Yesterday, Reb Scott was honored with the JPro Visionary Award, given to a Jewish professional whose innovation has an extraordinary impact on the community. The following are his remarks:
I wish y’all could have been there yesterday when third graders Jonah and Levi read their Torah aliyah for the first time loudly and proudly, and Jonah crouched down and exploded into the air, “That felt so good!”
Or that you could have joined us last April for Matzah Madness, as the rain poured, the fire pits roared, and about a dozen teams of middle schoolers battled the clock to mix matzah dough and bake it crisp within 18 minutes–all to the heavy metal frenetics of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” as styled by the incomparable duo, 2Cellos.
I have no doubt that you would have cheered right alongside our kindergarteners as they barrelled through a parted, blue and white sea of pompoms shaken by facing lines of their families–a make-shift Sea of Reeds framing the path to freedom.
We would have loved to learn and play with you when our mixed multitude delighted to use Aramaic-English dictionaries to research words of a Talmud story with Public Enemy thumping in the background. I’m confident that when you found your word and rang the bell to celebrate your success, the students would have high-fived you. They would have celebrated your personally meaningful translation of the stories of Beruria–a brilliant, female Talmud scholar who employed her sharp wit and cutting humor to hold students and rabbis accountable.
Friends, in one of my favorite educational texts from the Babylonian Talmud–Avodah Zara 3B–the rabbis taught that The Holy Blessed One scheduled every single 12-hour divine day in the following fashion:
For the first 3 hours of the day G*d studies Torah. (W ho doesn’t love a good book?) G*d then takes 3 hours to judge the world and find it deserving of annihilation. ( This was 1500-2000 years ago. Maybe today it wouldn’t take so long.) Remarkably, G*d then shifts to the mercy seat and spends 3 hours feeding all the creatures of the world.
And during the final 3 hours, G*d maybe dedicates time to playing with all G*d’s creatures, including Leviathan–the great and terrible sea monster. ( G*d’s house pet?)
When Rabbi Acha suggests that The Holy Blessed One could not possibly play with the creatures of the world, the Talmud affirms that. . . well. . . it must be that this final block of three hours is the time when G*d sits with young children to teach them Torah.
Could it be that there is–in fact no material contradiction here between these positions? No practical difference between play and teaching children Torah?
Could our rabbis be subtly suggesting that Torah teaching is analogous or at least parallel to playful engagement with all aspects of G*d’s creation? What if Torah teaching and learning requires play–the kind of empowering play that necessitates deep listening and observation, critical analysis, the gentle challenging of relationships, followed by adjustments to praxis synthesizing all of the above and feeding that learning back into our gamesmanship, all for the sake of elevating our teammates and our competitors, as the well as the very game itself.
Can you feel it? The ebb and flow of purposeful wonder and humor characterized by the light touch and warm expectations of success all while embracing the brand of welcome failure which inevitably strengthens relationships, furthers inquiry, and perhaps even sparks laughter.
I am delighted and honored to learn with you, to play with you, and to work shoulder to shoulder in the Jewish sandbox of St Louis.
Thank you so much for playing!