Dr. H. David Burstein February 2007.
Several years ago I attended a lecture given by Rabbi Marc Gafni. He asked the question “Who is the real you? After going through various possible answers, he settled on the opinion of Rav Kuk. Rav Kuk said “Our essence is revealed at our moments of greatness. Who we really are is who we are when we are at our best.
Being at our best is different for all of us. For some it is a moment with family or friends. For others it is performing in front of strangers.
But the process to achieve greatness is not automatic. I like myself the most when I have worked hard to be in a state of separation from the ordinary. Tony Robbins calls it, “an unconscious competence. It is a process or moment when we are a full participant. Sometimes we say “Remember this moment At other times, the recognition of the moment occurs later. It is simply who and where we want to be.
One of these moments for me is when I study the Bible. I sometimes do it on my own, but I prefer it in a group. Being in a room on Shabbat morning with like minded people from all walks of life, trying to unpack levels of understanding from this ancient text is a transformative and spiritual experience. It did not happen over night, and I am still partly intimidated by the intelligence of others. But since I was taught by educator Arna Poupko, that “Intimidation does not mean debilitation I now relax in the setting and love the process of being there. I see it as an opportunity for growth. It is part of who I am.
However, my Saturday morning Bible study has taken a back seat to my obligations as a father. But that is all right. Taking care of our son Charlie has been my newest class in the Bible and Judaism. While I am continually fascinated by the “presence of his existence, I have made it a point to be more acutely aware of the life lessons that he teaches me on Saturday morning. While sometimes the ideas are new, usually he cements my understanding. Now I get it.
In my last article I discussed the ideas of: Chosenness, teaching history, honouring of parents and love.
The miracles of everyday life
One often heard remark in becoming a parent is that now I have a chance to look at the world through the eyes of a child. But no, I realize I am not seeing it as a child, but as an adult. I love Charlies enthusiasm, but as a 2 year old he really has no idea what is going on. I visited the Science Center with him. He was able to have fun running around and in throwing Styrofoam bricks. When I witnessed the elegant precision of the laws of nature and saw the physical perfection of creations within nature, it dawned upon me how miraculous life is. It is a world to be studied and cherished. That it all came about by fluke, is to me ridiculous. It makes me want to get closer to the Creator.
The Need of Perspective
One of the reasons why I trust the Biblical narrative is how its principles and the imageries of the stories that were handed to us thousands of years ago, are applicable today. For example, there is a parallel of the birth of the Jewish nation to that of a child. They are delivered from the narrowness of Egypt. They spend their infancy complaining of being vulnerable and wanting to return to the place they just left. Every move is watched over and all their needs are provided for. So while critics of the Bible often make fun of the idea of manna, have you ever projected yourself to try to think what it must be like for an infant to magically have their needs met?
I have also come to understand the commentaries on Biblical verses. For example, there are two presentations of the 10 commandments, one in Exodus, the other in Deuteronomy. The explanation for why we observe and remember the Sabbath is different. In Exodus it relates to Gods creation of the world. While in Deuteronomy, it is because of the delivery from Egyptian slavery.
Some people ask why they werent reversed.
In watching Charlie, I realize he has no appreciation of what is being done for him in the first few years of his life. It is simply too soon. We often need distance and time to understand things. The exodus from Egypt was too recent an event for the people to appreciate Gods participation.
Handling criticism of the Bible
Many times people dismiss the Bible because of some of the overly punitive rules that they read about in early laws of Judaism. They ask how can you take such a document seriously, when it is obvious that the punishment does not fit the crime (sin)?
However, in nurturing Charlies early development, I would ask the critic if they had ever held a newborn. One thing for sure, you better not drop them, or else you can do serious harm. Holding Charlie during the first year of his life was lovely and frightening at the same time.
Like an infant, the idea of human freedom is so fragile, that the lawgivers knew, that coming out of Egypt, they had to be very strict about the violation of the rules. They understood in creating a tradition that was a revolution against the gods, religion, and ethics of Egypt that violating the laws could lead back to a mentality of slavery. Freedom is complicated. We need discipline to be a skilled free person.
Holding the Torah
Finally, I have held a Torah in synagogue a few times. But only now, after having the experience of holding Charlie on my chest, when he rests his head my shoulder, do I know how, and why, to hold a Torah. I look forward to the next time Ill have the honour of holding it in my arms. It will be one of the moments when I will feel that I am at my best.
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