Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Seminary of the Southwest
August 29, 2017
In our reading we have heard famous words of instruction given to both Israel and to the early church.
These words of instruction about how to live righteously in the eyes of God were given to communities just beginning to form themselves, grasping for some kind of understanding of who they were together.
Here at Seminary of the Southwest we come back together as a community every year around this time.
And as we do we are reforming ourselves.
Members of the community have left upon graduation and others, you present here, have arrived to join this community.
And living together as community, we discover all the gifts and talents and values that we bring to our common life.
As you come to know me, you will discover that one of my passions is fostering healthy relations between Jews and Christians.
One of the things I most appreciate about Judaism is the great value it places on study.
While those studying for ordination here at Southwest might think that three years of study is a long time, you should know that your peers in rabbinical school are often in school for twice as long.
Our passage from Deuteronomy seeks to teach Israel what it means to belong to God.
And it does this by instructing the Israelites to teach their children the things God has done for them.
Inspired by the Jewish commitment to study, I sought out what prior generations of Jews said about our reading.
I turned to one of the greatest Jewish commentator on the Bible, a scholar named Rashi, who lived in medieval France in the 11th century.
There I found some insights about what it means to learn.
Deuteronomy 6:6 says “Keep these words I am commanding you today in your heart.”
The word “today” captures Rashi’s attention.
He says this word “today” means that the words of Torah, the instructions of God to Israel, are not antiquated but have an immediacy to them.
Indeed, people ought to rush to the words of Torah in the present time, he says, as if they were something brand new.
I love this image of rushing to learn something.
I love this idea that the ancient texts we study or the time-tested best practices we are trained in can be for us as learners something brand new, something to be excited about.
Even more, Rashi says that when one discusses Torah to others, it should be with urgency, with the sense that everything depended on communicating its meaning.
What things are you going to learn here that will fill you with urgency?
What is it you are going to learn about the Bible, or theology, or the mind, or inter-personal relations, that will so fill you that you will want to teach it to someone else with urgency?
So Rashi tells us important things about learning:
Learning is something we ought to rush towards.
The knowledge we gain is something we should want to urgently tell others.
And with this I am reminded of another rabbinic teaching.
The rabbis debated what it meant to say that human being are made in the image and likeness of God.
They decided it did not mean that we look like God or have all the attributes that God has.
Instead it means that we are able to reason and to create.
And we do so located in this material world in the context of our overlapping relationships.
When we learn together in community we are learning to hone and develop the image of God that we were created in.
When we learn from and teach others we together are participating in the tremendous blessings that God has bestowed upon us.
So my hope for you at the beginning of your time at Seminary of the Southwest is that in this place you become one who rushes to learn; one who urgently shares new knowledge with others; and, above all, one who learns what it is to be made in the image and likeness of God.