When strange things happen in the world that defy normal expectations, we have to sit up, take notice and ask ourselves why. One of the most unexpected and unusual phenomena of human history is the continued existence of the Jewish people. How is it possible that we as a nation are still here with everything, our values and our religion, intact after thousands of years? The real answer to that question lies in G-d’s Hands. He drove history and we are in His hands. He had a mission for us and guided us throughout history, ensuring that we would still be here today. But we also played a role in it, and that was in keeping Judaism. G-d gave Judaism to us and it has been our life blood. As we say in the blessings when a person gets an aliyah, “Ve–chayei olam nata betokheinu – You placed within us eternal life”. Judasim is the source of our eternal life.
There is one dimension which is the engine of the system, that drives and inspires the enterprise of Jewish history and is at the heart of Judaism; The mitzvah of the study of Torah. This mitzvah is energising our comunity through a brand new exciting programme launched 18 months ago that has been successful way beyond expectations. It began at the new Beit Midrash Project at King David Linksfield and then went to Hertzlia in Cape Town and to King David Victory Park.
This programme is about a new way of learning. It offers our children a new dimension to their Jewish education that applies to the grades 10s, 11s and 12s. On ChiefRabbi.co.za is a 10 minute video clip, produced by SABC TV, that gives the background to the programme and the comments of the children. Have a look at it as in this programme you will see the real answer to the Jewish people’s continuity. It lies in one of the most important mitzvot, the study of Torah, as the Talmud says this single mitzvah is equal to all of them – “Talmud Torah keneged kulam”. It is the power of Torah study to reinvigorate and inspire us as Jews that it so awe inspiring. This programme is about switching on our teenage students and making them excited about Judaism in a completely different way. It employs the classic Jewish style of learning; sitting with a text of Talmud or Chumash or the Commentaries, and engaging with the learners so their voices are heard. In the video clip you see the children’s inspiration coming from the fact that their voices are being heard. True Torah learning is about participation. G-d wants to hear our voices and wants us to participate in the conversation where we take a sense of ownership. Conventional wisdom and the sceptics would say that this type of programme shouldn’t work because if you are trying to appeal to teenagers you need to combine the learning with technologically advanced methods and dilute the learning to make it easier for them to consume. But these teenagers are really enjoying grappling with the ancient texts, mainly in Hebrew and some in Aramic, learning it the same way it has been done for thousands of years, because real Torah learning is gripping and energising. It is the wisdom of G-d’s that He gave us on how to lead our lives. It is enlightening, inspiring and uplifting. If Torah learning can do this for teenagers, can you imagine what it can do for everyone.
There is another incredible learning programme which takes place on a Saturday night in Johannesburg every week where hundreds of parents and children get together to study, called Avot uBanim. These are just two examples of what Torah learning does for a community. It revitalises us on a communal level and also as individuals.
What we have to derive from this is that each one of us should be incorporating more active Torah learning into our own lives. Tell your Rabbi and your Rebbetzin that you not only want to hear a shiur, a lecture or a sermon but you want to engage with them with the text. I promise you there is not a Rabbi or Rebbetzin in this country that will turn you down, and if they do – come to me.
Watch the videos and you will see the energy and power of Torah study and why it has been such a driving force in Jewish history.
Thank you so much for taking the time to watch this. I always appreciate the opportunity of engaging with our special community on a regular basis.
G-d bless you and thank you.