“In order to know where you’re going, you gotta know where you came from” ~ Shi 360, Home. In the Jewish religion our spiritual and religious leaders often try and teach us about where we as Jews came from by using torah and biblical characters. While I do find the above quotation to be true, with all due respect to those who love to learn it and those who love to teach it, this way of learning just isn’t for me…or so I thought.
While you may not identify with Noah and his ark, Abraham’s mission to the promise land, Adam & Eve and their apple, or with God’s influence in the biblical version of these stories, I would venture to say that each and every one of us can identify with the notions of tragedy, unfamiliarity, and blame. The reason why I am sharing this new found perspective with you is NOT because I hope that you will become Torah scholars or believe in God and the Jewish biblical stories, but simply because sometimes new perspectives can be enlightening. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to present something in a new light; where the whole Jewish “stuff” is a bit easier digest, a bit more manageable to grasp, and frankly, a bit more real.
Noah’s story is that of hard work as well as tragedy. Although I could not originally relate to this Jewish biblical tale, I can certainly relate to the concept of hard work and the idea of tragedy. When you put so much of yourself into a relationship that fails, you study endlessly for an exam and don’t get the desired grade, or you try so hard to please the boss and never get that promotion… believe it or not, you are relating to Noah.
Abraham’s story is one of travel and unfamiliarity. This whole biblical story with God asking Abraham to do something for Him doesn’t really speak to me. However, when I change my perspective and try to see this as a much less biblically charged story, I can sort of relate to Abraham. He’s just a guy who is setting out to travel and is experiencing the unfamiliar. If you have ever backpacked to another continent, done an exchange for school, started a new job, moved into a new apartment… believe it or not, you are relating to Abraham.
Adam and Eve is the story of two people who do something that they are not supposed to do and who then blame other for their own actions. While I’ve never eaten an apple off a tree that someone told me not to, I have definitely done things that I was told I was not supposed to do and when I was caught, from time to time, I blamed someone else. If you have ever forgotten to empty the dishwasher and got yelled at and said “I though my brother was supposed to do it,” told your teacher your dog ate your homework, or got caught speeding and responded by saying you were keeping up with the car in front of you … believe it or not, you are relating to Adam and Eve.
These stories were originally taught to us using picture books, where the story reader would use a deep, slow speaking voice to imitate the sound of God. They then evolved into classroom learning where you would pass notes behind the text books you were supposed to be reading. Most recently, the stories were re-taught to me in a whole new light. Mark Fishman, the educator who joins BIEC for a few hours a week, used one of these biblical stories to make a point and believe it or not, it worked. His use of the story was not to teach us about where we, as Jews, came from or to try and get us to identify with our Jewish heritage through Adam and his apple, but it was to put these biblical characters into a perspective to which we can relate.
I was reminded that perspective, open mindedness, and sense of self are key ingredients to learning and to communicating. While Noah, Abraham, Adam & Eve have not changed, and neither have I, maybe our introductions were just not done properly and as a result we got off to a rough start. So with the lessons I’ve learned in the past week, I encourage you, be it to a biblical character, an old friend, or a future romance… re-introduce yourself but most importantly, be open minded!