The three most important pursuits in life are to pursue justice, raise many students, and create a fence around the Torah. Each of these three mandates have been interpreted in infinite ways, but I am going to add one more. These three mitzvah encompass what it means to be a Jew today just as much as it did when these words were probably written 2000 years ago. These three commands come from a book which may be familiar to many of you, Pirkei Avot—Great Lessons of Judaism.
For those who have studied Pirkei Avot with Rabbi Spike, Rabbi Rachael, or myself, you have certainly read a few gems of wisdom while reading this sacred literature. So often we quote Hillel's injunction, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me…" or the favorite phrase turned into song at the Torah service, "Upon what does the world stand? The world stands upon worship, upon the study of Torah, and upon acts of love and kindness." But if you are like me, you like to stop at the introduction or preface of any work. That is often where we learn the most. In the case of Pirkei Avot, the first teaching establishes the yichus, that bone fides of all that follows:
Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be patient in [the administration of] justice, raise many students, and make a fence round the Torah.
This introduction reminds us that the very same Torah that we study today is the one handed down from generation to generation leading all the way back to Moses. Not only that, but all of the knowledge of these generations can be distilled into three items: be patient in the administration of justice, raise many students, and build a fence around Torah.
When it comes to raising good Jews at Temple Emanu-El, we live by these words. Our success is measured less by the numbers of butts in seats and more by the number of children we have raised to become good human beings with a yiddishe n'shumah—a Jewish soul. If we have raised many students, we will live to see justice fulfilled by the generations that follow and Torah upheld in the hearts and homes of our community.
This Shabbat we honor two such students from our congregation who are the recipients of this year's Dick Wilson Scholarship: Ben Ragals and Leah Weiss. They have both demonstrated outstanding commitments to Jewish life at Temple Emanu-El and to their devotion to a life of learning and growth. Please join us in person this Friday night to honor these scholars and their commitment to Judaism and beyond.