Monday, December 16, 2013

Raising the Dead

12 Tevet, 5774
December 15th, 2013

When teaching, my greatest moment of trepidation comes when I say, "the famous commentator XXXX from the 16th century says,"

To which I hear, as if it were said aloud, everyone else thinking, "who the hell is that guy?"

To most people, the names that we rabbis rattle off, "Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, Ibn Ezra," -- these names are flat; they just refer to some guy; those guys could not possibly have understood contemporary life, my life; those guys are not relevant to me.

Let me respond simply: yes, they are; they are quite relevant; don't hold their being dead for a few centuries against them. 

There was a time before they were dry and dusty bones. They had blood in their veins, and flesh on their bodies. They lived; they loved; they got annoyed with their partners and children and held grudges; they weren't always sure what they should do; they believed with conviction; they hated with a passion; they were kind and compassionate. They were real.

And more than that -- these people were possessed of a genius that they toiled their entire lives to develop. Just as the great stars of humanity in our time, they burned brightly too. They were human, just as we are, and they understood what it was to be alive in the greatness of their wisdom. 

God led the prophet Ezekiel into a valley filled with dry bones, and said to be, "human being, can you revive these bones?" Ezekiel cynically responds "You know [the answer to that question]. God says to him, "prophesy over those bones," and, as Ezekiel does, the bones join themselves together, and ligaments and flesh bind them. God says, "Prophesy to their spirits"; as Ezekiel does, those bodies came back to life. (Ezekiel 37)

Be like Ezekiel: do not let the dead stay dead, nor their wisdom buried. When you hear that unknown name, which means nothing to you, build a human being behind it, and then listen again. When you resurrect them, you may be surprised at how clearly they speak to you.

* Start your journey with the story of Rashi - Rabbi Shlomo Yitchaki of Troyes, France - hands down the most important commentator on the Torah and the Talmud. Read more here.

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