Our days are rather filled "up" with day-to-day undertakings, and sometimes we barely get in all the activities we schedule.

So where and how do we make room for study?

How can we be different today if we haven't focused on what that even means?

We always should be learning.

In what ways are we allowing ourselves to be changed by eternal wisdom?

The impetus to study and learn is a deep value in our tradition.

After all, one of the highest compliments we can pay to a Torah scholar is to call that person a "Talmid Chacham"...literally a student of wisdom. So, even at the highest level of scholarship, one is still a student, open to learning and growing.

We always should be learning.

In Ecclesiastes / Kohelet, we are taught: חָכְמַ֤ת אָדָם֙ תָּאִ֣יר פָּנָ֔יו [Chachmat Adam Tair Panav] a person's wisdom illuminates their face.

It's a beautiful concept. Our tradition tells us that when we err, we 'tarnish' the Image of God that is within us. Alternatively, when we are on the right path, when we search for and gain wisdom, that brightens and illuminates us...our inner light shows on our face.

The Jerusalem Talmud relates this story (Shekalim 3:2:19) about Rabbi Abbahu when he came to the school of Rabbi Yohanan in Tiberias:

Rabbi Yoḥanan’s students saw that Rabbi Abbahu’s face was shining. The students said to Rabbi Yoḥanan: Rabbi Abbahu has found a treasure. When Rabbi Abbahu came before Rabbi Yoḥanan, Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: What new words of Torah did you hear? He said to him: I heard an ancient Tosefta, which was new to me. When Rabbi Yoḥanan heard Rabbi Abbahu’s answer, he applied to him the verse: “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine.”

The message is clear....when we seek to better ourselves, our desire and effort might not be evident or seen by others, but eventually, the wisdom we gain, shows itself to others in visible ways.

What will you learn today? What new course will you take? What text will you decide to begin reading?

Updated: a day ago

This year, I am involving myself more personally and seriously than ever before in the counting of the Omer, the period of time between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks).

The counting of 49 Days (beginning on the second night of Passover) is like a metaphoric step ladder. We ascend the ladder in daily steps, in order to experience a spiritual transformation and to have a proper mindset before we 're-enact' the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot.

In the past, I was pretty sloppy about this practice; sometimes remembering, most often forgetting, to count the passing of days. Sometimes I would remember to say the bracha, sometimes not, but the practice did not 'stick'. As much as I liked the idea, I failed on its implementation.

This year, I decided to help along the habit of counting by putting my "Omer counter" (a gift from my daughter) right on the kitchen table.

This was a game-changer and I have not missed an evening (we begin counting the next day in the evening, much the way all holidays begin the night before). The biggest surprise is that the process of nightly/daily focus has had such an impact. By marking every single day at its conclusion, I'm aware of each day's essence. I enter into the next day by mimicking the rhythm of nature, gently gliding my way from evening to the anticipation of the next day, already feeling accomplished!

Knowing that I am in this 49 day 'bridge of time' allows me to simultaneously recognize the passing of time while looking ahead into the future. Time becomes a malleable construct that does not control me. What has also happened (I am not sure how), is that for several distinctive days (day 5, 11, and 18 for example) I am prompted to recognize the times in my life that have caused me pain, and am not pushing them away but accepting them. This has been what has arisen for me and I am grateful that I have been able to gain insight into my life in this way. Next year there might be another focus, who knows?

I share this with you to encourage you to think about how you might begin this practice of counting (if you don't already do so) as a spiritual practice. You can learn more about it here and here.

Hebrew is full of secrets, embedded with layers and layers of meaning, woven from the thread of reality as Judaism sees it.

I happened on two verses from Shemot / Exodus while preparing for my course "Secrets of the Hebrew Aleph-bet". There, two verses in particular speak to the Holiness of the Torah:

Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain with two tablets of the Pact in his hand, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces, they were inscribed on one side and on the other.

וַיִּ֜פֶן וַיֵּ֤רֶד מֹשֶׁה֙ מִן־הָהָ֔ר וּשְׁנֵ֛י לֻחֹ֥ת הָעֵדֻ֖ת בְּיָד֑וֹ לֻחֹ֗ת כְּתֻבִים֙ מִשְּׁנֵ֣י עֶבְרֵיהֶ֔ם

מִזֶּ֥ה וּמִזֶּ֖ה הֵ֥ם כְּתֻבִֽים׃

The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved upon the tablets.

וְהַ֨לֻּחֹ֔ת מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים הֵ֑מָּה וְהַמִּכְתָּ֗ב מִכְתַּ֤ב אֱלֹהִים֙ ה֔וּא חָר֖וּת עַל־הַלֻּחֹֽת׃

16 -32:15

The verses are powerful enough in English, and if you read them through again, they seem to almost be part of a legal defense...as if the sentences are unequivocally affirming the origin of the Torah. You can take an imaginary leap and picture a heavenly attorney, building a clear case for those who would, thousands of years later, question the authorship of the Torah.

The scene might go a little like, "Yes, if it please the court, I will now present evidence that will clear up the matter without a doubt. I am proud to offer the clearest response to those who still doubt and wonder----as I bring immutable proof right here---that it is definitely God who wrote the Torah. See? it says so right here....'The tablets were God's work and the writing was God's writing'. Is there anyone in the court who can dispute this? If not, I offer these verses as evidence to the court".

Okay so that's just one take on a possible scenario, but there are others and I will go in another direction.

Look closely at the word in the second sentence, חָר֖וּת [charut]. It is translated as engraved. This is a different word used from the verse right before it which describes the writing process as inscribed [כְּתֻבִים֙ ]. So, when a description of the Tablets are given, the word used is inscribed. But when the process is described, it is made clear to us that letters were engraved by God.

So, take a minute to think about both words, and what images come to your mind. Which seems more permanent? Which one might take more effort? The Merriam-Webster definition of engraving is: 1a : to impress deeply as if with a graver i.e. the incident was engraved in his memory. 1b : to form by incision (as on wood or metal) 2a : to cut figures, letters, or designs on for printing. If you were making an agreement with someone, would you want their signature to be inscribed or engraved? (if you had to choose).

So, here's the thing...we also know that there are no vowels or punctuation in the Torah, so the word for engraving, charut can also be read with the same exact letters, as cherut meaning freedom.

What is the message here, embedded right in the word describing the Tablets? What is the connection we are asked to make between freedom that is engraved?

The law has permanence....it is engraved, both on the Tablets and as God says, on our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:6). But following the laws allow us freedom, which is definitely counter-intuitive.

Yet, we know that lawlessness breeds chaos, while structure and rules provide us with the essential freedom to live our lives without fear.

On Passover, this is Judaism's essential teaching. We are no longer slaves, we are free. But that freedom is not a floating concept. It is clear what the purpose of freedom is...Moses requests that Pharaoh let us go to the wilderness so that we can worship our God (Exodus 5:1, 7:26, 8:16, 9:13, 10:3). We will then be free to commit to the rules that govern a civil society, a society where the community cares for the less fortunate, the widow and orphan, and regards the stranger with honor.