Vay’chi 5778

The regulars at Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Thursday morning service were a genial, dedicated group; there just weren’t enough of us to ensure the quorum of ten every week. Absent a minyan, our practice was to read the weekday parasha / Torah portion from the siddur. There was no translation.

There is merit in hearing Torah being read, even from a printed source, and there is merit in learning Torah. However, after a string of non-minyan services, I felt that discussing Torah would be better than merely hearing Torah, the latter having more potential lasting value than the former.

At first, I prepared a few questions about the parasha. This turned into a paragraph or two, then three or four. Within a year, I was writing a weekly dvar Torah, an explication no longer than one side of a page, citing a traditional or contemporary commentator, keeping it short (people had to get to work!).

I had not purposely chosen parashat Vay’chi, the last in Bereishit / Genesis, as the week to begin offering divrei Torah. In retrospect, beginning with an ending was a fortunate choice: as we reach the end of each of the five books of Torah, we call out “chazak chazak v’nitchazeik / be strong, be strong and we shall be strengthened!”

Learning Torah, reading Torah, hearing Torah can be empowering. Following the flow of our biblical epic, recognizing names of major and minor players and places, asking questions…all lead to a knowledge of our sacred text that can help you feel more grounded in our tradition.

My “weekly reader” was one early (5764) signpost pointing me toward the rabbinate (the primary translation of the word “rabbi” is teacher). Nowadays, my typical dvar Torah is a bit longer than it had been on Thursday mornings, with an additional commentator or two, yet I still try to keep it succinct (people have to get to kiddush!). 

I am grateful for the opportunities and encouragement, starting 14 years ago, to learn and teach, and now I value the responsibility for sharing Torah as often as I can.

We gain strength from knowledge of Torah. With that in mind, I am starting a weekly Torah learning session, 12:30 Thursdays at Shirat Hayam, beginning January 11. Bring your lunch, a cup of coffee, bring your curiosity and questions. Come learn when you can — v’nitchazeik / we shall be strengthened!