Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning How to Be From the Torah (and with apologies to all football fans!)

This past week’s Parshat HaShavuah was Mishpatim. As Rabbi Lord Sir Jonathan Sacks writes in his weekly teaching, we make an abrupt move from narrative of amazing people and situations (as well as some that give us cause for question) in our Torah as Storyteller to a completely different mode of Torah, that as Law Giver. He asks why don’t we continue on to the narrative of the events that make us who we are but then just as quickly and in his singularly articulate manner, explains that we need the laws to know who we are and how to be. He explains that the vision of US as a PEOPLE is found in the details of our lives, so many of which are found in Mishpatim and will continue to be the subject of coming weeks.

Clear and beautiful as well as simple to understand. Yet, it is precisely these details that many people find irrelevant or too difficult and prefer to dismiss them. I really do get it. Let me explain. Next Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. And my husband and many friends are truly experiencing the pre-pre-pre-show to this very elevated experience. THIS I DO NOT GET!

I finally actually (as opposed to pretending which is what I normally do) watched my very first football game several weeks ago, you know, the Eagles game (I forget who they were playing already) dubbed the SNOW BOWL. It was so much fun watching these guys rolling around in the snow. It was really cool and fun. BUT not the point, I am told. What I was watching was not the vision of football, defined by all of its particulars and detailed regulations; but just a fun blurry white snowy mess.

If we do not stop to look at and understand the particulars and important details, we do not get the bigger picture. Yet, before we get to the particulars and important details, we need the vision of the bigger context of what it is we are concerned about. Torah does this. First we get the stories, the people, the situations and the potential of what we can be. Then once we experience the series of events that bring us to the point to BE ALL THAT WE CAN, we must understand the particulars and the details that will be part of our reality. In my daily learning of Gemara, in Masechet Shabbat, at one point in the discussion of the Tabernacle/Mishkan and the covering (coming up in next week’s reading and to continue for a while), the question is posed “Why are we teaching this Law? What relevance does it have for us today?” One proposed answer (sparing you all of the details for obvious reasons) is that we learn about Tefillin regarding how they are made and what materials can be used. These we continue to use daily even though we do not have the Tabernacle/Mishkan. By following this practice of utilizing proper materials (in this case, the discussion is actually about animal skins permitted in the leather parts), we are not only doing something that makes sense to us today but we are also continuing the practice that links us to so much in our past. In Mishpatim as we read through the Ten Commandments, the laws of indentured (and very limited) servitude, laws regarding how we treat each other, and so much else, we are looking ahead. We are considering the lessons of the past amazing chapters of our lives in the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and the years of Moshe’s leadership and leaving Egypt as we set the tone for our future, which will be forever tied to our past through our observance of the details and the particulars of the people who we are and the way we live. This is history, bringing together our past and our present, insuring our future.

So years ago, I was returning home from a consultation visit to another community and met a football player from years ago – a Philadelphia Eagle, no less. We exchanged first names and talked about life. My family was not too pleased with me for not getting his autograph and particulars. Clearly, I just did not get it – I just thought he was a quite nice older gentleman. We were talking and he was stating how disappointed he was that football today is not the same game he played years ago. He felt it had “sold out and become too commercialized” and was not as much about the sport any more. He felt that a tradition (the vision he had learned and been part of!) had been lost, even corrupted.

Judaism is often touted as the one ancient way of life most accurately preserved. This is precisely because of the vision, intact in our minds through our yearly repetition of the stories of our past and our daily learning of the many details that were informed by that vision and take us back to our roots as well as bolster our existence in our lives today.

So does this mean football fans and players and associated parties could learn something from Torah? As for me, I am hoping the Super Bowl will be another Snow Ball! Sorry! (I mean Snow Bowl!)

1 comment:

  1. I love this nuanced way of bringing together some different things I love. But mostly I'm shocked that all those years of pretending to watch football, which I thought was our family glue, did not yield 1 real experience of watching a football game. what else have you lied about? :)