My New Year’s Resolution (and hopefully yours, as well)
Shoshana, Ari, Eli, and I spent the last week of 2011 in Knoxville visiting with my parents and celebrating my mother’s retirement from a 27-year career in teaching elementary school. At her retirement party, I gave a toast in her honor about the impact she made as a teacher of our country’s youth. I also spoke about the supreme importance of education for “our people”. Reflecting on that wonderful event and my own remarks, I began to think about my role as a teacher, and more importantly, my role as a student.
Virtually nothing is of higher value for us as Jews than learning. Numerous passages from the mishnah and midrash speak of the importance of learning Torah in order that it will influence and shape us. The Talmud tells us “study is great for it leads to action”. The learning of Torah can help shape our behavior, even our essential nature, if we are open to allowing it into our souls. When I began learning Torah in earnest 10 years ago I was a very different person than I am today. Of course there are other factors, but learning Torah has most assuredly played a prominent role in my growth as a human being. Like anything else in the world, the more we expose ourselves to particular concepts or ideas, the more they influence us. This is why our tradition encourages us to learn at least a little bit of Torah each day.
Being a daily student of Torah is not nearly as difficult as it might seem, but it is not so easy either. One needs direction and dedication. When ordained as a rabbi at JTS, you choose a previously ordained rabbi, generally a mentor, to give you a blessing. My mentor, Rabbi Martin Cohen gave me two blessings. His first blessing was that I dedicate time to learn Torah every day. Of course, the fact that he chose this blessing for me is telling. Even as a rabbi, engaging in serious Torah-learning every day takes planning. I know that personally, the transition from being a full-time student of Torah to a rabbi was hard on my daily learning. Frequently, I hear Martin’s voice encouraging me to make more time for Torah.
So, in honor of my mother’s retirement from formal teaching and in consonance with my desire to make Torah learning and observance an ever-increasing part of my life, my New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to increase the amount of Torah-learning I do each day. And (you guessed it!) I cordially invite you to join me! One of the most beautiful aspects of Judaism is that we all share in the obligation of learning Torah and can experience the joy of learning, both on our own or together with friends and fellow congregants. Learning is not just the province of rabbis and scholars. Torah calls to each of our souls, beckoning us to make space in our lives for its wisdom and guidance. Take this opportunity as we begin 2012 to pick up a Jewish book. Sign up for one of the myriad of online sites that will send you some Torah to learn each day. Come to one of our Conversations in Jewish Learning lectures on select Tuesday evenings (see the CBD calendar or events blast). Stay for our weekly learning opportunities on Shabbat afternoon following lunch. Join us in March for our scholar-in-residence weekend with master storyteller Dr. Peninnah Schram.
Most importantly, email or call me if you need suggestions for some individual learning or reading. Nothing would make me happier than to help every single member of Beth David decide on a Jewish book, topic, or theme to explore this year! In just five or ten minutes each day you will be amazed at how much you can learn and the impact that learning can have on your life if you allow it.
May this New Year of 2012 bring blessings of increased Torah-learning, deeper knowledge, and fuller souls to us all.
Rabbi Philip Ohriner
Some opportunities for Jewish learning
Limmud Bay Area: Feb. 19 and 20 at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove
Register here: http://networkedblogs.com/qTIHQ