Teaching without a Hiddush
On Shabbat, I taught a piece of text from the Shulkhan Arukh at a moment in our service for learning. It was suggested to me by my rav when I was trying to figure out what to teach. I looked up a bunch of references, but all in all, the text stood by itself. Little more was said on it that the words themselves.
I struggled over it. I really wanted it to pop.
I wanted to take it as a challenge.
I could have gone for something easier, something with obvious applications.
In the end, I taught it to a room that seemed interested. I stood there, in my tallit (prayer shawl) and looked out and stepped out of my comfort zone to teach something that didn’t do all that I thought it could.
It’s not that I couldn’t teach it. It’s not that it was impossible. It’s not that it was suggested by my rav. It’s not that it was relatively obscure. It felt like a challenge. I was hungry to make it hugely impactful. To make minds blow.
And I think I taught something meaningful but it was not mind-blowing.
I think that is ok. As rabbis, we’re always trying to blow everyone away with a hiddush (innovation) or show how smart we are. (Which unto itself is problematic.) However, in the end, I took this relatively obscure text, showed it to be relevant and applicable in everyone’s life. It wasn’t a gigantic innovation. It didn’t need to be.
Later, standing at kiddush, someone came up to me and asked me about it. He said to me, “I appreciate that you are trying to teach challenging texts.” He observed to me that some of the textual choices I had made in the last year or so had surprised him.
And like that, it clicked for me.
People want to see that rabbis are growing. Challenging ourselves as much as they want to be challenged. They didn’t need it to be perfect or mind-blowing. They don’t want to hear the same texts every time. They want to see that we’re growing and struggling. They want to see that we’re thinking about it. They want a taste of it.
They want it to be relevant.
I enjoyed teaching this piece of Shulkhan Arukh, a text beloved to my heart as a part of my education.
For those interested, here are the texts I taught.