by Rabbi Gray Myrseth
In one collection of midrash (rabbinic expansions on biblical verses), the rabbis ask: why was the Torah given in the wilderness? The question had never occured to me before, but once I read it on the page, I also wondered. Why does the God of the exodus story require our mythic ancestors to go all the way out into the wilderness before entering into a covenantal agreement? Why not offer them Torah before leaving slavery? Why not offer it immediately after crossing the Sea of Reeds?
The midrash continues: Torah was given in the wilderness because just as the wilderness has no owner, so too Torah has no owner. Torah doesn’t belong to any one group of people or institutional authority. Rather the midrash teaches, we are to understand that Torah can belong to anyone who seeks to learn.
And what is it that we have learned this year at Kehilla School? I remember gathering in our sanctuary at Kehilla on the very first Thursday of our school year, with many new faces in our midst. That day, the students imagined what it might be like to be a seed, packed with potential for blooming. Then they stretched out, experiencing the feeling of growth and expansion. A few weeks into the fall, we came together as a community for the High Holy Days, both at the Scottish Rite Center for our family Rosh Hashanah service and at Kehilla for our family Kol Nidre service, where we reflected on themes of renewal and repair. During Sukkot, we spent time as a school learning about hospitality, particularly as it related to Kehilla’s becoming a sanctuary synagogue. Before we knew it, Hanukkah had rolled around, and we were eating delicious latkes, rolling beeswax candles, and learning about sacred darkness and sacred light. As the days started to get longer, we arrived at Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees. We studied a text from the Talmud about the value of planting trees for future generations—and some classes even planted their own seeds. On Yom Shalom, Kehilla School’s own holiday for learning about Palestine and Israel, we learned from community members Anna and Azzam Talhami about their work building peace between communities in conflict, and about Azzam’s experience growing up in Palestine. At Passover, we contemplated the themes of freedom and liberation and learned some new holiday songs.
These are, of course, only a few of the broad strokes of our learning. Countless moments of laughter, inquiry, and debate have taken place in classrooms and in the hallways, out on the patio during basketball or over slices of pizza in the social hall. Over the course of this past school year, I have watched our young people at Kehilla School become students and owners of Torah. Their curiosity awakens my own and I am continually surprised and amazed by their insights.
On May 16th, our school year will end with a graduation ceremony, before our students go off to their disparate adventures for the summer. I can’t wait until the fall, when we’ll come back together for another year of Torah, questions, snacks, jokes, and discovery.