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Word of the Month: We don’t need a mountain to study Torah

David Ariel-Joel

Shanna Tova!
May we all enjoy a good year, a year of good health, joy and most important a year of Shalom, peace and wholeness and wellness.
This month, we will celebrate many holidays, culminating our High Holy Days with a very special holiday – Simchat Torah (the Joy of Torah). At our temple, we wrap our children with an actual Torah scroll (during consecration) and we lay a real Torah scroll on the laps of our preschool students.
For one day every year, despite our differences of ideology and practice, the entire Jewish community, celebrates the most unifying and important idea of our culture – that we are the People of the Book who never stop reading and interpreting it.
No other single aspect of Judaism mattered to our ancestors in the past, nor matters to us today, as much as being a culture of Torah readers.
An ancient interpretation on the revelation in Mount Sinai, tells us that God uprooted an entire mountain and held it threateningly over the people of Israel: “They stood beneath the mountain” (Exodus 19:17).
According to the account, the Blessed Holy One vaulted the mountain over them like a barrel and said to them: If you accept the Torah, well and good; and if not, there will be your graves.”
Quite a teaching.
Lucky for us, God is no longer forcing us to accept the Torah; we have the privilege, and the honor, to study without a mountain hanging over our heads, without the fear of God.
Studying Torah together is a journey, and like any good journey, you can never know exactly where you are going nor what you will find once you get there.
Exploring the wisdom of our tradition helps us learn about ourselves. We are encouraged to look inside and ask real questions: What is my place in the world? What are my values and goals? Who am I? Am I what I ought to be?
For centuries, Jews have turned to the Torah to learn how to live, to find guiding principles and values. The study of our sacred scriptures from Sinai until today can be an ongoing spiritual and intellectual investigation, a true revelation for each of us as an individual, and for us as a group.
If you ever ask yourself why you should learn Torah, consider this oft-quoted answer by Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag, a disciple of Hillel:

“Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it.” (Ethics of our Ancestors 5:27)

Torah is a wellspring of wisdom on virtually every aspect of one’s life. Religious or ethical, we can find Torah’s guidance at every turn, as a source for spirituality and a foundation of values.
We can establish the Torah for ourselves, a vital, dynamic text – as relevant to our lives today as it was 2,000 years ago. When we engage in Torah study, we appreciate its power to guide us through our daily existence, inform our understanding of the world around us and challenge our beliefs and preconceived notions.
In the weeks and months to come, hope to see you as we engage and wrestle with our sacred texts – a process that can enrich our lives and inspire us to always achieve more.

(Rabbi David Ariel-Joel is a senior rabbi at The Temple.)

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