By Sarah Kusnitz
The Torah is written with black in on white parchment. Both the black and the white work together to tell the origin story of the Jewish people. It’s something that is read frequently and studied, by some, every single day. That engagement is usually done from the scroll itself or from a paper, discussing the stories and ideas in the text with a chevruta or in a group.
On our final shabbaton I wanted to push out of this comfortable form of text study at the synagogue or beit midrash and into Bibliodrama. Bibliodrama is a modern form of creating midrash, a kind of text study that uses improvisation games to explore themes and characters of Torah. I like to think that it adds a lot of color to the traditional black and white story.
The parashat hashavuah was behukotai, the final portion of Vayikrah. We focused on the blessings and curses presented in the parsha as a result of the Israelites ability to stay true to the covenant. We played games that illustrated ideas of power dynamics, obligation, and conformity. This is a very unique and interactive way to study Torah. We put ourselves in the place of the Israelites in the story. When they were told the consequences their actions could bring G-d is exerting incredible power over bnai Yisrael. We explored how power can play itself out in our own lives and it’s our choice it we us it for the good or bad of ourselves and others.
Looking at the ideas of conformity and obligation are very interesting in relation to Behukotai because today we read it and it may or may not affect us but back then, they needed for rain to come in the proper season and for their security to be ensured. Today we often take these things for granted. We know that we will have food on our plates and that the sun will rise in the morning and that we are generally safe and cared for. When that safety and security is contingent on action, it made us a little uncomfortable. On the other hand, when we knew others were also fulfilling the same obligations as we were, it made the action easier.
I think that this speaks intensely to the idea of nationhood.
We heard earlier in the semester from Avraham Infeld whose tagline is, “Judaism is not a religion!” Just like this Torah portion, he champions the idea of nationhood and peoplehood. When Israel was told how their actions would affect themselves and their neighbors, it created not only a covenant with G-d but between each Israelite. When one will be their best and follow the commandments, he can influence his neighbor to do the same, and so every member of the nation will become stronger.