Turn it

19 Oct

A few weeks ago, my rabbi let me borrow her copy of Pirke Avot.  I had been talking about how Parsha Bereshit was one of my favorites and that it would be cool to spend more than just one week on it every year.  She grinned and said, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.”

I smiled, “That’s pretty catchy.  Is that a saying from something?”

Her eyes lit up, “Yes!  Its from Pirke Avot!”

“What’s that?”

She jumped up and went to one of the many bookshelves in her office and began scanning, “You haven’t come across it yet?  I have a copy you can borrow!”  She plucked a little book from her shelf, found the page as she walked back to the table, and set it down in front of me:

Ben Bag Bag used to say, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.  Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it.  Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

She said that every part of Torah contains every other part of Torah, and told the story of the man who came up to Hillel and said, “If you can teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot, I’ll devote my life to it.”  Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; the rest is just commentary.  Now, go study the commentary.”  (Some say that ben Bag Bag was that man.)

Since I began studying Torah, I’ve been astounded at its fractal nature.  Studying Stage Theory in my psych classes was my favorite and I love to watch things unfold and develop.  Genesis chapter 1 is the ultimate: its the unfolding of the universe!  But its mirrored and extrapolated on as one reads, and echoes of each verse can be seen unfolding throughout the rest of the Torah.  In my studies, I’ve come across many ideas like this.  One commentary on gematria states that the entirety of eternity can be found within Torah, and that the entire Torah can be found in the first chapter of Genesis, and that can be found in the first word, which can then be found in the first letter…

Under each saying, this book gives a little synopsis of the passage, and here’s what it said for this one: “Unlike other reading, Torah is to be studied slowly.  We read it over and over again, each time looking for new meaning in its nuances.  This is a lifelong endeavor for as our life experiences change so does our perception of sacred text.”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be writing more about this commentary.  It is fascinating.

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