Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Naso
“Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from everyone, as it is said: ‘From all who taught me have I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99).” Pirke Avot 4:1 (1800-year-old Code of Ethics)
One who learns from everyone. One – who learns – from everyone. One who learns from – everyone. One who learns from everyone?
I keep getting stuck on the “everyone.” Shavuot is the holiday we celebrate receiving Torah. According to tradition, Moses receives Torah from God atop Sinai on this day. We are seven weeks past Passover and have been bringing our first-fruit offerings to the altar for the past month and a half. In modern-day ideology; we have been priming ourselves to bring our best every day so that when we rededicate ourselves to Torah, we stand prepared to grow it as it grows us.
We acknowledged receiving Torah in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai. The sages ask why God revealed these sacred texts in the middle of land owned by no one. “Adonai spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai … (Numbers 1:1): Why [was Torah given] in the wilderness of Sinai? From this, the Sages taught: God gave Torah to the accompaniment of three things: fire, water, and wilderness. Why was the giving of the Torah marked by these three features? To indicate that as these are free to all in the world, so also are the words of the Torah free. Anyone who does not make one’s self as open ownerless as the wilderness is not able to acquire wisdom and Torah. (Numbers Rabbah 1:7)”
Further, the sages teach, “The Torah was given to [the Israelites] in the most deserted place in the world, for if it had been given in the land of Israel, the inhabitants of the land would have said, “It is ours!” and had it been given somewhere else, the inhabitants of that place would have said, “It is ours!” Therefore it was given in the most deserted place in the world, where whoever wanted to take it could do so. (Mekhilta d’RaShBi, quoted in Present at Sinai, S.Y. Agnon)”
So, I go back to this verse from Pirke Avot. To whom was Torah given? Our tradition speaks in one accord, “To everyone.” Everyone. Torah commands us to study, pay attention, grow empathy, learn, heal, and work to improve each other. Every person of faith, whatever the religious tradition, swears allegiance to this mandate every time one walks into a moment of prayer. Children and adults; teachers and students; royalty and subjects: Torah demands that we learn from each other.
Of course, tradition presumes that we are all people of faith, but I would argue that we learn from even those with whom we vehemently disagree. Each of us has a list of negative experiences from which we learned positive values. Too often, we simply dismiss those with whom we disagree. With that dismissal, we forgo the opportunity to learn – even if the lesson involves the behaviors we do not want to emulate. Everyone.
In truth, though, until we commit to listening to each other, we can never fulfill the mitzvah of learning from each other; we can never give honor to the sacred scriptures to which Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad stand affiliated nor the sacred texts of the diverse parts of the world that teach the very same lessons.
Wisdom comes from engaging, not bludgeoning, and not always from winning. In the case of every act of violence, one may win the battle, but always at a severe and sometimes fatal cost.
Torah commands us to care for each other, to build a world together, and to secure a brighter future for – everyone. God’s love is not for a select few. Everyone received the gift of the Torah.
The text reads, “The covenant Adonai is making with you this day … confirms this day that God is your God. ‘I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of God but also with those who are not here today. … Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deut. 29 and 30) It is for – everyone – we should honor it as such.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameakh (Happy holiday)!