Sitting in my mentor’s study, I soak up his wisdom. Rabbi Stanley M. Davids seems to know so much about so many things and I wonder how that was possible. So I ask him. He tells me nonchalantly that for him learning never stops. He shares that recently he began studying Jewish texts with a local orthodox rabbi to enhance his knowledge and to keep him fresh. I vow that day to follow his example. I would become and remain a lifelong learner.
That vow, made twenty eight years ago, still goads me on to make Torah l’shma a priority in my life.
We each contain within ourselves a wellspring of wisdom that allows us to make wise decisions, be insightful in our relationships, and be inspiring teachers. That wellspring needs to be constantly fed lest it dry up.
For twenty-three years, my wife Michelle November and I maintained that our effectiveness as parents derived from our ability to renew our wisdom by accessing a wide spectrum of parenting expertise. Over the years, we read books, learned from other parents, consulted experts, attended parenting seminars, and talked constantly with each other. When we wrote our new book, Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights Publishing), we counseled that parents who wanted to raise spiritually balanced children needed to continually explore their own Judaism. Why should it be any different for Jewish educators?
When Talmudic rabbi Ben Bag Bag claimed that everything is in Torah, he taught us that significant wisdom for every moment is contained within our textual tradition. If we want to be a source of wisdom for others, we need to keep turning Torah over in our minds, deepening the wellspring within us. If we want to remain relevant and innovative, we need to return constantly to the source of our expertise as Jewish educators. If we want to be compelling teachers of Torah, we need to know how to be students of Torah.
Over the years, I have:
- Participated in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s rabbinic program, immersing in embodied Spiritual practice and studying chassidut;
- Read a dozen emailed Torah commentaries weekly;
- Hired an Israeli teacher to talk with me rak b’Ivrit to strengthen my conversational Hebrew;
- Studied with HUC-JIR and CCAR in continuing education courses by phone, in person and at conventions;
- Partnered with friends for phone text, studying by iPhone and Skype;
- Taught rabbinic pastoral counseling to immerse myself in the latest literature and learn for a master social worker.
My interns can tell when the light of Torah shines through me. My board does too. And the holy work I do today reflects the study I did yesterday. As I witnessed within my rabbinic mentor, Torah L’shma continues to nourish my soul and helps maintain my integrity as an educator and a rabbi. Simply put, it makes me a better me.