There are days when I drown with thoughts of why. Why are we here? Why get out of bed? Why push so hard? Why care so much? Why want more? Why expect so much? Why stay and not walk away? Why demand answers? Why go above and beyond? Why argue and not give in? Why should anything matter at all?
And then…all at once…the answer is clear…
* * *
A colleague’s son is becoming a bar mitzvah next month. Through the course of casual hallway conversations, I offered to work with him on writing his dvar torah – a short talk about lessons learned from the Torah reading of that week.
Now, to be fair, everyone knows I’m not a rabbi. I’ve never received any formal training on writing sermons or divrei torah. I am not a “Jewish educator” in a real sense either. I simply enjoy the process of reading Torah texts, unpacking sentences and words, and looking for hidden messages or new ideas. Even if I only come up with concepts that generations of rabbis already have debated, I feel proud to have reached the same conclusions on my own and to have found today’s relevance. More fulfilling still is the opportunity to potentially create an “Aha!” moment for someone else.
And so, last night I found myself face-to-face with a thirteen-year-old. Through dark-framed glasses and beneath a full mop of dark hair, large gray eyes stared at me and patiently waited.
I began with some rapport; looking for a connection that would build credibility and trust. Relieved, I found it quickly. (Thank you AC Comics, Scheff boys, and Superman!) I was able to use a conversation between Kal-El and Jor-El (Superman and his father) as a way to tee up Moses’ fatherly advice to the Children of Israel. From there my young pupil was eager to share the first draft he had written. Again I was pleased. This kid was the real deal. He was prepared; serious; focused.
His Torah portion, Ki Tavo, (“when you enter”) is part of Moses’ swan song to the Jewish people. Knowing that he will die and not be leading them much longer, Moses imparts final lessons and words of wisdom to a generation that will enter and be the first Jewish people to settle in the Land of Israel. There is talk of commandments, blessings and curses; and reminders of miracles.
While his discussion was nowhere near final form, my budding scholar managed to touch on a key theme of the chapter. He zeroed in on the literal meaning of cursing someone who had “misdirected a blind person” (Deuteronomy 27:20), which is based on the original text to not “place a stumbling block before the blind” in Leviticus (19:14). He was incensed that someone could be cruel by deliberately causing a blind person to fall down. I casually asked if there were ways to do something similar – to trip someone up – if he or she wasn’t actually blind. And it was then that the ray of light appeared in his eyes…the connection. It was the realization and the understanding that people do many mean things to hurt, mislead, and sabotage others. He said that he learned once – and believed – that his candle wouldn’t become brighter if he extinguished someone else’s. Without arrogance or cockiness, he shared that he wanted to be a leader one day; a Jewish leader who knew how to properly treat others.
* * *
I am clear on why…why I do what I do. He is a great reason. I have hope.