“It has always been Jewish women – as mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and honorary ‘bubbes’ – who have raised and shaped each generation, both through example and through ‘folk Torah’ (proverbial wisdom, custom, songs, stories, memories, and rebuke).” Ellen Frankel, Ph.D., teaches in her book The Five Books of Miriam.
My grandmother was a teacher, my mom was a teacher, and, when I was little, I told my mom that I would never be a teacher. Many years later, not only I became a mom and an aunt, but also, I am a rabbinic student, and teaching is the most meaningful part of my life.
This week we read Parshat Vaetchanan. In the words of Israeli biblical scholar Nehama Leibowitz: “The main principles of Judaism – the prohibition of idolatry, the principles of the unity, love and fear of God, the Decalogue, the duty of studying the Torah – all are given an honourable mention in this sidra”. Living by God’s teachings, loving God and teaching Torah’s precepts is how Moses instructs the people to behave when living in the Promised Land, so that they can prosper and endure.
Living by God’s teachings means to put in practice the commandments, statutes, and judgements into our daily lives, always keeping in mind the highest principles of holiness and righteousness brought by Torah. We should live and act “in the spirit, rather than the letter of the law”, in the words of Nehama Leibowitz. Living, in this case, means thinking with a Jewish mind every step and every action of our day, no matter how insignificant it may seem to be.
All of this is why we are commanded to love. Not a romantic and overwhelming passion as we learn in Hollywood movies, but an “everyday love”. A love of body, soul and totality: bechol levavecha, uvechol nafshecha, uvechol meodecha (Devarim 6:5), expressed not only in matters of holiness and ritual, but in all our activities in his daily life. A love that we build upon entering and leaving the house, on the roads, throughout our daily routines, and which we pass on to the next generations. For Judaism, to love is to act, to demonstrate in all our actions our commitment to maintaining our relationship with God and her creation, no matter where we are.
But living and loving for ourselves are not enough. It is necessary to teach our children and future generations how to live and love, so that we can endure and prosper. We teach by example, by living by the rules and laws laid down by the Torah. However, teaching, in Vaetchanan, is a strong act translated as impregnating, engraving, sharpening. Medieval Italian biblical commentator and philosopher Ovadia Sforno explains that we must teach through repetition and through clear intellectual evidence, that we must discuss the teachings to constantly remind ourselves of them. Just as our mothers have been doing when telling us stories, singing and praying with us since we were little.
As our mothers, grandmothers and foremothers did, we continue engaging in conversations by bringing Jewish stories and traditions that illustrate our points of view. We embrace new generations, listening to them with affection, and transmitting our ways of living a Jewish life. As we learn in Pirkei Avot, from generation to generation: from Moses to Joshua, from him to the elders, from the elders to the members of the Great Assembly, and so on, we continue receiving, living, loving, and teaching Torah.
Living Judaism, loving God and her creation, and teaching this love to future generations, as Parsha Vaetchanan teaches, is how we have kept Judaism alive through the ages and is how we will continue to do so.
Andrea Kulikovsky LBC rabbinical student
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.