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A Lesson From Hebrew High School - March 17 2017

A Lesson From Hebrew High School - March 17 2017

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I hope you had a great week, and a fun Purim! At Chabad we had two beautiful Purim celebrations, including a musical Havdalah and interactive Megillah reading on Purim night, and an amazing 'Purim in Israel' experience at the Chabad Hebrew School in New Rochelle on Purim day.

This week, as part of our weekly 'Hebrew High School' program, I had an interesting discussion with two teenagers about the place of logic and faith in life.

We had been learning some of the weekly Torah portion, which speaks about the events that followed the giving of the Torah in the Jewish year 2448. We read about the story of the Golden Calf, and about the construction of the Tabernacle (the portable Temple the Jews used in the desert , the 'Mishkan' in Hebrew) which followed. 

In the middle of the ongoing story, the Torah pauses to tell us - again - about the importance of keeping Shabbat. Why? We know about Shabbat already from the ten commandments, and its repetition here seems out of place. The biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes, France 1040-1105) explains that the Torah reiterates the importance of Shabbat once again in order to teach us that keeping Shabbat is more important than all work, even construction of the Temple. This is why the Torah stops to tell us about Shabbat in the middle of telling us about the construction of the Tabernacle/Temple.

When we finished studying the above, one of the boys asked why the Torah would use such a roundabout way to tell us something. Why couldn't it just clearly write that we shouldn't construct the Temple on Shabbat?

Good question. 

We spoke about how the Torah is not a book of facts to be memorized, but a means to connect with God and a guidebook for how to live life. Of course there is much logic and critical analysis in Jewish thought. But when it comes to the very important things in life - faith, happiness, relationships etc - sometimes they can't be put into words and can only be alluded to. 

Shabbat is a commandment. But it's not meant to be enacted as a forced ritual, but rather as a beautiful experience that we have the privilege to have in our tradition. True, when you read the words of the Jewish laws pertaining to Shabbat it can seem quite blunt: 'Don't do this and don't do that'. The actual experience of Shabbat however - sitting with your family, lighting candles, making Kiddush and enjoying a Shabbat dinner - is unparalleled in its beauty and meaning. The words describing how to keep Shabbat can make it seem burdensome, but the actual experience will be the furthest thing from a burden.

Judaism is so much more than words; it is an all-encompassing experience. Words can be tricky things. They help us understand each other and the world around us, but they also can be an endless sea of empty jargon. In order to truly appreciate and benefit from what Judaism has to offer, just reading about it and relating to it in a removed, intellectual manner, can prove a bit boring. You have to experience it to appreciate it.  In the words of King David in Psalms, 'Taste it and you'll see that it's good...'

Rabbi Avrohom

 

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