Last week, I was honored to have delivered the D’var Torah during Shabbat Morning services at Adath Jeshurun. As part of my sermon, I spoke about how our sages connected our essential need for water (in order to physically live) with our essential need for Jewish learning (in order to spiritually live). The following is an excerpt from that sermon, reminding us that at Talmud Torah, we are committed to providing our children with a wide variety of Jewish skills and experiences that will serve them well, so they can confidently “swim” in the sea of Jewish life, now and into the future: The Midrash teaches us, “Words of Torah are likened to waters. As waters reach from one end of the world to the other, so Torah reaches from one end of the world to the other. As water gives life to the world, so Torah gives life to the world…As water revives man’s spirit, so Torah revives man’s spirit… And, as with water, if one doesn’t know how to swim in it, he will end up by drowning; so with words of Torah: if one doesn’t know how to swim in them and teach them, they will drown in the end.” Mayim is chayim…water is life. And, according to our sages, water is Torah. So… for me, the logical conclusion is that Torah is life! And yet, how do we approach being able to drink in all that the Torah has to offer? How do we acquire the tools to benefit from the wellspring of knowledge that potentially pours out of our tradition? And how do we transmit that ability to our children and their children, and the generations that follow? Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, the former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, advocated that education is the answer when he wrote the following: “The effects of Torah as the source of life for the Jewish people work only as long as people can read it. If its language becomes as impenetrable as hieroglyphics, it risks turning the synagogue into a museum and its teachers into intermediaries. Serious education and lifelong study are what transform inert letters into life-giving water. The greatest danger to Judaism has always been illiteracy, which is why our Talmudic sages insisted that “The world itself rests on the breath of children in school [Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 119b].” Rabbi Schorsch makes a compelling argument in support of life-long learning, beginning with planting the seeds of Torah within our children. Our job is to teach them to navigate the waters of Jewish tradition, to teach them to swim confidently, to give them the tools to be able to drink in enough to keep them hydrated, but not so much that they will drown in the process. What shall we give them to stay afloat? At Talmud Torah, our answer is Hebrew language, Israel, customs and practices, tefillah and texts, music, culture, history, and holidays…these are all parts of the essential life-raft that we provide for our students! We are in the business of creating a place where Torah can flow in, and Jews can flow out. Mayim is chayim….water is life! Torah is chayim….Torah is life! It took witnessing a spectacular miracle by God for the Israelites to pause and express heartfelt gratitude for their remarkable rescue at the sea, at Yam Suf. We have the opportunity to be grateful each and every day, as we breathe in and infuse the essence of Torah into our next generation. We do this together by fulfilling our communal and educational mission: providing our children and their families with the tools for living intentionally Jewish lives. That is the sweet spot. That is our place of balance!
Hazzan Jeremy Lipton