Trusting Torah, Changing Torah

May 7, 2012
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Torah does not change, but we do.

Torah does not change, but the times and the languages do.

Torah does not change, but the way we read it has.

Torah does not change, but the meaning is unknown.

In the thousands of years that Jews have carried the books given to them, to guard as a covenant between them and their creator, we have practiced, we have studied, we have kvetched and bantered, celebrated and mourned; we have interpreted and told stories (maybe our greatest skill), we have built great halls and given our lives to fine causes… all built on the teachings handed down from times past.

And in all of this, one, clear meaning has not arisen.  One notion of truth and interpretation has not been found.  Many groups and denominations within the Jewish faith have tried, have offered their best shot, some more open mindedly than others… yet with no conclusions.

I still, every year, argue with my own mother about the particular rules of Chametz that we shall follow on Pesach.  She answers to a tradition that will not eat rice or beans, but fluffy egg based matzo meal rolls are on the menu.  Me, I will enjoy my brown rice, quite so, but the fluffy egg rolls are a no, no.  It’s just not in the spirit of the time!

Well, that’s what I say.  And, the Torah seems to have little to tell us otherwise.  There are passages that talk about the Exodus.  There are the stories and the traditions.  This is what we are made of…

But Torah?  The, pardon the metaphor, Holy Grail, of Jewish thought and existence, did not come embedded with footnotes and references.  It would be nice to have an index that we could use to look up the meanings and real intentions of the poetry behind these great words. But we don’t.  For all of Rashi’s greatness, wisdom that has given us some of the finest commentary on the Talmud, he was still a man, flawed. His words are at best a highly skillful interpretation of the possibilities of the Source.

Yet, maybe this is the point.  Maybe this is the gift we have been given, not a solid set of mandates, but within this “written in stone” document, there could be the flexibility to be read by any time and age to suit the needs of the time.

To me that’s rather profound.  Assume for a moment the divine hand in the offering the Torah to the Jewish people.  Well, then, giving this lack of direct interpretation, would that not constitute a great faith? A great trust?  Not for humans in our creator, but by our creator in us!

The words of the Torah can be read as a seed.  Sown into our hearts and minds to blend with the Creation, to be woven into what our hearts guide us to, towards what is necessary here, and now.

So what to do then?  What about the ritual sacrifices and the clear passages about the wrongfulness of male homosexuality?  The monetary value of men versus women? The jubilee of ownership and debt?

This is where the trust comes in: the heart, the breath of creation given to humans to walk in the image of the creator. Seeking the connection lost in Eden. Seeking the light behind the shadows.  This is why we pray.  To reconnect to our true beings and be honest to ourselves in answering the questions: How can I serve? Have I been a good person? Can I forgive more easily and smile more often?  Can I seek peace when others seek war?  Can I stand with honor, knowing my peers may not?  Can I be a little bit better today than I was yesterday?  Can I love more and how?  And my favorite: Can I have the courage to know what is right when I see it and do my best to act on it?

A changing notion of Torah vital for this globalized crescendo in human history, is the recognition that the notion of Torah has always been change and that Torah is a tool, a gift.  We are the lights, and we can open the books and find in them what we wish to see: war or peace, equality or divide, trust or fear.  The future, if we let it, will be bright.

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Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, writer, and social good project developer as well as a recent graduate of NYU's Environmental Conservation Education masters program. Lee has also studied at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan, Israel and at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Currently he has been leading development of the Global Action Classroom, an Earth Child Institute initiative focused on global youth environmental cooperation and helping to create the Global Sustainability Fellows, a program of The Sustainability Laboratory seeking to design a new and innovative, international sustainability masters program. Other projects include: developing mobile applications for encouraging social action, mixed media video design, leading peace and environmental education workshops, and doing his best to live a life in connection with the Earth while helping others to do the same. At heart Lee is a poet, traveler, musician, and philosopher with a deep curiosity for new experiences, unfamiliar cultures, learning languages, and often dancing to the beat of a different drummer. As student of yoga, meditation, and spiritual arts, Lee aims to connect the inner journey with the outer one, hoping, as he can, to share what is learned along the way, enjoying the journey.

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