The Power of Re-Enchantment: Shema
Anne Fadiman recently published a collection of essays entitled Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love. Ms. Fadiman invited famous writers to reread books that were important to them when they were young. Most of the essayists had not read the assigned books in many years, and were often enchanted all over again by a long absent friend.
I often return to Sefarim – Holy Books that played an important role in my development. There are some books on prayer that literally lifted my prayers to a new level. There are books on law that I was unable to put down when I first read them. I often bought numerous copies of these books to share with my children, students and friends. I taught some of them from beginning to end.
I recently returned to one of these books for what Ms. Fadiman would call a rereading. I could not believe that it was the same book I loved so much. I found myself disagreeing with practically every idea in the book. I was so shocked by the experience that I tried the same experiment with numerous other books, most, not all, with the same result. The rereadings were a disaster. I felt that was losing some important friends, even embarrassed that I had ever loved these books so much.
I changed. My thought and philosophy have developed, and I can still acknowledge the important role that many of these books played in my development.
I can read the weekly portion and Haftarah year after year and find myself re-enchanted each and every time. Each reading feels like the first. I read the same words every year and still feel as if I am reading them for the first time.
I can read the words of the Siddur – Prayer Book every single day and find myself enchanted all over again each and every time.
The re-enchantment comes from both the texts and me. The texts alone cannot offer constant re-enchantment without a reader who is willing to be enchanted all over again. I may be willing to be re-enchanted but if the text does not possess that magic power, I will experience disappointment.
Perhaps this is the call of Shema: Hear as if you never heard before. Allow yourself to be re-enchanted. “Na’aseh V’nishma” – We will do and we will hear – we will do in order to nurture the ability to be re-enchanted by what we hear all over again.
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