There are two poignant ancient Jewish parables that have particular resonance in modern times.
The first is the story of a bird during the days of the creation of the world. This particular bird was created without wings and, when it looked around at other birds soaring in the heavens, it implored its Creator to allow it to fly. That night, while the bird was asleep, God affixed wings to its body. When the bird awoke and saw two new appendages to its body, it said to God, “God, I asked you to make me fly, not to make me heavier.” God replied, “Little bird, just flap them and you will see that you will fly. That which you perceive as a burden is exactly what will allow you to soar.”
Being a committed Jew is all too often looked at as a burden. And, at first glance, it may seem that way. But, when you take the time to learn and to understand, what once seemed like a burden transforms into a source of meaning and empowerment that will truly allow you to soar.
But it’s only by taking the time to learn and to understand that we are afforded the opportunity to connect to the richness of our heritage, which brings me to the second parable.
There was once a beloved king, whose court musicians played beautiful music for him. The king loved the music, and the musicians loved to play for him. Every day, for many years, the musicians played with passion and joy, and the king and the musicians developed a deep love for one another. But, eventually, after years of dedicated service, all of the musicians passed away. Their children were called to the king’s court and were asked to take their parents’ place. Out of loyalty to their parents, the children came to play each morning. But, unlike their parents, the children did not love the music. While they could play the basic tunes, they did not understand the power of their instruments, and played with little enthusiasm. Their resentment grew each day they played.
But, after some time, a few of the children said, “We are not being fair to ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to explore and see if we can discover the incredible love and joy our parents had for playing.” And so they did. They learned and put in the effort and they realized that playing beautiful music was not just something with which to honour their parents’ memory and show respect for the king. Rather, they found that making music kindled a fire in their own souls they had never before experienced.
And, the more they learned, the more incredible the experience was for them. They began to experiment with sound, composed new melodies, rediscovered harmony, and produced a music inspired by their own sense of devotion and love. The king witnessed their efforts and was deeply moved. Their music was different from their parents’ music but, like them, it came from a place deep within, from a compelling need to give of their spirit and be in touch with their innermost selves.
We each connect to Jewish tradition, Jewish life and Jewish history in our own ways. The music we bring into the symphony of our community may not be the same as our ancestors, and we may be playing for entirely different reasons. Some of us may feel the music of Jewish life deep in our souls, as we have been playing for our entire lives, and others have just begun connecting. But that is the beauty of Jewish learning. We can discover how our Judaism speaks to us. It morphs from continuity just for the sake of continuity, into continuity fuelled by our Judaism truly meaning something to us.