When Lightening Strikes
This week, we finish reading the last Torah portion of Deuteronomy and start again at the beginning of Genesis. I can hardly believe that it’s now been a year since I started writing these columns. In reflecting back on the year, I’m struck by how much writing these columns have enriched my life in ways that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated when I began.
The last portion of Deuteronomy, called V’zot Habrahah (And this is the blessing), begins with Moses blessing the people Israel before his death. The blessing recounts that God came from Sinai carrying lightening. The word for lightening is “esh dat” which literally means “fiery law” and according to the rabbis refers to the Torah.
This past year, I learned how Torah is indeed analogous to lightening. Like lightening, my thoughts for this column strike unexpectedly. I learned that I can’t make the inspiration for these columns come on my own schedule. Most often ideas come in the most unspectacular, everyday places — at the dinner table or when out on a walk around the neighborhood one of the kids makes a remark that somehow resonates within me.
Just as the time and place of lightening bolts can’t be anticipated, neither can the effects. In the Talmud, (Ta’anit 7a) the rabbis asked: “Why are the words of Torah compared to fire?” They answered “Just as fire does not ignite itself, so too words of Torah are not sustained alone.” The most unexpected blessing of writing these columns is the way that it has brought people into my life. It has helped me keep in touch with past congregants, colleagues, students and teachers in a substantive way and kept the light of those relationships burning brightly.
The column has brought new people into my life. Each week, I share it with friends and family. Over time, my list of friends and family has grown and now includes almost 700 people. This journey has shown me the intricate web of relationships in which I (and each one of us) take part. The column has brought old people back into my life — prompting reconnections with childhood friends with whom I had fallen out of touch. Just this past week, a babysitter from my childhood came across the column and contacted me for the first time in over twenty years! Through the incredible tool of the internet, the fire of Torah has a way of slowly spreading and bringing people together.
The most prominent fire recounted in the Torah is when Moses encountered a burning bush that was not consumed. What I learned most this past year is that the fire of Torah doesn’t run out. I was concerned when I began this project whether I would be able to write a piece on every Torah portion. As a congregational rabbi, I connected the lives of my congregants to the weekly Torah portion — but I hadn’t tried to link it to my own life (and particularly to parenting) each and every week. Genesis is filled with narratives about parents and children, but the subject matter of the latter books of the Torah is often remote from such themes. I wondered whether I would find an idea in every portion. Yet I found that the Torah portion always connects to the events of the week. The light of Torah never burns out.
I want to thank each of you for accompanying me on my journey, for your support and your insights. This week, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, the end of the Torah is read, followed immediately with Bereshit (the first chapter of Genesis). So too, as I complete this column, I look forward to starting all over again at the beginning with you.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.