A Running Conversation

One of my favorite things about going for a long run outside has nothing to do with exercise, fresh air, or fitness.

As people run by me in the other direction, or I pass them along the road, I love to hear the very brief moment of conversation as they pass within earshot. I have heard some incredibly insightful and possibly salacious bits and pieces–all conveyed in a short one or two seconds.

Some gems that I’ll never forget:

“…don’t get me wrong, I love my girlfriend and all, but….”

“… and then Heidi always feels that she has to organize everything, while we…”

“….no, Brian, I don’t think it’s fair that you get a massage…” (I might have considered slowing down for that one, but nothing can get in the way of keeping my pace.)

And one of my all-time favorites: Two girls, about 12 or 13 years old, were biking past me in the opposite direction. As they pedaled by, I heard one say to the other:

“It’s YOUR life. You should do what makes YOU happy.”

And then (maybe somewhere around Mile 8) I made the connection: isn’t this pretty much the way we process the words of the Torah?

We don’t have access to the full picture. Instead, we have to use context and our own experience to attempt some kind of understanding of sacred texts. The words of the Torah are snippets of ancient and holy conversations, and we can only surmise what they mean to us. That’s why it’s so troubling when any religious leader states with authority that a Biblical or other religious text definitely means a certain thing.

Let’s go back to poor Brian who wanted to get that massage. Maybe Brian’s wife had planned a weekend away which included a couples’ massage at a spa. Instead, Brian had gone ahead with his own appointment. Or…maybe it’s something else. We’ll just never know, will we?

How is that different than when we “run by” the words of Leviticus and “hear” those words of condemnation against the LGBT community. Have we gotten the full picture? Or have we come to the conclusion on what those words mean based on our assumptions? Isn’t it possible that more was said and explained out of earshot?

Each year on Rosh Hashanah, we highlight aspects of our relationship with God–one such focus is on revelation. Jewish tradition understands that revelation is ongoing–yes, Charlton Heston might have experienced the most awe-inspiring and special effect-laden episode on that mountain, but we too have to constantly develop and evolve our thinking on what those words mean. Interpretations are not one-size-fits-all.

But I really wish I knew what happened to Brian.

 

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Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

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