It’s perfectly normal when rabbis get together to ask one another “How are you doing? How’s your family?” Other inquiries may be more work related such as “How are things going in your shul?” But I will never forget that when I met a leading Reform rabbi of our time, Walter Jacob, his first question to me was “What are you learning?”
What a brilliant question to put forth! It is a reminder that one of the primary responsibilities of being a rabbi is to be constantly learning. Informal studying takes place all the time such as preparing to teach a class or giving a sermon or sharing a commentary on the weekly Torah portion. But Rabbi Jacob’s question points to a deeper level of learning, a deliberate focus of inquiry into a specific area of interest.
In the coming weeks I am excited about embarking on two intellectual projects. Both involve participating in online courses. The first is offered through Stanford University. The course is entitled, “The Science of Willpower and Change.” It is taught by Professor Kelly McGonigal, a leading expert in psychology and neuroscience. Judaism posits the existence of free will. I am keenly interested in learning what science has to say about the subject.
My second online course is in a very different vein. It is a class entitled “Sacred Chant,” offered by Rabbi Shefa Gold through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Shefa has been a teacher of mine when I was a student in the IJS. She manifests a deep connection between the heart, soul, and voice. I look forward to learning more about this significant area of Jewish spirituality.
The old saying goes that you cannot judge a book by its cover. But just maybe it is possible to learn more about your rabbi by what he or she is studying.