Jewish learning A Journey of Exploration and Discovery
Each and every time I read the parsha (the weekly Torah reading) I am amazed at its relevance to our lives, right in this moment. As we in the United States are focused on a Presidential transition and the essential qualities of a leader, in the cycle of Torah readings, we are learning about a leadership transition and the leadership of Moses and of Pharaoh.
When I was younger my understanding of these chapters was deeply influenced by other’s experience and knowledge, now my reading of this (and other Jewish texts) is informed by my life experience and knowledge and the current historical moment in which I find myself. Though the text remains the same, its possible meanings and relevance to my life now are very different. I notice new aspects of the texts, I wonder about different moments, I ask new questions, and what troubles me and what gives me hope are different. The same text is yielding many new possibilities. This, for me, is part of the joy of discovery that comes from being a lifelong learner.
One of our greatest Jewish leaders was a lifelong learner. Moshe, in his adulthood, was in the midst of his usual activities as a shepherd when he noticed a bush that was burning, but was not being consumed. As a curious man, with an abiding desire to know more, he was compelled to investigate further (Ex. 3:2). Moshe noticed this bush and was ready for this moment because he had been curious and thoughtful so frequently in his life prior to this point (Ex. 2). Moses’ decision to learn more about the bush created the requisite conditions for God to choose him to lead the People out of Egypt. While the impact in our lives might not be quite as transformative, the principle remains the same for each of us. Learning more opens the doors to new possibilities and adventures.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement (to) get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible, never treat life casually.”
Perhaps living this way at every moment is not possible, and maybe not even advisable given the particular demands of any given day. But there is a stance of living, a mindset, that we can each embrace that allows for us to be open to new experiences and to have our hearts and minds ready for moments of learning. This is such a critical part of being alive.
As adult learners we have the generative opportunity to continue the joys of exploration and discovery that hopefully were a critical part of our formative years. Now is our chance to venture into areas we have long wanted to explore or to delve more deeply into subjects that passionately intrigue us. Under the guide of talented teachers, and in the company of other inspiring learners, we will learn more about our world, our community, and ourselves. This learning offers us occasions to expand our minds, to open our hearts, and to feed our souls. Why should this joy be relegated solely to the young?
I invite you to join me on a journey of exploration and discovery. My hope is that whether you are looking to dip a toe in the water of learning, or to dive right in, there is an appropriate class for you here at Hebrew College. Thank you for being an important part of our community of learners, who deepen our conversations and enrich our lives.
Dr. Susie Tanchel is Vice President of Community Education at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. View Hebrew College’s winter/spring 2021 community education offerings for adults and teens.
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