When people ask me about The Community Synagogue, one of the things which I love to talk about is the Torah study program which we have at this synagogue. I speak with pride about the fact that every Shabbat morning at 9am a group of people come together to learn about the week’s Torah portion. This is a group which I enjoy spending time with, and the questions and insights which they raise always deepen my own understanding of the Torah.
As impressive as this is, people are usually even more struck when I tell them about our 6th and 7th Grade Torah study program, taking place at the same time during the school year. While I know that people are there because it is a required part of our Bnei Mitzvah program (I’m sure many would rather still be in bed), I love the fact that children come together with their parents to study and learn. There is a unique energy in the room which comes from adults and children studying together. I will be honest and admit that it was one of the most intimidating things I had to do when I started here as a Rabbi (and it took some time for me to find my groove), but it is now a group I really look forward to learning with.
On Shabbat mornings as a community we make a real statement that Jewish education, and especially the study of Torah, is something which we should be engaging with at every stage of our lives. In the wider American Jewish community, many people wrongly assume that study and learning can finish with the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. In reality learning, and especially the study of Torah, is something which we should engage with at every stage of our life.
In the Talmud Rabbi Ben Bag Bag famously said of the Torah: ‘turn it, turn it, because everything is in it’. It was a reminder that every time we return to the study of Torah we learn something new which speaks directly to us. The answers and the lessons are always there within it, but they wait for us to be in the right place, at the right stage of life, to ask the question and thus learn the answer we need to hear.
In putting together the core values of our Synagogue it was clear that Education and Torah would be an important piece of what we do. We would not be The Community Synagogue, which all of you know and (I hope) love, without our Early Childhood Center, our Religious School, and our Hebrew Chai program; together providing for the educational needs of our children from birth until the age of 18. But in making a statement about education and Torah it had to reach beyond just this group and so we seek to provide ‘meaningful Jewish learning experiences to nurture an environment of lifelong learning’.
Learning is an important part of what we do as a community, and it is an important part of what we do as Jews. In the times of the Talmud the Rabbis were once sitting around together discussing whether study or action is greater. Rabbi Tarfon (who famously said: ‘it is not your duty to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it’) said that action was greater; while Rabbi Akiva said that study was greater. The other Rabbis got involved and ultimately decided that study was greater because it leads to action. For the Rabbis study was arguably the most important pursuit because it leads us to be active in the world.
For us today sometimes our study together will lead us to action, but sometimes we can study lashem shamayim simply for the honor of Heaven, for the enjoyment of the learning. At various stages of our lives we will be looking for different things from our Jewish education, but the important thing to remember is that through all of the stages your Community Synagogue is here to provide you with those opportunities for learning.