By Harriet P. Gross
Special to the TJP
Another Jewish year is unfolding. We’ve said goodbye to our sukkahs; we’ve danced with our Torahs; we’ve joyously read the final words of Deuteronomy, then rolled the Holy Scroll back to its beginning: “In the beginning…” The ongoing, everlasting study has begun again.
This would be a perfect time to begin our own personal study, according to Dallasite Nancy Reuben Greenfield, who has drawn a special roadmap for us. Her third book, Tiptoe Through Genesis, is a unique approach that offers a simple — but far from simplistic — path to understanding Torah.
Greenfield is an eclectic writer. She’d already published two books before this one: When Mommy Had a Mastectomy passes on the wise way she explained her own cancer to her two young children, while The Golden Medina is a novel that completes an unfinished manuscript left to her by her late father. She credits the authorship of this one to Reuben and Reuben.
But Tiptoe is very different. For years, Torah has been the author’s chosen field of personal study, her passion and her inspiration. For many of those years, she’s been contributing weekly Torah portion summaries to the website My Jewish Learning (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/author/nancy-reuben-greenfield/). Her first volume in a series planned to “tiptoe” through the entire Torah is now available, but can only be accessed through TiptoeThroughTheTorah.com website.
Greenfield’s work is not word-for-word translation; rather, it is thoughtful adaptation that she calls “a verbal bridge, lovingly built for crossing over the fence of Torah…high enough to look over, and close enough to look within…” She follows each day’s parasha with a pair of questions designed to spark thoughtful conversation in families or other groups, among participants of all ages. An example: Her very first text begins “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth…Divine Presence hovered over the surface of the waters”; the questions she poses after this encourage exploration of God’s continuing creation(s), and how individuals may “hover” over matters themselves.
Now, as Greenfield prepares for book-by-book publication of the rest of Torah in her special format, the Tiptoe model is showing its worth as a teaching tool. Susan Herzfeld has been using this approach for three years in Congregation Beth Torah’s Learning Center, and proven its success as an ongoing, yearlong creative project. Director of Congregational Learning Beri Schwitzer says “We were looking for something exciting and engaging for our third-graders, and were enthralled with Nancy’s easy-to-understand and meaningful text.”
Every Sunday, Herzfeld’s class reads the week’s Torah portion in Greenfield’s simple language (before future appearance in book form, everything after Genesis can be downloaded free from My Jewish Learning) and, after discussion, the students write and illustrate their own interpretations on standard-size sheets of paper. The activity begins when Sunday school resumes each fall, and continues through May. By that time, all the weekly sheets have been joined together and secured to dowel rollers, and the children have created mantles to cover their own completed Torahs, plus breastplates and finials to decorate them. Then, during a special service of Consecration, they personally present them to their parents. This project seamlessly and successfully integrates both art and writing exercises into the yearlong Jewish curriculum. Herzfeld has become such a fan of Greenfield’s creativity that she calls it “Nancy’s gift to the world!”
Parents can do this at home with their children of any age. Begin with the children’s self-portraits and include a copy of each week’s parasha, using a new blank sheet for each child’s comments and illustrations for the week’s portion. Keep the sheets in order, using strong tape to hold them together. At the end of the year, each child will have a complete Torah of his or her very own.
A practical use has emerged as a surprise benefit: When Carlie and Justin Ross were discussing her future bat mitzvah with their daughter Sarah, age 10, they first calculated its date, then turned to the Torah she had made to find what her portion would be!
But despite the commandment that every Jew should write a Torah, it’s not necessary to make a complete one to learn what it contains. Study will do that. The Greenfield household began family Torah study when its children were very small. “My husband Richard and I were grieving the loss of his mother,” she recalls, “and we took comfort and gained insight from reading the beautiful poetry. It’s a joyful thing to do. The surprisingly simple words have great depth and power. Torah is not mysterious, not beyond us; it’s a book for people of all ages, backgrounds and religions.”
The Greenfield children are long grown now. Gabrielle, 22, is a student at the University of Maryland; Josh, 25, currently studies at a yeshiva in Israel, preparing to become a rabbi.
Now, as the yearly congregational Torah readings begin anew and religious schools gear up again, Greenfield is hoping that more young families will also try at home the study path she has found personally effective and enriching. “You can take short passages from the daily Torah texts for group discussion or for personal meditation,” she says. “The Tiptoe questions are real-life; there are no answers beyond the ones you provide!”
Greenfield’s true goal is “wanting more Jews to explore the richness of Torah in this easy and meaningful way.” And now, with Simchat Torah behind us, the time is perfect to begin. Start with Genesis using the personalized approach found in her entries on My Jewish Learning, or in her already published book on Genesis (now available through Amazon for $7.99, or as a free Kindle download).