Sunday, October 3, 2010

World Religion: Experiencing Torah

We had a very special experience at our spiritual community today.  We are developing a new World Religions class for the middle school youth, and that class had a presentation by Reverend Stacy Grove, an ordained interfaith minister who is one of the founders of Yavneh: A Jewish Renewal Community that meets in Christian churches and was featured in a recent article in the News and Observer.  However, Rev. Grove also wears another hat; she runs a nonprofit called HeartSpace Spiritual Resources that, among other things, is the caretaker for a Torah scroll originally from the Czech Republic that is over 200 years old and survived the antipathy to such items by both the Nazis and the Communist Party.  Rev. Grove traveled to Czechoslovakia and received this Torah in order to share it with a larger audience, particularly with non-Jewish communities, in an attempt to build a better understanding about the Jewish faith among the general public (since people practicing Judaism represent less than 1% of the world's population).

Rev. Grove spoke to the students about interfaith ministry, the story behind naming their new congregation Yavneh, and the Jewish Renewal movement.  But the most riveting time was when she explained the traditions around reading Torah and read the very first passage from the scroll ("In the beginning...) in Hebrew.

At the conclusion of Sunday School and the adult service, many of the adults came in to hear Rev. Grove and see the Torah scroll for themselves.  Rev. Grove gave a traditional Jewish blessing that is said to be especially powerful for those who are touch the scroll handles, which are called the Tree of Life.  Apparently that was true, since several of the adults left that blessing with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Like I said, a very special and powerful experience.  You could really feel a special energy coming from that ancient sacred text.

In this study of Judaism, I have been really struck by how much importance they put not just in the teachings of the Torah, but in Torah itself.  They really revere the document itself, not just the wisdom it contains.  That is a very interesting perspective to me, one that is very different from what I have traditionally experienced about various religions.  In her talk, Rev. Grove said the whole business about Moses and the Jews wondering in the desert for 40 years was really about making them into a community (again, an interpretation I had never heard before).  Maybe having a physical object like that helps build a strong community.  Certainly that scroll itself has survived persecution, and was protected and hidden and fought for by community members against strong forces that were trying to destroy Torahs.  I had a similar experience this summer when I took my son to the National Archives to see the original versions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  There is just a special aura about these original documents.  Maybe we as humans need these physical manifestations of the ideas and concepts that are most important to our lives.  I need to consider that more.

Of course, since I don't believe in coincidences, I'm sure it was no accident that this took place immediately after Banned Books Week.  They have both given me a lot to think about--and especially to appreciate.

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