Keep­ing the Bi­ble fresh

The book made the lim­i­ta­tions of my stage of life a step­ping stone into the texts

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • RACHEL SHA­RAN­SKY DANZIGER

‘What do women have to do with Hanukkah?” asked a clear, loud voice. It had to be loud, be­cause the room was over­flow­ing with ba­bies. Ba­bies crawled, ba­bies slept, yet above it all – above the bab­bling and the funny lit­tle mur­murs – the clear voice car­ried on talk­ing, shar­ing ob­ser­va­tions, wis­dom and truths.

The voice be­longed to Sharona Halickman, and the knowl­edge she im­parted that day felt oddly like a mir­a­cle. It wasn’t the ideas them­selves that seemed oth­er­worldly – they were far too eru­dite, con­cise and log­i­cally struc­tured. It was rather the fact that some­how, at a time when par­ent­hood seemed to douse my spir­i­tual needs with sleep de­pri­va­tion, Sharona made it pos­si­ble for me to learn Torah.

In her 15 years in Is­rael, Sharona Halickman has ded­i­cated her­self to mak­ing Torah avail­able for every­one by found­ing the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion To­rat Reva Yerusha­layim.

In her new book, Par­sha Points: More Torah from the Land of Is­rael, Halickman achieves the same goals through the writ­ten word. Each chap­ter is short, con­cise and to the point. Ev­ery idea is clearly and care­fully de­lin­eated. This is not an es­o­teric book for spe­cial­ists; rather, it brings the fruits of Halickman’s vast schol­ar­ship to every­one in suc­cinct in­stall­ments that are easy to read, un­der­stand and ap­ply. This is Torah for busy peo­ple, har­ried read­ers, tired par­ents and any­one else who craves to fit learn­ing into their hec­tic daily life. Re­mark­ably, she achieves these goals with­out com­pro­mis­ing on the depth and orig­i­nal­ity of her in­sights.

Par­sha Points fo­cuses on the weekly Torah por­tions that tra­di­tional Jews around the world read ev­ery Shab­bat in shul. These por­tions al­low us to reread the en­tire Pen­ta­teuch over the course of a year. The word for “year” in He­brew (shana) is de­rived from the verb lish­not, to re­peat, and in­deed, as soon as we com­plete the Pen­ta­teuch we start reread­ing it, re­peat­ing our en­deav­ors year af­ter year. But while the way we read the Torah em­pha­sizes rep­e­ti­tion, the con­tent we read con­veys a very dif­fer­ent mes­sage.

Time and time again, the Torah presents the Jewish story as one of in­no­va­tion and ini­tia­tive. Abra­ham was called “Ivri” be­cause he left the ac­cepted be­liefs and norms of his era be­hind him, cross­ing the metaphor­i­cal river to the other (ever in He­brew) side. The Is­raelites were later called upon to slay the idols of their Egyp­tian lords and masters and dis­play the blood above their doors. The covenant in Si­nai in­vited them to en­ter a new kind of re­la­tion­ship with the di­vine, and the laws they re­ceived promised a new kind of just so­ci­ety in the Land of Is­rael.

Our sages be­lieved that maa­sei avot si­man lebanim (the ac­tions of the fathers are a sign for the sons). We are ex­pected to learn from our Pa­tri­archs and Ma­tri­archs and fol­low in their foot­steps. Like Abra­ham, we, too, are sup­posed to value truth above tra­di­tion. We, too, are sup­posed to strive and hear God’s Lech lecha – the com­mand to Abra­ham to leave his fa­mil­iar place – and fol­low that com­mand be­yond what’s fa­mil­iar to us, well into an un­known land. Our her­itage en­cour­ages us to dare and in­no­vate (lechadesh in He­brew), not merely re­peat that which came be­fore. But it ex­pects us to do so while we fol­low our an­cient tra­di­tions and prac­tices, and read the same texts over and over again. Jewish life calls upon us to re­new, but it does so through repet­i­tive cy­cles.

The very first com­mand­ment God gave the Jewish peo­ple of­fers in­sight into this ten­sion be­tween rep­e­ti­tion and re­newal. “This month shall be unto you the be­gin­ning of months” in­structs God while the Is­raelites are still in Egypt, on the cusp of their re­demp­tion. “It shall be the first month of the year to you.”

The sages in­ter­pret this pas­sage as an in­vest­ment of author­ity. The Is­raelites are now re­spon­si­ble to de­ter­mine the be­gin­ning of each lu­nar month. We, not God, hold the power to de­clare a new month, and there­fore to de­ter­mine when all the hol­i­days will take place. But the He­brew word for “month” used in this pas­sage, chodesh, hints at a big­ger role we have to play. While the He­brew word for year, shana, comes from the word for rep­e­ti­tion, the word for month comes from the verb mean­ing “to re­new.” Per­haps by mak­ing the “chodesh” our re­spon­si­bil­ity, the Torah en­trusted us with finding the new within the old, as well.

We en­counter the same Torah por­tions over and over again. But our hu­man na­ture en­ables us to meet them in new and dif­fer­ent ways. We change. We grow. While the texts re­main un­changed, we en­counter them dif­fer­ently. When I sat in a sun­lit room all those years ago, sur­rounded by ba­bies and Torah, Halickman helped me meet the Torah anew. She did more than make Torah study pos­si­ble for me, de­spite my lim­i­ta­tions; she turned my lim­i­ta­tions into a new step­ping stone into the texts. She en­cour­aged me to ask the ques­tions that emerged from my stage in life, and ex­press the con­cerns par­ent­hood evoked in me. I en­tered the world of Torah as I was at that mo­ment – sleep de­pri­va­tion, di­a­pers and all – and emerged with new in­sights into the fa­mil­iar sto­ries.

This book in­vites all read­ers to do the same, and find the “chadash” within the re­peat­ing cy­cle of the Jewish year.

The book launch with Sharona Mar­golin Halickman and Rab­banit Shani Tara­gin will take place on Mon­day, July 29 at 7 p.m. at Matan Jerusalem.

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A TORAH scroll.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.