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Friday, 1 August 2014

Experience Torah!

Megillah 21

En route to spending Passover with my family in Australia some years ago, Rabbanit Batya and I (along with baby Millie!) stopped over in Fiji for a few days.   We were taking a tour of the main island when the tour guide spotted my yarmulke.  We got chatting and sure enough this fellow was Jewish but had zero connection to anything.  Originally from Brisbane, he had come to Fiji many years prior and fallen in love with the place.
“Mate, when you get to Aussie, can you ship me back same matz?”

The most practiced Jewish ritual is the Passover seder.  There is hardly a Jew in the world that does not sit down and have some semblance of a seder, even if it’s just a morsel of matzah and cup of wine to mark the occasion.  And we’re talking about people who have not set foot in a synagogue in many, many years.   Why is Passover so popular?

The Mishnah states: Whether one reads the megillah alone or two read it together, the listeners fulfill their obligation. 

The Gemara explains: This is not the case for Torah reading, as the Rabbis taught, “For the Torah reading, one may read while one translates (as long as you don’t have two translating); for the Prophets you may have one reading and two translating (as long as you don’t have two reading and two translating).  But for the Hallel prayer and the reading of the megillah, you could even have ten people read together!  Why?  Because when a reading is dear, the listeners pay attention.

The reason for Passover’s popularity lies in its ability to deliver excitement in a variety of ways.  The seder was designed to cater to every learning style.  Are you a visual learner?  Well, look at the seder plate we’ve prepared for you!  Are you a musical learner?  Well, even if you don’t know the words ‘shema yisrael,’ you probably know ‘dayenu.’  Gustatory learner? Well, we have everything from good food to bread that tastes like cardboard and herbs that will set your mouth and nose on fire.

Whatever your learning style, there’s something for everyone on Passover.  And that’s why nearly every Jewish person feels some kind of affinity to the holiday.  Our Sages created a multisensory experiential learning event that speaks to every individual, which is particularly important when we are dealing with the annual occasion designated to “tell your child” about our national history and heritage.

When you love learning, it doesn’t feel like learning.  It becomes entertaining!  And everybody loves entertainment.  Our Gemara says that the same is true of the megillah reading – for “the reading of the megillah, you could even have ten people read together!  Why?  Because when a reading is dear, the listeners pay attention.

Why do people love to listen to the megillah?  Here too, our Sages have created a multisensory learning experience.  All the children wait patiently to drown out Haman’s name with their graggers.   There are four points in the reading that everyone says out loud.  The megillah must be folded like a letter and on the two occasions that we read the word “letter,” we shake the megillah.  The sons of Haman must be read in one breath.  When we get to the beginning of the miracle – the story of the insomniac king – the reader raises his voice.  Before we begin reading, the rabbi announces that everyone must remember the other mitzvos of the day – the mishteh (feast), matanos l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) and mishloach manos (food baskets we exchange with friends).  It appeals to so many of our senses that we love the megillah and pay more attention than we would to a regular Torah reading.

Pesach and Purim are the ultimate models of Jewish learning.  The challenge is to create that same excitement when it comes to all our Torah learning.   Are you a reader?  Well, there’s no shortage of text today in our age of print, both offline and online.  Are you more visual or auditory?  Attend a Torah class or you can watch or listen to one online!  Whatever your learning style, there’s something out there for you. 

Torah is exciting.  But sometimes you need to uncover your own personal learning style if you want to discover the excitement.   Try different methods.  Figure out what gets you pumped.  And you will see that Torah learning is most incredibly invigorating, inspiring experience life has to offer!

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