Ch, Capt Yitzchok Lerman, USAFR
As a professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at the Rabbinical College of America, I encounter students who have different reasons for attending the institution. Some are interested in the legal aspects of the Torah, others in the Kabbalah or mystical perspective, while there are those who aren’t really interested at all—rather they just want to “clock in” their four years and earn their bachelor’s degree.
As an educator I often ask myself, how do I motivate this third group? Sometimes I ask myself further: Is it my responsibility to motivate them at all? After all, they are adults. If they don’t want to be here and succeed in their studies, why should I invest energy to encourage them to care?
Then I remember that studying Torah isn’t like any other field of study. You can either want to study any particular field or not; it doesn’t really matter. So, you won’t be an expert in math. You won’t know how towork certain machinery. Maybe law or accounting isn’t for you. That is okay.
But Torah isn’t like any other field of study. Torah is your gift. Torah is your destiny. Torah is your inheritance. G-d had Moses write down the Torah for YOU!
But you may ask: There are millions of Jews in the world and have been for over 3,000 years. What do you mean that the Torah was written for me?
An elemental part of Jewish belief is the recognition of Divine Providence. On a personal level, this means that no one in this world is superfluous on the stage of humanity. If you are Jewish, that means that G-d said, “I want you!” Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been created as you were. G-d planned for every single one of us to enter creation at the time we are born. Much like a screenwriter, G-d gave us our lines and said, “This is the part I need you to play.” When we study Torah, I imagine they are reading along in heaven. When I study Torah, I matter.
In addition, from a mystical point of view, when we read from any part of the Torah—be it law, kabbalah, from the words of Moses or our prophets, or Talmud—we elicit the divine energy that sustains the entire universe. Just as everything is made up of atoms that are constantly being recreated, so too does the universe need a renewal of G-dly energy. The energy that I draw down isn’t the same as what Moses brought into the world; it is unique to me and my energy. That is why I matter, and my Torah learning is important.
As a teacher of Torah, I am reminded every day that unlike a teacher of other subjects, I cannot fail. I wake up every morning thinking, “How will I inspire my students today?” and “How can I motivate them?” Over the years, I have taught high school students and college students, religious and non-religious, from a large variety of backgrounds, over Zoom and in person. I hope that each of them has heard the message that I’ve tried to impart: this is our gift from G-d, our inheritance. Embrace it! I encourage everyone to find a class online or in-person to attend. I invite you to get yourself a Chumash from Aleph and start studying.
The Torah is your gift; it was written for you!
Originally published in the Shavuos 5782 Jewish-American Warrior