Last week we had our High Holidays. We’re now in a new year, we’ve atoned and forgiven for the sins of last year, and we are ready to start again. We spend this week hanging out in fun little huts, enjoying the last warmth of Fall, thinking about the impermanence of things, and traditionally this would be a time of preparing for the coming winter by harvesting our wheat, but most of us aren’t farmers anymore. Unless any of you have to hurry off after Religious School to harvest your wheat? Next, it will be Simchat Torah, when we will unroll the whole Torah and bless the children of the religious school.
Why do we do this? It’s important to be able to sort of rewind the Torah and pass it on to the new group of students. We start reading it over, and you all get to be a part of the new year’s study. The Torah has a lot to say and a lot to teach us, but it also says a lot that may no longer feel relevant. For example, there are rules about how we should farm, but probably no one in this room has decided to become a farmer in the last thirty seconds since I asked. That doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from those parts of the Torah, too. It may say, “leave the corners of your field untouched, so that the poor can come eat,” but we can now interpret that in new ways. Since we don’t have fields, we can’t leave the corners untouched, but we know that the idea is that poor people should be able to accept charity with dignity. So now maybe instead we make an anonymous food donation to a soup kitchen, where the poor can come and eat there without us knowing who were feeding.
There are also parts of the Torah that we may think really have no more lessons to teach us, like laws about how to treat your slaves. Now the people realize how bad slavery is, and those laws are pretty outdated. But they still can teach us about the society our ancestors lived in at the time the Torah was written. It’s good to learn about our history and see how our people has evolved.
Next week, when we start the Torah over again on Simchat Torah, there is a part of the celebration that’s all about you kids. A lot of you are still too young to read from the Torah, but you’re certainly never too young to start learning about the Torah, and soon enough, you’ll all become Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and will join the ranks of adult Torah study! We want to be able to pass down the Torah to you and invite you into the study groups. Because its not only important to reread the whole Torah every year, but to have fresh eyes looking at it, to hear a new perspective, to study with different people. It’s helpful to hear the next generations’ approach to G-d and Torah if we want to continue learning new things. So think about what you learn in Hebrew school and what it means to you, how it fits the G-d of your understanding. Ask questions. Learn. Interpret. And may you all continue to fulfill the mitzvot of learning Torah. Amen!