As we prepare for Shavuot, the moment of receiving the Torah, it’s good to remember that the ancient rabbis taught that everyone stood together at Mt. Sinai: young and old, men and women, rich and poor, ignorant and learned - all were included. Not only that, all people who were ever to live - including us! - were present at Sinai. And not only that: the midrash teaches that each person understood Torah according his or her own particular capacity, so each heard the divine word slightly differently (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 12:25). In our own time, we acknowledge that we need to learn from all of those different understandings of Torah. We can’t afford to miss out on any of the Torah that any of us has to offer, no matter who we are.
Rabbi Annie Lewis, our new Assistant Rabbi, touched on this in an exchange with Chancellor Arnie Eisen of JTS in a blog posting, and I encourage you to read what she has to teach about the blessings of inclusivity in Torah learning (scroll down; her words are the second response). In Pirkei Avot, the ancient rabbis ask, “Who is wise?” And they answer, “The one who learns from everyone.” May we all have the wisdom to recognize the learning we need to hear from those around us as we receive Torah together this year at Shavuot.