Seymour
The school year has started and I have added a weekly learning session for all those in our J Senior Department. It is so wonderful that our seniors have returned for lunch and exercise but also for learning. We have the story of Rabbi Akiva, who did not start learning until age 40, and we all need to remember that we can continue learning forever! So we began (or continued) our journey of learning together with the most important book. The Jewish people are called “The People of the Book” and that book is the Torah. It is studied word by word, chapter by chapter and over and over again. Since Moses, we have struggled to learn all the lessons in the book of our people.
Many people ask me what is the most important part of the Torah, but I’m certainly not the first or the last to come up with a possible answer. I definitely have favorite verses and stories and those keep growing as I keep learning. The ancient rabbis asked, “What is the most important verse in the whole Torah?” (Genesis Rabbah 24:7) and each had a different answer.
Ben Azzai said: “The most important verse in the Torah is, ‘This book is the family-history of Adam’ (Genesis 5:1). It shows that all people are related.”
Rabbi Akiva said: “Wrong! The most important verse is, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).
Rabbi Tanhuma added: “There is an even more important verse: ‘In the image of G-d’ were people created” (Genesis 1:27).
Talk with your family and friends and try to imagine the arguments that these rabbis had over the most important verse. Pretend you are one of these rabbis and have a great family discussion. Rabbi Tanhuma’s verse is a very important Jewish value — it teaches us the importance of each and every person: b’tzelem Elohim — we are created in the image of G-d! Not just me or you — but everyone!
What does it mean to be created in the image of G-d? How must we act toward one another? If you want to see G-d, where do you look?
After you have had a good family discussion using the thoughts of our three sages, find other verses in the Torah that teach you an important lesson!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.