As I approach ordination (now less than 200 days away according to my classmates’ official countdown), I have some mixed emotions. Part of me desperately needs a break from writing papers and studying for tests, yet I also know that I am going to miss the intensive study that I get to do as a student the moment I start my career. I worry that in the hustle and bustle of daily synagogue life, there will be precious little time to study Torah lishmah, for its own sake. Surely I will have to study in order to write a sermon or teach, yet it is often difficult for me to sit down with a text under pressure to find a relevant message by seven o’clock on Friday. I much prefer to study a text slowly and methodically, letting the text speak to me. Sometimes not searching for lessons in the text allows the text to teach me lessons on its own.
Because my field placement involves work with the larger community, much of my ability to be successful hinges upon my and my supervisor’s connections and relationships with others in the community. I am beginning the process of asking leaders in the community to join my project, either by studying in our hevrutah or by recruiting their constituents to do so. Watching my supervisor navigate his relationships, I realize that doing this type of community work is similar to studying a text. I imagine that there are some people who reach out and make connections with others for a given purpose. That purpose may be entirely legitimate or even noble, like those who reach out to raise money for important causes. Still, some of the most successful people seem to benefit from relationships with people that they form with no particular goal in mind. They seem to connect with people for its own sake, and the benefits of these networks of relationships seem to find them.
Currently, my work involves making connections in the community and articulating the goals and methods of the program. As I do so, I realize that the goals of the program are somewhat broad and flexible. The program intends to bring the community together to study text but does not proscribe what the benefits or outcomes of these interactions will be. It is exciting to think about what unforeseen consequences this project could contain. What lessons will the participants glean from the texts they encounter? What partnerships and collaborations will emerge from the relationships formed between the participants? Just as I often do not realize the message of a text until long after I have read it, I may not see all of the results or benefits of this project until long after my year is over. I may never see them at all. Still, it seems worth it to bring these communities together and let the texts speak to them, and let them speak to each other.