Archive | May, 2012

Delight or Desist

22 May

The Jewish world is preparing to dedicate this coming motzei Shabbat – Saturday night – to the study of Torah. Young and old, boys and girls, men and women will stay up all night in all types of venues, unified in the common cause of pursuing Jewish enlightenment.

The source for this custom is understood to be based on a Midrashic story suggesting that on the morning of the Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai – the morning when God had promised to reveal Himself before the entire nation – believe it or not, the Jewish people slept late! Part of making up for that faux pas throughout the generations has taken the form of one annual sleepless night, devoted to Jewish study. In recent years, this night of Jewish study has taken on a very loose definition – nonetheless, the custom is gaining popularity in all parts of the Jewish world and this, to me, is a very exciting phenomena.

That said, I want to speak now not to students worldwide who will be showing up for this grand event around the world; rather, I speak now to their teachers (of course, everyone is invited to listen in…)

In the Book of Psalms it is written: The precepts of the Lord are righteous, bringing delight to the heart…. (Psalms 19:9).

Teachers of Torah are obligated not only to be learned scholars, but to present their teachings in ways that cause the Torah to delight its learners.

Among the many reasons given for the custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot (Cheese cake is my favorite J), I am partial to this one:

It is written in the Song of Songs, Sweetness drops from your lips, O bride; Honey and Milk are under your tongue. (4:11). A 14th century collection of Jewish law and custom called Kol bo suggests that this hints at the notion that the Torah itself (the metaphoric bride, in this case) is as sweet as milk and honey. Very nice thought – but why then do so many Jews not find this to be the case? Why for so many Jews has the Torah become no more than an antiquated irrelevant collection of historical hearsay?

Enter the Midrash Rabbah on the Song of Songs (4:11)…

The rabbis said: Anyone who publicly speaks words of Torah without making them as delightful to the listeners as honey and milk mixed together, it would have better for him to have refrained from speaking them.

Teachers of Torah beware: it is our responsibility to make Torah come alive for our students, to bring great excitement to the study, to make the Torah a delight for its listeners. One who is not prepared to do this may do more harm than good in the long run, casting Torah study in a negative light. Just knowing something does not mean we are prepared to teach it – teaching takes preparation, organization, and the ability to convey Torah in a way that delights.

Chag sameach and May your night of learning be delightful!

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