Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Torah and the Self - A Blog on Understanding the Self through Torah

The purpose of this blog is to explore the Torah text both in its stories and laws so as to better understand who we are and how we need to grow...

Our sages taught that the Torah can be interpreted in seventy ways - each equally true and relevant. This blog will explore Torah passages without straying too much from the p’shat, or simple text translation, so as to see what the Torah has to say to us to better cope with our complex existence. We will begin our first blog with where we are in our weekly parsha and continue to move through the readings each week. The questions we need to ask ourselves are “Where am I in this reading? How am I like the character I am reading about? How are his issues similar to mine? What can I learn about myself from his experience?”

For many years I visited the sick and suffering in hospital and homes. So often they felt a hidden sense of shame about their circumstances that exacerbated their suffering. They felt their illness story was something to get over so they could get on with real life. Being sick was for them the junk of life and as long as they were sick they were not really living. They often found it comforting when we might discover an analogy to their situation found in the life of a biblical character. It meant for them that their suffering was worthy and not just the ‘junk’ of life. After all, if the Torah told a similar story and it is the holiest thing in the world it must be significant. Through that process, their suffering gained meaning and became more bearable. We have long been taught that the stories of B’reishit are given to us in part because ‘maasay avot siman l’banim’ – that “what happened to our fathers is a sign for us.” Some may interpret that ‘sign’ as referring to a predictor of historical events of the future. In our exploration we are understanding the term ‘siman’ or ‘sign’ as referring to our personal lives and our personal struggles that can be enlightened when we realize our Fathers and Mothers went through similar challenges.

To do this work we will need to humanize our great Torah heroes. We will need to see how much we are like them. In doing that we are not minimizing how much greater our ancestors were than we are. We acknowledge that at the outset. And yet, if we do not bring them down to our own level how can we learn from them. If we do not see them as like us, only more so, then they are too distant to be the teachers whose lives set an example for us.

The Torah and the Self will hopefully teach us to use the Torah to provide a mirror of ourselves so that we will honor the ‘junk’ of our own lives and work through it on our journey to “shlaimut” - completion.

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