Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Moveable Feast of Torah

An idle thought about modern minyanim --

We're not very tied down, at Zoo Minyan and its various havurah-nik and minyan cousins. Last shabbos, we comforably fit a Moveable Minyan into one car-load:
  • siddurim (three sets)
  • chumashim
  • pews (a half-dozen backjacks)
  • catering (okay, really just dishes, utensils, etc)
  • tallesim, kippot, madrich, luach, etc
  • yad, torah blessings, tikkunim, and torah coverings
and most important, a sefer torah!

That's pretty much all we need to have a minyan (besides a minyan, of course). No permanent building, no stained glass and no organ (just our vocal chords), not a lot of paraphenalia and bulk. And of course that's by design -- not just a contrast between independent minyanim vs institutionalized religion, but also an essential aspect of yiddishkeit. Maybe it's a reaction to so many generations living in the shadow of so many exiles, needing the ability to flee and then re-establish a community quickly. Or maybe it goes back even earlier...

We just paused in the midst of our Torah-reading cycle in the middle of Perek Dalet in B'Midbar. We're reading about the duties of the various clans of Levites for moving the Mishkan -- the original Moveable Mishkan. Through forty years of wandering in the desert, and some more wandering even after we arrived in Eretz Yisrael, we had to assemble, disassemble, and re-assemble our sanctuary and altar over and over again. The instructions in these parshiot are detailed, practical, and quite a bit of work! Yet everything was clearly designed for mobility from the beginning, with carrying staves built into various large objects, ballasted foundations to support the erection of anything vertical, etc.

But we interrupted the reading of these instructions this past shabbat with a yontiff commemorating our receiving Torah, which happened even before the Mishkan was constructed. And Torah is the ultimate in mobility. A sefer torah is really the only thing that a Jewish community absolutely must have. And some Torah-learning is really the only thing that a Jewish community must know. All the rest, as it says, is commentary.

So how do we take full advantage of this unencumbered religion? What do we do with this weightlessness of the spirit? At Zoo Minyan, it means we get to bring davenning to your living room (check the calendar for dates that still need volunteers to host!). What are your stories of moveable -- and therefore ubiquitous -- torah?

PS: If you didn't get enough of Megillat Ruth over Shavuos, you can feast on this wonderful reading / drashing by Reb Zalman.

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