Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ever so Busy

I spent today juggling dozens of tasks, among them phone calls with Sara from PopJudaica and Avi from Jews By Choice in addition to my regular at-work work. Of course I was also checking up on Facebook, Twittering, and sending emails to various lucky parties. Oh, did I mention I was also holding down a conversation on Pidgin with my far-away friend Cesar?

But all the while, I managed to make use my office's scanner, since tomorrow is my last day, copying pages I'd taken notes on and flagged in A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices within Judaism by David Hartman (a book that Avi had suggested to me, actually). Although I can't say that I read every last page of the book, I did read about seven-eighths of it, and I have to say it was an outstanding read. Of course, I have 26 pages with various notes and comments that -- at some point -- I will collect into one (hopefully) coherent thought. Until, then, though, I wanted to offer a few snippets from the text.

This first one is where the title of the book comes from, and I think the ideas within this block of quoted text essentially define for me what is necessary to be a Jew today:
There is a beautiful metaphor in the Tosefta that describes the kind of religious sensibility the Talmud tried to nurture: "Make yourself a heart of many rooms and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare unclean and the words of those who declare clean" (Sotah 7:12). In other words, become a person whom different opinions can reside together in the very depths of your soul. Become a religious person who can live with ambiguity, who can feel religious conviction and passion without the need for simplicity and absolute certainty.
         In this type of interpretive tradition, awareness of the validity of contrary positions enhances, rather than diminishes, the vitality and enthusiasm of religious commitment.
All too often we think it's our way or the highway; but these differing positions -- be it on Torah or who is a Jew or on what is Kosher enough -- should enhance the Jewish experience. After all, probably the most quoted line about the Jewish people is the old "two Jews, three opinions" line.

The second little snippet I wanted to share was one of those things I read and smiled and nodded my head in approval:
Let the Torah never be for you an antiquated decree, but rather like a decree freshly issued, no more than two or three days old. ... But Ben Azzai said: Not even as old as a decree issued two or three days ago, but as a decree issued this very day. (Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, piska 12:12)
The thing I love about studying Torah is that every time I read a portion, even though I've read it before (and yes, it is a full year later), it is like reading it for the first time. I notice a strange translation, a peculiar word choice, an interesting repitition, a contradiction, a unique instance of an idea or thought. Though I have only been studying Torah for a few years, and many begin studying from a very early age and continue throughout life, this concept seems so natural to me. You can read a text every day your entire life, and there will be instances of complete realization -- it is inevitable that you will discover something you missed before. The verbage, the choice of punctuation, the tone of the text, the scenery.

I sometimes read back through my own work and will often think "I wrote that? I wonder why I chose that word. I really punctuated my thought that way?" And this, of course, is the beauty of the written word. It is what I live and breathe, and really drinking it all in allows me to thrive.

So it is with that, that I leave you. I find myself anxious about the approaching Tisha B'av. I feel horribly unprepared and not in the proper state of mind because of the changing winds of my present situation (on Wednesday I leave for Nebraska, and on August 18 I start on my drive to Connecticut). But somehow, everything always seems to fall into place.