A Blessing for a New Year of Teaching and Learning
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
Dean, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College
Oct. 2, 2013
The Sefat Emet associates the be'er -- the ever-flowing well of water -- with the Oral Torah, the Torah she'be'al peh, the Torah that is passed from generation to generation; the Torah that is sustained and renewed by that very act of passing. Our commitment at Hebrew College to life-long learning -- to learning that engages people of all ages and all generations -- is not simply a description of our programmatic offerings, from the Early Childhood Institute to Prozdor to Me’ah to all of the professional training programs that prepare our students to serve diverse, vibrant inter-generational communities as rabbis, cantors, and educators.
Our commitment to life-long learning reflects our understanding of the very nature of Torah itself. The Torah she’be’al peh, the Torah that comes out of our mouths, the Torah that is spoken and sung and shouted and whispered and chanted and debated and discussed around tables when we eat together or around the tables of the Bet Midrash, can give life and take on new life only when we bring it deeply into ourselves. It can flourish only when we allow it to take root within our souls -- asher nata b'tocheinu – when we allow it to grow within us and with us -- and when we invite the next generation to do the same.
To do this, of course, we must not only see the Torah as a sustaining well of water. We must see each of us as an ever-flowing well -- a be'er mayim hayim. Indeed, elsewhere, some of the Hasidic masters talk about the importance of making ourselves -- as learners --into living wells. We must become not only borot -- cisterns striving to catch and contain as much water as possible -- but be'erot, with an “aleph” – living wells that draw upon a deep and sustaining reservoir that can never be depleted.
There is a rabbinic interpretation of a verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes that reflects a related insight. The verse as it appears in Ecclesiastes is “Zechor et bor’echa” – Remember your Creator. But in Tractate Sotah of the Talmud, it is also read creatively as “Zechor et be’er’cha” – Remember your well. The ancient midrashic word play reminds us: To remember that you are a creature of God is to remember that you come from an ever-flowing well.
In the words of the Song of Songs: Ma’a’yan ganim, be’er mayim chayim. May we remember that each soul here is a garden spring, a well of fresh water. May we be renewed for a year of teaching and learning that draws upon and replenishes both the nourishing waters of Torah and the living waters that stir within us all.