My sister has recently come back to America from Israel, and we got to talking about books. Actually, we've been talking about a lot, given that there's a lot to catch up on. Right away, we noticed a big difference in our approaches to books. Both of us love to read; both of us have a great reverence for the written word. In fact, my sister is a pretty good writer, and always has been.
I have come to terms more with electronic readers; she has not. I am not a huge fan of fantasy fiction and science fiction and something called urban fantasy; she is. I think one of the biggest differences, however, came to light when I asked, "Do you read books over again?"
"Of course I do! Why, don't you?" "No," I said, "I do not." I rarely read any book more than once. I love plots and characters, and once I know how it turns out, I lose interest in re-reading the book. Upon talking with others about this, I have come to realize that this represents a huge flaw in my character, much like someone who admits they don't like to garden. Oh, wait, that would be me, too.
Yet there is one book I read over and over and over again--the Torah. I never get tired of it. Why is that? Why is it that I will read this one every year, but not any other book? I don't listen to a song I love just once; indeed, I hear it over and over again. Same with a movie I love. I'll keep seeing it every time it shows up on TV, even when I own a copy of it. When you ask people why they re-read their favorite books, they say it's a comfort place or it's an escape; the plot will not turn out differently, whoever "done it" will do it again, it's safe and predictable. Sometimes they say it's because they missed some things in earlier readings. Often, people say it's because they're different people than they were the last time, or time before that. For some, there's a tradition attached to some books, or it evokes a certain stage of life.
Every single one of those reasons applies to Torah, and are exactly why I love reading the Torah repeatedly. We are different people, a year older, each time we get to a text that we haven't read since last year. What's interesting, though, is that if you're really committed to reading this particular book over and over, there are parts that are really hard to get through. Some sections seem boring. Sometimes you're confronted with concepts and actions that you really disagree with. The violence or intolerance gets hard to read about, or the stories of the women, for example, attack your 21 st century sensibilities.
We are about to read Rebecca's story, and it's a doozy. All sorts of questions come up with Rebecca. Why did she run off so easily from home? Did she tell Isaac she'd received a prophecy from God? Would I have? Did she tell Jacob about his destiny to rule over his twin brother? Would I have told one of my children the same thing? Yet every year, Isaac is fooled by Jacob, and my heart is broken every year at Esau's anguish.
I have no idea why I don't re-read favorite books. Maybe I feel like there are so many other books to read, I don't want to miss any. Maybe I'm afraid I won't be as profoundly moved by a book the way I was the first time. Or maybe, I've just talked myself into getting an old favorite off the shelf.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, at www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com .