Best Introduction

Yawning is associated with tiredness, lack of stimulation, and boredom. Yawning has an infectious quality. Seeing a person yawning, talking to someone on the phone who is yawning, thinking of yawning, or just reading this week’s Torah portion can trigger yawning. This week we start the book of Leviticus, which is full of all of the sacrificial laws. In the 21st century it seems hard to connect.

You can imagine my being perplexed when reading the Midrash when it says:

Rav Assi said that young children began their Torah studies with Torat Kohanim, Leviticus and not with Genesis because young children are pure, and the sacrifices explained in Leviticus are pure, so the pure studied the pure. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

As a parent and an educator I think a lot about how I will help my children and other people learn. What is the appropriate narrative for our children to enter into a life time of learning Torah? If we as adults are bored by these sacrificial rules, is there any hope for my children? It seems strange to bet the Jewish future on Leviticus.

Maybe our children are just not so pure anymore. Has modern media tainted their purity? Can Torah learning compete with all of the stimulus that surround the lives of our youth? While our holy text discuss ancient wars and allude to an afterlife, you can understand someone saying that learning Torah seems boring compared to Warcraft or Second Life. While there are some educators who have kept Torah learning compelling, I still doubt that our children are “impure” or that starting off with Leviticus is  putting our best foot forward.

Excluding the ultra-Orthodox (who are not reading my blog) most of us  are happy that our education is not run according to Rabbi Assi from the above mentioned Midrash. But in many ways it is. In Ezekiel we read:

Thus says the Lord God: Although I have removed them far off among the nations, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet have I been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they are come. (Ezekiel 11:16)

The Talmud Megillah 29a comments that “a little sanctuary” refers to the synagogues and study halls. Despite the fact that few of us would try to get our children excited about Jewish life by starting them off by learning the intricacies of the Temple service in the next PJ Library bedtime book instalment, we still have prioritized the synagogue as the portal for Jewish life. While it may or may not be our ultimate goal (a discussion for another post) can we at least acknowledge that for a many Jews claiming that this “little sanctuary” is the best introduction to Jewish life is as relevant as our Torah portion.  Yawn, now you can stop reading this post and go back  to the pure bliss of distraction on your computer.


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