What have the Romans ever done for us?
That was the famous and extremely humorous question posed by Monty Python and we all know the unavoidable answer.
As we are now on the verge of Shavuot, about to celebrate the giving of the Torah, we could also ask a similar question. What has the Torah ever done for us?
I’d like to suggest five things – one from each of the books of the Torah.
Firstly, it introduces us to our reality, that of a created world, complex in its design and full of wondrous beauty in which we are able to discover the divine.
Seek and you shall find is a truism that we can experience in our everyday lives when we contemplate the miracle of our very existence.
Next we see proof that hope springs eternal as even seemingly endless and abject slavery can turn to absolute freedom in the blink of an eye.
Oppression gives way to redemption, darkness changes to light, and mourning turns to rejoicing.
We continue to live in the knowledge that no one is predestined to a fate that they are incapable of changing.
The third book enables us to comprehend the concept of holiness and how time, space and beings can be imbued with special sanctity.
At the same time, we learn that holiness is not an abstract, nor is it found by disengaging from the world, but by elevating the mundane and transforming physical into spiritual. We can bring Heaven down to earth.
Fourth on our list, the Torah shows us that sometimes the journey can be as important as the destination.
We can learn much from the events and deviations along the route and we can gain new perspectives and a deeper understanding of ourselves and others along the way.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to keep the end point in mind because, by knowing where we are heading, prevents us from becoming too distracted from our ultimate goal by the inconsequential.
Finally, we see that if something is worth saying, it’s worth repeating. This is especially true when we think about relationships or covenant as the Torah refers to it.
For any interaction between two parties to be successful and to endure, it requires both sides to remain faithful to an agreed set of principles.
So here we have it, just five examples of the tremendous gift of wisdom that was revealed to the world through the Torah.
In truth, we could have answered that apart from the Ten Commandments, the life lessons of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the laws governing all areas of human interaction, the sanctity of marriage, value of education, respect for the elderly, honesty in business – what has the Torah ever done for us?
• Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and is the Children’s Rabbi. www.childrensrabbi.com