Friday, February 24, 2017

Mishpatim: Doing and Understanding for a LOOONG time!

I want to take a little break from my usual focus of blog-posting, and address something else this week. Don't worry, I'll still make a connection to the Torah portion (I know you were concerned), but I
actually want to take a step back and reflect for a moment on the blog as a whole. You see, this week we hit a milestone, and it feels (to me) like a big deal. I began writing a weekly article in 2009, so this year, 2017, is the NINTH calendar year in which I'm writing a blog post! That's not the milestone. The words you are reading right now are part of my 390th post, which is - quite frankly - really hard for me to even believe! In another couple of months, I will have written FOUR HUNDRED installments of this blog!! I'm shocked. But that is also NOT the milestone I wanted to highlight.

A couple of days ago, this blog was viewed for the 100,000th time. As of the moment of my writing, it's 100,698, to be precise. Obviously, we aren't talking about that many SEPARATE individuals reading Take on Torah; we get a few repeat customers. But that's still an AWE-SOME number for me to contemplate, and I just wanted to stop, take stock, and mainly say "Thank You" for reading this blog 100,000 times! :-)
You have a lot of places to which you can turn for Torah thoughts, and a lot of rabbis, teachers, professors, scholars who are happy to share their own "take" on the texts of our tradition. It means a great deal to me that you keep coming back, and many of you have sent me reactions, comments, and questions over the years. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all of it! I never imagined that I would compose (nearly) 400 separate Torah reflections, or that my writing would be read THAT many times. But here we are. And every once in a while, someone asks, "how many more articles do you intend to post?" I have no idea. I still enjoy writing and hearing your feedback, so we'll just keep forging ahead for now, and if/when you all get bored of listening, I guess I'll pack it in. But again, thank you.

As I was contemplating this milestone, and my experience of having written the blog for so long, I found myself focusing on two words in our Torah portion. This week's reading represents a shift in the text.
The first book-and-a-half of the Torah mainly offered narrative stories about one ancestor or another, but starting this week, we primarily hear about laws, laws, and more laws. All manner of societal governance are laid out, and we see the early formation of a legal system and a communal structure. Towards the end of our parashah, after having heard so very many mitzvot listed already, the Israelites respond to Moses, saying, "Na'aseh v'Nishmah," roughly translated as "we will do, and [then] we will listen." (Ex. 24:7) I like to think of it as "walking the walk" before you can "talk the talk"; first, we'll DO, THEN we'll understand! Sometimes (often?) we just need to start engaging in a particular task, and it will eventually begin to make sense. Trying to understand it fully FIRST, before committing, doesn't always work. And to me, the blog frequently feels a little like that.

I often don't know what I'm going to write. And occasionally I don't even really feel like writing! But if I just start, and open up the Chumash and begin to read, a topic and a direction usually present themselves. When I first started writing the blog, I thought there was a chance I'd continue for a year and then be done.
However, I have gradually come to realize that if you keep putting yourself in the right space, and commit to a task, the "Na'aseh" (doing) CAN indeed lead to the "Nishmah" (understanding). I recently heard an interview with the incredibly prolific writer, Nora Roberts, who was asked about writer's block. She instantly stated that she simply refuses to believe it exists. Roberts just keeps writing through any momentary challenges, and even if the result isn't great, it can always be edited later. Just Na'aseh, and the Nishmah will follow. I'm no Nora Roberts, to be sure, and certainly not a Moses. But I've enjoyed bringing you all along on this 390-stage journey, and I hope that in the future - God willing - I will be able to celebrate even greater milestones with you, as we keep learning and growing together. Onward to more Na'aseh-ing and Nishmah-ing! And thanks again...

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC image of an actual milestone in Sweden courtesy of Holger.Ellgaard on Wikimedia Commons
2. CC image courtesy of Jmbyrd86 on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of GifTagger on Wikimedia Commons
4. CC image courtesy of Sreejithk2000 on Wikimedia Commons

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