It was a day and time circled on my calendar for the past two academic years. Every Tuesday at noon, a dozen of us students would study Torah together as part of one of the classes offered through the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.
My two instructors, who each taught a year of the course, are sage and inspiring Chicago rabbis, Rabbi Michael Siegel, of Anshe Emet Synagogue, and Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, founder of the spiritual Jewish community Mishkan.
This June, as we celebrate the joyous festival of Shavuot -- the giving of the Torah by God to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai -- now is a fitting time to pause for a moment to contemplate Torah, the Jewish calendar, and the unique moments that make up each of our lives.
A large part of the Melton course was framed according to the rhythms of the Jewish lunar calendar, logical because of the time-bound nature of most Jewish rituals. For example, we kindle the Shabbat candles according to sunset times. In fact, like Shabbat, Jewish observances are often tied to a certain hour on the clock or season of the year.
Think about it: Jews gather to daven (pray) three times during the course of the day, we usher in the new month, Rosh Chodesh, according to the new moon, and we celebrate Jewish festivals according to the calendar too. Plus, we commemorate the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years -- a special Shabbat marked every seven years and then another Shabbat occurring once every 50 years.
The famous 20th century theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches us what he calls the "holiness in time." In his classic book on Jewish spirituality, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, Heschel expresses that Jews sanctify time -- rather than space. "Every hour is unique and the only one given at that moment exclusively and endlessly precious," he writes.
What a meaningful reminder Heschel gives us. His words propel us to think with more intention about how to spend each of the fleeting, precious moments in a day, a year, and a lifetime.
We're practically spinning from our hectic calendars, often rushing during the week from our early-morning alarm clocks to lengthy commutes to long hours at school and work to our evening chores and extra-curricular activities, and then, sometimes more work before our heads hit the pillow and we start it all over again at the crack of dawn the next day. And, think of all the lost and unintentional hours of time we spend glued to our phones and other devices. With the craziness of our schedules, setting apart some meaningful and sacred time for reflection adds value to many of our lives.
What my fellow students and I loved about our Tuesday Torah study is that, for at least 60 minutes, we put aside our work, worries, and phones, and paused to think about how the lessons of the Torah and the rhythms of the Jewish calendar are still relevant to us today, and how we each fit into the largest Jewish story.
Heschel writes another beautiful passage about examining each of life's moments through a spiritual lens. "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement," he writes. "….Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."
The rabbi reminds us to live our moments with intention, mindfulness, and wonder. After all, we will never get to live the same moment again.
The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning is sponsored by the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago.