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Dvar Torah-Matthew Lipman

A Fresh Perspective 

My wife Ilana and I recently watched the pilot episode of 'Friends' and we were both struck by the same thing, namely that Ross says that he is now a 26 year old divorcee.  26???!!!  Ross wMatthew Lipmanas 26???!!!  How did that happen?  When I started watching 'Friends' when it first came onto our screens, Ross seemed to be this uber-cool, super old guy.Imagine my surprise when I discovered that now he is actually several years younger than I am now and not even as cool as me (okay, admittedly he still may be slightly cooler than me.)  My perception of Ross’s character and his personality was now very different from when I first encountered him many years ago as a teenager. This seemed to me to be a perfect analogy for this time of year.  

We have just celebrated Simchat Torah and have begun a fresh run of the Torah reading cycle. The joy that we experience on Simchat Torah is said to be for two reasons: our happiness that we have completed another cycle of the Torah and that we now have the chance to relearn the Torah.


The study of the Torah is a truly wonderful thing but why are we celebrating before we have even accomplished anything?  I believe the answer lies in the excitement that we feel due to the enormous potential of revisiting a text that we already know. The famous phrase “shivim panim l’Torah” is not simply referring to the multitude of possible interpretations that I could learn from different commentators and sources,  but should be applied to our own interpretations.  If I study the Torah every year -  each year with a year’s worth of new experiences and education behind me - I am bound to keep finding new meaning in the text. This a true reason to celebrate.  


A perfect example of this happened just recently. I studied the story of Cain killing Hevel many times and in many different settings. I studied it in English class in high school, I studied it in three different classes at Hebrew University, I studied it with different Pardes faculty and I studied it from the perspective of pedagogic methodology. In each of these different settings, I was exposed to new ways of studying and understanding the text and was able to check off another one of the “shivim panim l’Torah.”  


Despite studying this text with some of the finest educators around, I had never had the opportunity to learn this text through the eyes of a three year old girl!  When my daughter, Noa, was hearing this story, she asked a question that really took me aback.  “But why didn’t Hashem protect Hevel?,” was the question. In all my times as both a student and teacher of the text, I had never seen this narrative as a Biblical study of free will or divine intervention. It was due to the fact that I am now at a different place in my life from where I was all of the countless other times that I had studied this text, that I was able to learn this new approach to the text.


My bracha to all of us this year is that as we continue to develop and grow as individuals, we experience the true simcha of the Torah that comes with continually (and annually) learning new meanings from it.  (Oh, and just In case anyone was wondering, if Friends were still running, Ross would now be 41.)