Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Empty Treasure Chest

This past Sunday the city of Brotherly Love held an Israeli Independence Day celebration. There were kiosks selling jewelry and Judaica, falafel and shwarma. There were camel rides and a moon bounce for the children. There was even a band and Israeli dancing. In spite of the festivity about me it all felt a little flat. What was wrong I wondered to myself? I saw friends I hadn’t seen in so long and to be with so many Jews and seeing so many have such a grand time, was beautiful. So, what was missing?

Torah! That was the key factor and that was what was missing. All the festivity and fun, Israeli flags and Jewish identity felt empty without the obvious presence of Torah. It seemed to me to be a most exquisite treasure chest of fine woodwork, sturdily made, strong and resilient, bound together to last several life times, but when opened was found to be empty.

I realized once again how deep and important a Jew’s connection to Torah is. In the book, Turbulent Souls by Stephen Dubner, he expresses this supernatural connection quite beautifully. In his story, he writes of his family who had converted to Catholicism and his return to his roots and to Judaism. He writes of his first time in a synagogue. How it all seemed so foreign and how much like an intruder he felt until the Holy Torah was brought out from the ark.

“… The service, though was baffling: standing, bowing, moaning, no one in unison, cloudbursts of Hebrew, as intelligible to me as a coughing fit,… What was I doing here?...I was utterly forlorn.
And then the Torah was brought out. Suddenly all the jabbering was reduced to an appreciative murmur. The air itself seemed to grow lighter, easier to breathe. The bulky Torah scroll, swaddled in its glittering cover like a child of royalty was… escorted down the aisle by an old man struggling happily beneath its weight… the men and boys up front hurried to greet it…I tumbled into a bone deep understanding. I too threw myself at the Torah, awkwardly scraping it with my fingers, lifting my fingers to my lips. A resonance, a gratefulness, a relief, blistered its way inside me…”

I too had my own ‘first time seeing the Torah’ experience. I remember it very well, being in a synagogue and the opening of the ark. Seeing all the Torah scrolls so beautifully adorned yet obviously well used. I remember how I cried realizing the enormity of it all and what these holy objects really were. The same Torah given to Moshe Rabbeinu, (Moses our Teacher), was right there in front of me.

The beauty of it all really is overwhelming but opening up its sacred words and allowing it to touch the very depths of us is even more beautiful. The change that the Torah can make on a person’s soul is the most incredible work of art there is. Recently at a class that my beloved and I attend, the Rabbi taught about how many will allow Hashem in their lives on the Holy Days or in times of trouble but will not keep him in the day to day. They may attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah but they will not want G-d to come home with them. “OK G-d, this was great, but don’t you dare come home with me.” In other words you wait here, don’t call me, I’ll call you. Maybe they have all the accoutrements of a religious life, all of the outward appearances but lack the depth of a Torah life. They may have some holy books in their home, a Chumash (Five books of the Torah) or a Tanakh (the Bible) but they are just there sitting on the shelves. They are just lovely touches and adornments to the home. What would happen if they were opened and used? Not only would they adorn the home but their souls as well.

When the men lay tefillin on their arms they wrap the strap around their middle finger and hand and they say:
“I will betroth you to Me forever…” Hashem is declaring that Israel eternally remains His betrothed. At the class Rabbi said,” Imagine a couple getting engaged and the fellow saying to the girl, ’OK. We’re engaged but I don’t want you to come around and don’t dare ever call me…’ What kind of engagement that would be? A ring with no relationship? It would look nice but it wouldn’t last!

All of these situations are empty treasure chests, really lovely but nothing inside. We, all of us Jews need to be filled with the precious gems of Torah. We need to fill our individual treasure chests with love of Hashem, love of Torah and love of our fellow Jew. Then as a people we will be the most beautiful of treasure chests filled with the most valuable of precious gems, Torah filled lives.

1 comment:

jenny said...

This is such a beautiful post! Psalm 119:165
Those who love Your Torah have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble.

I have to say that being raised in a Christian church I was always taught that the law was done away with. But, blessed be the Name of HaShem, He has led me to the path of Torah and shown me the fallacy of this way. When we walk in the light of Torah we are blessed as He has promised.