by Michael Sabani
Should you ignore something just because you don’t believe it? Can you still learn from it?
It was during a recent discussion with some friends about the Torah that I realized something that opened the Torah up for me almost completely.
We were discussing the different interpretations that one can have about things that happen in the Torah. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there was a questions as to what happened in a particular part of the story. Most everyone believed that one “counterculture” interpretation was true. In fact, they felt so strongly that it seemed they were almost offended to hear that a traditional or Midrashic interpretation could even be entertained. I was honestly kind of shocked. Not that they would entertain a view that doesn’t necessarily portray the patriarchs or matriarchs as saints because, let’s be honest, they weren’t! The issue I had was that they almost wouldn’t even listen, and when I did share, I felt like I was viewed almost as an anachronistic, ignorant, orthodox party pooper! And I most certainly am not!
What I learned is this:
We are a tradition full of ideas. You know that old saying, “three Jews, five opinions”. The thing is, when we hold on to one interpretation over another, when we almost outright refuse to listen to something from our own tradition that differs with what we want to believe, we are only cheating ourselves. In order to be informed, in order to be fully aware of what the Torah is trying to tell us, there has to be a balance. Just because you don’t like an idea, DOES NOT mean that you should run from it! Instead, embrace it! Look it right in the face and figure out exactly what you don’t like/believe about it. If, after you’ve listened you still don’t agree, GREAT! At least you learned something. And as people of the book we are called to always learn.
There is a saying from the sages that the Torah has 600,000 letters, and each represents one Jewish neshama, one Jewish soul. This means that there are as many ways to read the Torah as there are Jews who read it!
The sages also say that every letter of the Torah, down to the smallest yod ( ‘ ) is there to teach us a lesson. It would seem to me that in order to get the most out of the Torah, especially today, we should pay attention to even the smallest letters, especially when we disagree with it. Only through that friction can we release the Light, and only through that struggle can we brighten the world.