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We celebrated our siyyum on January 1, 2013.  Click here to hear the audio of that siyyum, including my remarks and remarks made by the other participants.  (Because this recording was made in a large room, the sound quality of this recording may not be as good as other recordings.)
Here are the remarks I made at the siyyum of the third version of this project, which was part of the Ma'ayan program in Boston, MA. 

This is an evening of

            Celebration for Ma’ayan and the community on the completion of a significant and extended learning project,

            Honor extended to the students who participated in this project and especially to those who completed the entire project,

            Reflection on the meaning of this project, on how it has impacted us.  Students will share some of their reflections in a few minutes.

 Reflection is very much a part of this project.  We have seen our anonymous author reflect in an ongoing way.

            He says in his introduction that he is writing this work in response to a person al problem:  his son, presumably a teenager, is spending his time hanging out and not learning Torah.

            And so the worried father writes an essay about each mitzvah in the Torah, explaining the source of the mitzvah, the main idea of the mitzvah, a shoresh, or reason, for each mitzvah, some details of the mitzvah, and questions for further study.  He summarized who the mitzvah applies to, when and where it applies, and what the punishment is for breaking it.  He hopes this will spark the interest of his son and his son’s pals, encourage them to learn Torah, to get them hooked.

            Toward the end of the work we begin to see our author reflecting on his success:

            As to his son, we see the twinkle in a father’s eye.  It is working.  And so he says to his son things like, “I don’t know the answer to this question, but perhaps someday you will figure it out.”  Or “Perhaps you will find my explanation a bit too childish and will find a more mature one for yourself.”

            He reflects on an enterprise which is new in this work: an attempt to articulate a shoresh, a rationale, for each mitzvah.

            And he reflects on his overall enterprise:  if his work leads youngsters to ask questions of their parents and teachers, then perhaps he will have contributed to revealing the meaning of mitzvot to another generation of Jews, and “perhaps I will gain merit and a place among the teachers of Israel.”

So I find myself wondering:  as he watches us from his place in olam haemet, what would he make of us, his most recent crop of students?  Would he have a twinkle in his eye for us, too?  Is he mildly uncomfortable?  Is he horrified?  We were not his intended audience.

            We are adults, not teens.  We came to this learning having experienced significant Jewish journeys.  We have all had occasion, perhaps many occasions, to question and examine our Jewish lives and to re-direct them.

            We are moderns, not medievals.  Our world, our social and economic systems, are vastly different from those of the Biblical world in which the Torah originated, and the medieval world in which our author lived.  We come with values of intellectual freedom, of liberal democracy, of pluralism, too basic to deny or displace.

            We are individuals with concerns, talents and interests somewhat different from those of typical teenaged boys.  We have college and advanced degrees in an array of fields, and skills learned from careers, hobbies and life experiences.

            Each participant has added her unique voice:

                        One, a commitment to Israel and aliya.

                        One consistently searching for connections between Biblical narratives and halachah.

                        One connecting our study to lessons of other teachers in other Ma’ayan classes.

                        One seeking the meanings and origins of crucial terms.

                        One sharing the outcomes of her discussions of our learning with members of her family, including her own teenaged children.

                        One comparing the legal institutions of the Torah with American legal institutions.

                        One self-deprecating voice always stretching us to examine the heart of the matter at hand.

             And, of course, we are women: daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and grandmothers.

 What does our author make of us?  Perhaps it will depend on what we do with our experience of learning this wonderful sefer of his.  So I hope he will keep watching us.  (Indeed, I will miss the sense I always have learning this work that he is looking over our shoulders, whispering in our ears.)

            He will see us continue to learn Torah: with a broader background, knowing at least a little about each and every mitzvah; with a new knowledge of genres of halachic literature, of modes of halachic argument, of new vocabulary and concepts; with the sense of includedness that comes from having looked, however briefly, at how women are obligated in each and every mitzvah.

            He will see us emulate his pedagogy in our roles in Jewish institutions, in informal settings, in our relationships with children and grandchildren.  We will try to speak of Torah with precision and accuracy.  We will teach with respect for the material and with respect for those with whom we might disagree.  We will try to implement the same gentle, loving, but rigorous approach that our author has used in teaching us.

            He will see us enhance our Jewish practice, making it deeper and more meaningful:  because we have an enhanced commitment to conforming our behavior to the requirements of the Torah; because we will try to find the meanings of those mitzvot, the moral imperatives implied by the mitzvot, the character traits which the mitzvot suggest to us; because we feel the gentle hand of God, as it were, on our shoulder.

            And the author will see that we strive to implement the values that he has taught us are implicit in God’s Torah:  to treat each person with care and respect because each person is dear to God; to be sensitive to the varying needs of other; to seek out ways to create opportunities for others, and especially for those most at risk, most vulnerable; to recognize that God wants what is good for all of His creatures, and we are commanded to imitate Him and to seek what is good for all of God’s creatures.

 So, I trust, he will come to feel reassured that we, students he could not possibly have imagined would learn his work, have come away from our study of it having absorbed the lessons he sought to each.  And so he will have, yet again, the z’chut he reflected on, to have his place among the great teachers of Israel.

Louis Finkelman,
Jan 2, 2013, 1:07 PM