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Life's No Parade (It's Better)

by Eric Simon

I'm a big time baseball fan. And, coming from the New York area, I followed the World Series intently.

But, I have to admit, even I was surprised when I read about the Mayor suggesting that it would be fine for school children to skip school to see the Yankees' ticker-tape parade.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no stick-in-the mud. In fact, one of my cherished boyhood memories is skipping school to see the Mets clinch their first pennant, against the Braves, in 1969. (Nolan Ryan pitched and Hank Aaron hit a home run).

But it got me to thinking about how much more Jewish tradition seems to value education than the society around us. Now, I'm not about to say that education isn't important to the rest of society -- anyone who listened to the presidential campaign knows that education is important --but Judaism seems to take it one step further.

Every day, religious Jews say the following:

"These are the obligations without measure, whose reward too is without measure to honor our father and mother, to perform acts of loving kindness, to attend the house of study daily, to welcome the stranger, to visit the sick, to rejoice with the bride and groom, to console the bereaved, to pray with sincerity, to make peace when there is strife; and the study of Torah is equal to it all, because the study of Torah leads to it all."

That's a nice theoretical framework, but is this idea put into practice?

I was walking to work one day, and I saw someone walking in the other direction. He was wearing a kipa and he was reading a volume of Mishna. We got to talking, and then I asked him what he was doing. He told me that very recently his mother had died, and that, the congregants of his shul divided up the six parts of the Mishna so that the entire Mishna would be studied in her honor. I can't think of anything even remotely similar to this is our society.

What does a religious Jew do after completing the study of a Tractate of Talmud? He throws a party, called a "siyyum." And at the siyyum, the person is expected to speak some words about what he had learned, to teach something to his guests. Furthermore, in many instances a new Tractate is begun, in order to make sure that finishing one Tractate is not the end of the person's study.

The contrast between this and the Yankees' ticker-tape parade couldn't have been more striking skip school to attend a party versus making a party to celebrate learning.

Perhaps Tevye the Dairyman, star of Fiddler on the Roof, best summed up the Jewish attitude towards celebrating success and learning. In the famous song, "If I Were A Rich Man", he finally decides, after considering various options, that he would study "with the learned men seven hours every day." Yes, he says, "this would be the sweetest thing of all."


 

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