It so happens that today for a Bar-Mitzvah anniversary Kiddush on Shabbat Parsha Terumah, we served a selection of (very good) herring. We don’t usually that here. And the Torah reading is about the construction of the Mishkan (biblical desert tabernacle) and its vessels including the ark.
I thought of two related Torah teachings (one related to pickled foods like herring and the other about the staves/poles of the ark) that I especially remember because of student reactions to it. About reactions, I happened (quite accidental actually) to read a book recently by Bar-Rescue host Jon Taffer titled “Raise the Bar” that sees all retail and service business, especially in the bar and restaurant business, in terms of customer reactions. He says that reactions can tell you everything and should be the focal point for any establishment.
Here are two (of the) special student reactions that I witnessed first hand here at UAlbany to two Torah teachings:
TWO TYPES OF FOOD (2018)
I was learning Tanya 27 with Seth B. about the metaphor of two types of foods (that explains Isaac’s request to Esau and Jacob’s trickery) both sweet and savory, something delicious and something spicy. In life sweet represents the easy things, comfort foods, while savory represents life’s challenges and obstacles that we have to struggle with and deal with. Both can be tasty foods/experiences but in different ways.
You can see more about this at this post about pickles being a Jewish food, or see here for the “Make Me Delicasies” post which explains the whole Jacob vs Esau piece and Isaac’s blessing. There’s a lot more to this, but these two posts can give you a taste.
When I shared this piece of Tanya 27 with Seth B. he got serious, he got a far look in his eyes, he puckered his lips and let out a long hard whistle. He really got it, and this teaching got (to) him as well.
I’ll never forget that reaction.
THE POLES OF THE ARK (2007)
Or maybe it was 2008? It was the year we did a class called “Jews Sing the Darnest Things”. The class takes a closer look at prayers like Adon Olam which really is philosophy not a prayer, or the part of Kiddush that many students sing along to on Friday Night, the V’Ne’ehmar at the end of Aleinu and a bunch of other familiar common Jewish texts that are loaded with complex or even controversial meanings.
One text we covered in that class was the passage recited when opening the Ark. And related to that we included a talk of the Rebbe about the poles or staves at the sides of the biblical Ark. Other tabernacle vessels (such as the showbread table or inner altar) also had traveling poles. But only in regard to the Ark does the verse say: “You should not remove the poles from the sides of the Ark”. Why not? If they were meant for travel why did they have to remain inserted in the Ark even when the Ark was stationary and comfortably ensconced within the confines of the Holy of Holies? Why the insistence on keeping the travel poles in?
The Rebbe explains that there’s a message here for us: “Have Torah, Will Travel!” The Ark (with the Torah inside) has traveling poles strapped to its sides at all times, never to be removed, to tell and remind us that no matter where we go, no matter where we are, Torah is applicable, Torah is relevant, Torah is there with us and for us.
Craig (Chayim Shraga) M. was sitting across the table when I shared this teaching, and he said, “This fits right in with the Rebbe’s view on doing everything possible to make Torah more and more accessible, no matter the distance, no matter the gap. Bringing Torah closer to people wherever they are.”
And I was so delighted that he picked this up, that he understood it so well, indeed this one of the Rebbe’s big themes, and so pervasive throughout his teachings. He got it!
One of the most rewarding things for a Rabbi or teacher is when you teach something that hit the right chord, it resonates so deeply, your students/study partners pick up on it, they really get it, they get it more than you even told them. That’s so incredibly rewarding, you have no idea!