This was a D'var Torah I wrote for WATE (the Westchester/Fairfield Association of Temple Edcators - the F is silent) for a meeting this morning.
|The view from Mt. Nebo today.|
Parshat Chol Hamoed raises some interesting questions for us as educators. The obvious one is the focus on the calendar. We live and die by them it seems. Of course as educators, we are working on Chanukah or even Tu Bishvat (for the Type A personalities, not me) while still in the midst of the Fall festivals. As educators, I think we are sometimes living anachronisms – not outdated, but living out of sync with real time as we work to create programs, lessons and experiences that will be implemented months down the road.
But let’s step beyond the calendar. We have three holidays in the rear view mirror and one to go before the Blessed month of Cheshvan (nutty rabbis of the Talmud called it "bitter" Cheshvan because there were no festivals in it – maybe they didn’t want to have to actually come up with other topics to talk about?) and a full return to our regularly scheduled curriculum.
I was learning over Zoom with Rabbi Mark Borovitz two days ago and he asked me an interesting question—especially with Simchat Torah looming.
“What happens at the end of the Torah?”
[I paused here and invited my colleagues to suggest answers.]
All of those are there. I had said "Moses dies."
Then he asked: “What happens to the Israelites at the end of the Torah?”
I answered that they are at the foot of Mt. Nebo waiting to enter the land.
Now he was almost yelling: “Why does the Torah leave them there? Why don’t they get to enter the land while still in the Torah?”
Then it hit me. It is not about getting there. It is about the journey. It is about getting through each day, moving closer to the goal.
Rabbi Borovitz works with addicts at Beit T'shuvah in Los Angeles. Addicts do not talk about being cured or being finished with their recovery. Recovery is something that happens every day for the rest of their lives – if they are successful. It ends when they die or when they return to their addiction.
They don’t get to the Promised Land. Or if they do, they do not get to lie under their vine and fig tree. Their – and our – struggle continues every day.
The Torah doesn’t end with the death of Moses and the people waiting for the Book of Joshua to begin - as if it was just a book in a series like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. The Torah ends by us going back to the beginning and chanting Bereishit: "When God began to create the heavens and the earth."
This is a metaphor made for educators. We get relatively few kudos compared to clergy who are with our members during their happiest and saddest moments. We count our moments of victory over a longer period of time. We don't get or provide a lot of immediate gratification, like people experience with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a Wedding or even a funeral.
WE have to wait half a generation to learn if our learners take up the cause of the Jewish people and raise Jewish children themselves. We keep going back to the beginning, like the weekly Torah reading.
May we all find joy and radical amazement as we finish and restart the Torah this Sunday night.