Cantor Murray Simon, pictured with me in the photo above, composed a beautiful arrangement of one of my favorite prayers for our joint installation this past Shabbat Eve as clergy of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, Sanibel, Florida. It is a great honor to work with him.
The joint installation ceremony for Cantor Murray Simon and me as clergy of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands on Shabbat Eve, January 5, 2018, is an evening I shall never forget.
Rabbi Paul Citrin, career-long friend of both Murray and me delivered a stirring keynote sermon.
Sanibel City Manager, Judy Zimomra, Jeanne Tobin, with whom I have shared so many significant life moments for more than 40 years, and Pastor John Danner of Sanibel Congregational UCC, which hosts our congregation, all added unique eloquence and flavor to the occasion in their remarks.
And then Cantor Simon touched my heart in a very special way.
He introduced the musical setting he composed to one of my favorite prayers. Its English translation is:
We praise You, Eternal One, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctifies us with Commandments and commands us to engage in the study of Torah.
To have the privilege to teach is why I became a rabbi, and before each lesson I lead, I offer this prayer.
In those few words we find a major reasons we Jews have survived and continue to thrive after all that we have endued these past 2000 years.
For Jews study is not just a desirable thing to do; it is a commandment for everyone.
Without question every religion has its scholars, and Jewish sages are by no means superior to them, but to my knowledge, Judaism is the only religion that looks upon study as a form of worship.
This commandment is the reason that in Dark Ages–when overall human literacy was less than ten per cent–literacy among Jews was nearly universal.
In Jewish Communal life the scholar was the most revered figure, and Jewish legends about the primacy of learning abound.
Hillel, our tradition teaches, was too poor to afford the minimal admission fee to the academy, so he climbed up on the roof in the dead of winter to listen to the lesson through the chimney. Snow fell, but he was so engrossed in the lesson that he paid it no heed. The next morning people found him half frozen on the roof. He became on of our greatest Sages (B. Yoma 35b).
Another great scholar, Akiba, was an illiterate shepherd until age 40. His wealthy employer’s daughter, Rachel, fell in love with him and saw his potential. She married him on condition that he go away to study.
Her father disowned her and she lived in poverty. Meanwhile Akiba studied for years and became a great Sage. When he returned to his village a famous man, his disciples tried to shoo the poor woman away amidst the throng that greeted the great scholar. But Akiba embraced his long-suffering wife and declared, “She is responsible for all my learning“ (Ketubot 62b-63a).
In times of persecution Jews have risked their life to study. When authorities outlawed Jewish learning. Akiba himself suffered unspeakable torture and a martyr’s death for continuing to teach his disciples in defiance of the Roman decree proscribing such activity (B. Berachot 61b).
Because of the courage of those who risked everything to study our people are alive today and contribute to the benefit of society in measure that belies the fact that Jews comprise less than 1/2 of one per cent of the world’s population.
I thank God that we live in a time and place where I can study and teach Torah and all it represents freely. That is why the prayer commanding us to study is always on my mind. Now I am for very grateful that through his beautiful composition, Cantor Murray Simon has etched that prayer into my heart.