“All you have to do is open up the book.” In a recent study-planning discussion for the Temple Micah (Washington, DC) group Kol Isha, I went off on a bit of a rant with this as my theme, insisting that anyone with the desire to do so can prepare to lead Torah-focused learning without leaning on an “expert.”
On further consideration, I’d like to modify this position somewhat: While it is not necessary, or always helpful, to rely on an expert, other people — from ancient commentators to nearby/on-line colleagues — can be a great help in truly opening the text.
In that spirit, I decided to honor the great gifts that I’ve received from others in my learning — from ancient authors, from modern commentators, from individual community members — by providing some notes that might serve to help anyone seeking to “open up the book.”
My plan is to offer posts for each weekly portion — on things to notice, language/translation, paths to follow for those interested in more study and source suggestions.
I thought this approach might be more helpful to others than complete dvrei Torah [“words of Torah,” commentaries]. Valuable as dvrei Torah can be, they represent someone else’s completed thought about the Torah. What I’m hoping to provide instead, are little windows into the text for those who want to explore more on their own.
Please let me know if you think this is helpful — or what might work better. The blog helps me keep notes in one place and sort out ideas, but I’d rather it also helped others.
One Mind-Altering Trip…
I have learned a great deal from Temple Micah — from Kol Isha and the Hebrew Poetry groups, particularly — in my ten-plus years of membership. But much of my Torah-learning was garnered elsewhere, through lay-led study. I began learning as an adult with the non-denominational Jewish Study Center, which relies entirely on volunteer teachers — some who also have “day jobs” as educators, many who simply choose to prepare and lead a class. The Study Center was founded by Fabrangen Havurah. Without official clergy to lead, havurot [fellowships] rely on whatever participants offer. This fact, alone, is encouragement to study: If you don’t, who will?
As part of the Shabbat morning service, Fabrangen reads the entire Torah portion in English every week and discusses it. Each week one participant prepares some opening remarks and/or questions about the Torah portion to launch the discussion.
I learned much from participating, gradually becoming familiar with some resources for further study as various books and authors were mentioned. But I learned the most from my first foray into leading the discussion.
I volunteered when the discussion coordinator announced that no one had signed up to lead two weeks hence, for the portion Terumah ([“gifts”] Exod. 25:1-27:19]. Knowing nothing whatever about the Tabernacle and its building, I began with the Reform movement’s The Torah: A Modern Commentary (“Plaut,” the only one I owned at the time). I followed sources cited there using books in the DCJCC’s library and on the internet.
It just so happens that a fellow Fabrangener asked, at the time, about sources I used, and I responded by a listserv post that is still cluttering up the hard drive on our family’s “old computer.” Here, for those interested, is what I wrote then, describing a path from Plaut (A Modern Commentary) to the dvar Torah I wrote.
You can see from the path outlined in these other posts, that the trip began both with opening up the book (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, in this particular instance) and with the words and encouragement of fellow travelers. As you also see, I’m kind of obsessive about Torah study; I probably expended more energy and time on that first dvar Torah than most people would think necessary/possible. However, please note: It is not necessary to travel extensively to experience a mind-altering Torah trek.
…leads to another
Kol Isha will be exploring Torah in the coming year through participant-led sessions making use of relatively new resource, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. In support of participant-led study at Temple Micah and elsewhere, I offer these suggestions for getting into the text.
One limitation to the chosen text, I believe, is that it doesn’t offer the same level of citations that the Plaut (or newer Plaut/Stein) edition does…. so a peek at some other sources can only enhance the trip.